RESTAURANT INDUSTRY INSIGHTS

Tips, trends, and marketing advice to help you grow your business.

Picture this: it’s Friday night. A couple, Samantha & Jeff,  just left their kids with the babysitter and for the first time in months they’re headed out for a well-deserved anniversary dinner. After extensive online research, scouring menus for the best food options, they decide on a place in the center of town with great reviews and a wide selection.

Although excited for their night out, the night starts off poorly. The babysitter shows up late, Samantha spills wine all over her new dress, and due to a car accident on the 405, traffic is a nightmare. Due to this series of events, the couple shows up 30 minutes late to their reservation.

When they finally get to the restaurant, the place is packed and the next available reservation isn’t until 10 pm. Luckily, although unhappy about the situation, the hostess manages to squeeze them in at a table in the corner next to the kitchen. It’s not ideal, but it will have to do.

After waiting for at least 20 minutes for their waiter to take their orders, they are assured that the food will be out right away. But of course, with the way things have already been going, it doesn’t arrive any time soon. The entrees finally arrive and they’re as delicious as Jeff & Samantha had hoped. However, they still find themselves waiting for a long time after the meal ends to get the check. Although the food is good, Samantha just can’t see past the less than impressive service. With all the events of the night replaying in her mind, she decides to write a critical review about the restaurant once she arrives home. As the restaurant’s owner, you immediately get a notification email about her negative response. Now what?

negative review

The truth is, receiving a bad review is bound to happen. Although it may seem like the end of the world, one bad review does not mean you’re going to have to shut your doors tomorrow. However, how you choose to take action will affect how you’re perceived. With 92% of people reading reviews, your online reputation is crucial. In this article, we’ll highlight easy ways to handle those negative reviews.

Separate Your Response from Your Emotions

online reviews

Although you may take personal offense to an unfavorable review, it’s important not to get defensive. Trust me, I know it’s hard. This business is your baby. You’ve put blood, sweat, and maybe even a few tears into making sure it’s successful and now someone has criticized every detail. But, you should be careful about letting your emotions show when responding to unhappy customers.

In today’s world, online reviews are a popular word of mouth, so comments are unavoidable. We get a lot of questions from our customers about deleting reviews. Restaurant owners want to know if they can delete reviews or if we can do it for them. In extreme cases, they even consider suing the person who wrote the comment. When it comes to removal, reviews are like wallpaper, once they are up, they’re extremely difficult to take down. Of course, people are entitled to their opinion, and although freedom of speech is a privilege, we understand that backlash can be difficult to face. The First Amendment makes it difficult to remove unwanted comments.  Still, some people have had success contacting the website where the review is posted to ask for removal. This instant deletion definitely isn’t guaranteed, so you should focus your energy not on removal, but on making the situation better with a timely response.

Showcase the Positives

Don’t panic. Keep in mind, reviews are written to give other potential customers an idea of one person’s experience, but this doesn’t mean every online researcher is going to turn away from your business. In reality, most people will read multiple reviews about your restaurant before making a decision. It’s possible that the good will outweigh the bad, making the negative review less detrimental.

You can bolster the online reputation of your business by having a solid social media plan, showcasing high-quality photos of your restaurant and food, and interacting frequently with your customers. Highlight the things you’re great at and creatively show your customers what you have to offer. You can even use positive reviews to your advantage by repurposing them for testimonials on your website. How you choose to showcase your own business can influence the perception of potential customers.

Address the Situation with Grace

The most important action to take after receiving a negative review is to respond quickly and professionally. Although it may take a little while for the shock of a bad review to wear off, you don’t want to wait too long to address the situation. Of course, although Samantha didn’t have the greatest experience the first time, you don’t want to lose her as a customer. Addressing her concerns can help to show you care and also gives your business credibility.

When responding to a review, the best thing to do is be emphatic and try to see the situation from their perspective. Was it just that Samantha was having a bad day or was there something that could have been done differently by your staff?

In this instance, Samantha experienced long wait times, a less than favorable table location, and impolite service. There are multiple areas for improvement here and it’s important to address that in the review. Start by explaining that you understand where she’s coming from. This will make her feel like you have empathy and concern. Next, let the customer know that experience she had is not reflective of your entire business and that you hope she will return to give your restaurant another chance.

Please note to stray away from offering a discount on a public platform. This may cause even the happiest of diners to post a bad review in hopes of getting a coupon. However, offering an unhappy customer a reason to return is a great idea. Try contacting the customer directly and offer them a free glass of wine or 10% off their next purchase. If someone is willing to write a bad review, chances are they are willing to write a good one later if they change their mind about your business.

Getting Started

After considering the beneficial reasons to respond to reviews, you may have some work to do. Need some inspiration to start? Consider these examples:

“Samantha, I want to apologize that you had a negative experience at my restaurant. As the owner, I strive to offer the best food and service to every customer.  I would love the opportunity to contact you directly to discuss how we can improve and make your next experience with us better. Thank you for your feedback, we will definitely take your thoughts into consideration.”

Once you have been able to contact your customer directly, attempt to get them back in the door.

“Hi Samantha, As mentioned, your opinion means a great deal to us and we would love the opportunity to give you a better experience at our restaurant. If you do decide to return, we want to offer you a free bottle of wine with next your meal. We hope to see you again soon. Thank you again for your feedback!”  

It’s important to stay professional, no matter how critical a review might be. The only thing worse than a bad review is a snarky response from the business. If potential diners see rude responses from restaurants, chances are they won’t give you a chance either. Always make sure to be conversational, understanding, and genuine. And of course, follow through with any promises you make.

Being a business owner can be tough and even something as little as a customer having a bad day can lead to a bad review of your restaurant. When addressing a negative review, it’s important to stay level-headed and remain professional throughout the process.  Although you may want to just have a negative review taken off the internet, it’s better to address the situation directly with the source. This will show your restaurant’s empathy and credibility to both the reviewer and other potential customers. Empathize with the customer, apologize, and try to change their mind. You’re not going to receive positive reviews 100% of the time, but having a strategy to address the negative will help you in the long run.


About the Author: Meghan Bradley is an Account Manager at SinlePlatform where she helps on-board customers by walking them through training and welcoming them to our platform. In her spare time, you can find her at a local sports bar, cheering on her favorite teams or at a new restaurant, on the hunt for the best burrito NYC has to offer!

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