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How to handle a negative online review

3 min read


It’s human nature to want to defend yourself when online reviews take swipes at the restaurant you’ve spent years of time, toil and cash to build, but it’s almost always better to set your emotions aside and let the practical side of your mind take over before putting fingers to keyboard.

Example: Atlanta barbecue-joint owner Andrew Capron found that out the hard way, when he used Facebook to publicize an emotional and expletive-studded response to a negative Yelp review by a patron who was less than thrilled with her meal at Boners BBQ, according to media outlets including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Fox. The exchange prompted a firestorm of criticism from bloggers, and Capron later apologized for what he acknowledged was bad judgment. Worse, the response could end up being a costly mistake for his business.

Reviews, back in the day: A decade or so ago, the old system of restaurant reviews written by professional critics and published in mainstream and alternative press allowed eateries to frame and post the positive stories on their walls, and perhaps find some constructive tips in negative press while waiting a few weeks for the story to become a distant memory. Not so today, when every one of your guests has an online voice and the ability to write critiques that may conceivably show up every time another consumer searches the Web to find someplace to eat.

The plus side of online reviews: Good reviews on Yelp can boost business for independent eateries. A Harvard University study released in the fall found that the emergence of online review sites such as Yelp have leveled the playing field for independent restaurants that compete with bigger chains, and a one-star increase in Yelp ratings can boost sales as much as 9%. The findings give mom-and-pop restaurants that earn online praise a reason to cheer, while the right response for eateries whose customers report on less-than-stellar experiences may not be as clear.

How to respond: Yelp offers restaurant owners tips on responding to negative and positive reviews, advising proprietors first and foremost to remember that their reviewers also are their paying customers. When it comes to bad reviews, Yelp cautions owners about the very type of venting Capron engaged in, urging restaurateurs to  “just keep your message simple: thank you for the business and the feedback. If you can be specific about the customer’s experience and any changes you may have made as a result, this could go very far in earning trust.”

Has your restaurant had negative online reviews that you perceived as unfair? Tell us how you dealt with them in the comments.

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