We’ve all read the internet horror stories about terrible restaurant experiences. Some restaurant feedback may be true, while others sound a little too “perfectly bad.” The reader is left wondering, “Did the waitress really scream at you in front of your toddler while throwing dishes at the wall?”
Indeed, it’s often hard to separate online fact from fiction. Reviewers are typically anonymous and have little accountability. So, how do restaurant managers get a fair shake in this wild west online world?
While it may seem futile, hospitality professionals do have appropriate ways to push back against unfair reviews. Here are five of the best techniques:
Reply to Negative Restaurant Feedback
Despite what we’re taught as children, ignoring an online bully posting negative restaurant feedback may not be the best policy. A lack of rebuttal will cause many readers to assume the restaurant is accepting responsibility.
Plead your case in a way that is polite and professional, but firm. And never, ever take the low road. Businesses always lose in the eyes of potential customers when they stoop to the level of a disgruntled reviewer.
Challenge “Defamatory” Attacks
There is a difference between “negative” reviews and “defamatory” comments. The former is a matter of opinion. If a restaurant manager disagrees with the review, she should respond publicly. However, the latter is a matter of law and the reviewer’s “intent.”
A review is considered “defamatory” if the accusations are false and intended to hurt the business. An example would be if someone wrongly posts that a restaurant is selling illegal drugs out of the back of the kitchen. This is far different than a customer saying he didn’t like the service.
Defamatory comments can be “challenged” on major review sites like Google and Yelp. Given potential legal considerations, most websites will take your complaint seriously and often remove the malicious review.
Ask for Positive Feedback
Remember that people are more likely to leave an online review if they’re unhappy with their experience. It’s just human nature. So, counter that effect by reminding satisfied customers to leave their own comments. A good restaurant manager may even provide a review incentive like a free drink or discount on the next meal.
Consider “Reputation Management” Services
Reputation management services are big business these days. Given the importance of online reviews for businesses, that’s really not a surprise. This sort of drastic measure may not be your first choice, but, it should be considered if negative reviews are really affecting the bottom line.
Educate Staff on Conflict Resolution
Ultimately, fair-minded hospitality professionals must acknowledge that nobody is perfect. Many online reviews are unfair, but some are legitimate. Mistakes will be made, but good restaurant employees learn how to diffuse volatile customers.
Perhaps your waitress did, in fact, botch an order. Consider an appropriate “comp” or gift card. While restaurants can’t stay in business by giving things out for free, occasional “peace offerings” are sometimes good investments.
Remember that great staff members also learn how to appease angry customers through words alone. Even in 2019, a sincere apology can go a long way. Create a company culture that encourages owning up to legitimate mistakes.
While online reviews provide new challenges for the hospitality industry, good customer service has always been important. Restaurants that stick to the “basics” and monitor the major online review sites should have no trouble preserving their reputation.
If you’re a restaurant seeking top-performing managers, you should also consider the services of an industry-leading hospitality recruiting agency!
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