How to Handle Bad Restaurant Reviews

Online rating services such as Yelp can be an important marketing tool for restaurants with five stars. But how should you handle bad restaurant reviews? There are a few things that can be done to turn a negative review into something positive. Often, it's how a restaurant handles its antagonistic reviews that will invite new customers through the doors.

Think Before You Act

You received a bad review on a public forum. Your first instinct may be to immediately respond with all the ways you think the reviewer got it wrong. Take your time and think about the original problem. By giving yourself a few days to cultivate a response, you may be able to identify ways to prevent this kind of review from happening again. Use a negative review as a chance to do some critical thinking about your business and how you want to cater to your customers.

Open a Dialogue

Responding to the customer publicly online opens up a direct dialogue. As with any professional statement, the opening should be concise and to the point. If the situation wasn't clear, ask for clarification (politely, of course). Drafting several paragraphs in response won't help, and it may even make the situation worse if readers think your restaurant is making excuses. If your response is friendly and thoughtful, the reviewer is more likely to react similarly. It wouldn't hurt to also offer a private apology to the patron after addressing it in a public forum.

Offer an Apology and Fix the Problem

Reviewers want their bad experiences validated and counted. In any negative restaurant review, the responsibilities of a restaurant manager are to identify the problem and fix it. Start by apologizing for the bad experience. It will satisfy the original reviewer, show other potential customers that you care about the situation, and prove that you intend to take action. Whether you think you are truly right doesn't make a difference in the end — the bad review came from the customer's point of view, which will always be different from the restaurant staff's.

After your apology, explain how you will fix the problem. If the reviewer thought the service was slow, consider hiring more staff or having efficiency training. Offering a discounted service or a free appetizer on a future visit provides an opportunity to change the reviewer's mind.

Learn From the Review

Bad restaurant reviews can be turned into something positive, and may even provide insight to a problem you weren't aware of. More than one bad review on a single topic may indicate a breakdown in service or food production. Compensate the customer for any serious oversight or problem and always be courteous. Turn this experience into a research opportunity.

At the very least, giving a response to even the most trivial of bad reviews shows that you care enough to try to make it right. Sometimes people just want to know they're being heard. The best thing for a restaurant manager to do is be proactive and considerate, and always continue providing stellar service.

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