QSR Automations Content Marketing Specialist Dylan Chadwick offers advice for restaurant operators on how to deal with negative reviews to continue to drive footfall into their venues.
Customers usually read online reviews of a restaurant before they visit.
The UK’s Bright Local reports that by 2017, 85% of all consumers, regardless of industry, were using reviews to make a decision. Even more tellingly, 94% of UK consumers who check the net for opinions, say online reviews have driven them away from a business. Let’s take a look at the types of review operators can expect and some suggestions for handling them successfully.
For restaurant owners, reviews are nothing new. Before the advent of social media and the internet, elite food journalists printed restaurant reviews in newspapers and focused their attention on the high-end eateries and world-famous chefs in big cities. These journalists could make or break an upcoming restaurant, enticing or discouraging diners with their descriptions of the establishment. As such, operators fought hard to please these reviewers, knowing that bad press could cripple their business.
Time has levelled the playing field, allowing anyone with an internet connection, not just seasoned journalists, to review a business online. Nowadays, we review restaurants of every shape and size, not only the black-tie venues. Web connectivity means this information spreads – instantly – available to a worldwide audience who’ll use these reviews to make their own buying decisions.
Turning a negative into a positive
Frankly, customers have more opportunities to vent their frustrations than ever before, and negative reviews are not a minor issue. Some studies suggest the addition or subtraction of a restaurant review star rating will impact their revenue by 5-9%. Prospective customers see negative reviews and change their minds based upon them. Anyone can write an intense criticism in the heat of the moment and as a restaurant operator, it can be difficult to decide whether to respond to online reviews.
Here is a rundown of the different types of review, some suggestions for responding to negative posts, and advice on establishing a procedure for handling restaurant criticism generally:
Proactive online presence (the Fair and Balanced Foodie)
“A nice ambience and great food. I can’t wait to see how they develop their menu and hope to see more seafood options in the future because the coconut shrimp was to die for! 4 stars!”
These reviews are of the “fair and balanced” variety. They tend to focus on the positives of the restaurant, with criticisms being minor, constructive and general. These reviews give the operator a chance to exhibit some customer service, while responding to a “soft critique”. When responding to these reviews, operators should thank the customer, first and foremost. They then need to address the question or soft criticism (“We’re testing new main course dishes as we speak…”) and, where appropriate promote any related specials. Responding to these comments shows an operator is willing to engage with customers.
Operators might also consider setting up a Google Alert, which sends a notification when a new review of their restaurant has been posted. These alerts save time, removing the need to continually search for reviews. Operators should focus their efforts on favourite review sites, such as TripAdvisor but must not forget to keep an eye on social media too.
Restaurants should have an online review policy in place. While they probably won’t train every employee to use it, reactions to reviews are far less likely to be impulsive when there’s a plan. Operators should always remember that often, unpleasant experiences motivate customers to post negative reviews. It is therefore important to encourage customers to post about their positive experiences, using vouchers or special promotions.
Never eating here again! (The Hot Take Artist)
“What an atrocious hell-hole. After the night I had there this weekend, I wouldn’t wish this place on anyone. Was promised a 15-minute wait, was there for 55 minutes before they seated me. The staff couldn’t have cared less, even when they could see my screaming kids. AVOID! 1 star (but I’d put zero if this site would let me!).”
These are the reviews that come in a little ‘hot’ – the ones operators don’t want to read but for which they need to prepare. An acutely negative experience usually prompts these reviews, and their tone ranges from slightly miffed to absolutely livid. Profanity comes with the territory (though some review sites have policies about this) and, occasionally, personal appraisals as well. The first thing for operators to remember when these reviews come in, is that it’s ok to let them sit for a day or two.
Operators should not get flustered and put out an emotional response but take honest stock of their feelings before proceeding. If they still feel compelled to contend with the reviewer, operators should wait and make sure they approach the situation calmly. When a hot review seemingly comes out of nowhere, restaurants should also bear in mind that 80% of customer complaints happen online rather than in-house because the internet offers a more accessible soapbox. It is not advisable to dismiss a negative online review because the customer failed to bring it up with staff at the time.
Finally, operators should take a hot review for what it is, understand that the customer had a negative experience and empathise with that. Responses should not contain excuses or significant efforts to defend the restaurant; that can appear disingenuous. Instead, the reply should convey a sincere apology for the experience and attempt to move the conversation to email so the restaurant can offer the disgruntled customer a resolution.
Sometimes, a review comes in and, as well-meaning as it might be, it’s a little hard to follow. Firstly, operators should try to understand the intention of the post. Before responding, however, operators need to gather some details.
Operators should determine:
- The date of the visit
- The tone of the review
- Whether a specific incident has been referenced
- The names of any staff involved
About the reviewer:
- Are they a regular customer or was this their first time?
- Are they a ‘habitual’ reviewer? Do they review every new business that opens where they live?
- Do they tend only to post negative reviews? Or positive?
About the issue:
- Ask the staff who was working whether there was an incident and gather their side of the story
- Determine the severity of the claim from a legal standpoint
The operator should only respond when all the pertinent facts have been gathered. In some cases, a general “thanks for visiting” will do. In other cases, if the operator has verified with staff that an incident did take place, they will need to respond to a claim directly. If the event didn’t happen, and the operator can prove that, they can gently acknowledge it. When responding to these negative reviews, operators should always do so in a way that facilitates solutions, acknowledges criticism and, if appropriate, try to move the conversation to email or direct message.
Though negative online restaurant reviews can be painful, they’re often the first step towards making improvements. Operators can use reviews as a form of market research to spot trends and inconsistencies in their offer, whether it’s in food quality, wait times or customer service. Additionally, automated solutions, such as a Kitchen Display system, can utilise an operator’s kitchen data to prepare and quote orders more efficiently, creating a streamlined operation and happier customers.
When responding to an online review, positive or negative, operators are showing there is an open door. Online criticism, and how to respond to negative restaurant reviews, isn’t an exact science but there are a lot of universal principles. Operators can take this summary and make the most of their online experience.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by QSRMedia UK. The author was not remunerated for this article.
Do you know more about this story? Contact us anonymously through this link.