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How to Handle Bad Reviews Online: Lessons You Can Learn From Other Businesses and Mistakes on Popular Review Sites

May 27, 2019

How to Handle Bad Reviews Online: Lessons You Can Learn From Other Businesses and Mistakes on Popular Review Sites

If you ignore a bad review or post a retaliatory response, your current (and potential) customers aren't going to look favorably at your or your business.

They'll think you are rude for not listening to the customer who had a problem or unconcerned if you don't respond at all. Either way, you could turn people off from giving your restaurant a try.

You have to make sure not to let it under your skin. Remain professional, and whatever you do, don't make personal attacks, no matter how frustrated you are by what the person wrote in their review. This may just be their dinner out, but it is your livelihood. You'll never look good if you let yourself sink to their level.

Use these techniques to help you respond appropriately:

Before you react, look carefully at the person's complaint. If they call out specific items that they liked, acknowledge those things first. Then, see what parts of the charge you can turn into a positive.

Also, try to give them a reason to come back and have a chance at a better experience, and hopefully, a better review.

Possible complaint 1: The food is too expensive.

The spin: You use only the highest-quality ingredients which impacts the price point. You are a fine-dining establishment and put a lot of effort and expense into your decor. You hire experienced staff and pay them fairly.

The reason to come back: You would be glad to offer them a discount coupon for their next visit.

Possible complaint 2: The service is slow.

The spin: You have a carefully created atmosphere where you like to give your customers privacy, but you can assure the customer that the wait staff is always keeping an eye out if someone indicates they need attention.

The reason to come back: Offer to give them special treatment the next time they come and that you will have the manager personally attend to them.

Possible complaint 3: The kitchen made a mistake.

The spin: There isn't a great way to spin this one. You just have to own it. Sincerely apologize, tell them that this is not a common occurrence at your restaurant, and send them a coupon for a discounted or free meal.

You get the idea. Break down every review and do what you can to change their impression of your business.

The review sites to watch:

If you haven't already claimed your business on as many platforms as possible, this should be your first priority. You need to make sure that all of your information is accurate. It would be a shame to get a bad review because your hours or location were listed wrong.


Pro-tip: You can disable ratings and reviews on Facebook.

If you find you're getting negative reviews on Facebook, you can't delete them individually (unless they don't adhere to Facebook's Community Standards; then you can report them), but you can disable them altogether. You could reserve your Facebook page for photos of your food, interiors, and events and let people duke it out over how they feel about you on other sites.


Pro-tip: Direct message the reviewer first.

Odds are that you're going to get mostly good ratings: 47% of all ratings on Yelp are five stars, while only 16% are one star. But if you don't, you should reach out directly to the reviewer via private message to see if you can come to a resolution. Hopefully, the person will be pleased enough with your response that they will change or take down their review.

If that doesn't work, then you can respond to their message publicly. When you do, though, remember to be polite, professional, and helpful.


Pro-tip: Respond quickly.

53% of customers expect a response to a tweet within an hour, so if you're going to do Twitter, you need to make sure you pay attention to it. It never hurts to put a specific person who is skilled at quick, elegant conflict resolution in charge of your social media accounts.


Pro-tip: Don't leave fake positive reviews for your own business. You could wind up getting bad press which is much worse than not having enough good reviews.

It's certainly tempting to try to get online and tip the scales in your favor, but the odds are you'll get caught. Even if you don't, it's poor form and not the kind of approach you should take to building a serious business.

Google Places

Pro-tip: There are a lot of fake reviews on Google.

Does the review read like it's written by someone who has never been to your business? It might be. Check to make sure that the review is from an actual user and not a bot by reading the account's other reviews and responses. If you come to believe it is a fake review, you can contact Google directly to have that user deactivated.

The Newspaper

Pro-tip: Write a kind note to the reviewer for writing up your restaurant and thank him or her for the feedback.

Being kind never hurts, and sometimes it can really help. Read the review carefully and see if there is feedback that you can execute on. Newspaper restaurant reviewers are professionals. Unlike a lot of people who dash off comments on websites, they are experts and could provide valuable insight for improvement.

Above all else, you want to do everything you can to avoid a multi-platform mega-meltdown. What started as a hot-headed response from a bakery owner to a Yelp review snowballed into a failed appearance on a national television show, an all-caps Facebook diatribe, and their accounts getting hacked. Nobody needs this kind of drama in his or her life.

Ultimately, you provide a timely, reasoned response to the review with an apology, an offer of explanation of what may have gone wrong, and either a refund or the chance to try you out again you'll be showing customers that you are willing to do what it takes to provide stellar service.