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Only One Star? Turning Bad Reviews into Good Customers editorial staff editorial staff

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to address customer complaints about your restaurant.

  • Many modern consumers use online reviews to vet a restaurant before choosing to patronize it in person, and negative reviews can be a major hindrance to attracting new customers.
  • Every restaurant gets negative reviews from time to time, but how you handle the criticism can determine how public perception of your establishment is shaped.
  • When engaging with disgruntled customers, always seek to turn the negative into a positive and look for constructive criticism, rather than lashing out angrily or simply ignoring the comment.

Your business's reputation can make or break you. Good reviews are a great way to bring in new customers; they let potential customers know that you offer a quality product. Bad reviews, however, can wreak havoc on your small business.  

While you might not agree with every customer complaint, it is still essential to address their concerns promptly and professionally. If handled the right way, a bad review can be a great opportunity to build a positive relationship with a customer.

What a bad review can mean for your restaurant

In today's fast-paced world, reputation and social proof mean everything. Even though restaurants are brick-and-mortar businesses, they are not immune to this phenomenon. One of the major ways people vet an establishment is by reading the online views before making a reservation or patronizing the establishment in person. A negative review can cost you countless potential customers if it's not addressed properly.

Every business has its good days and bad days, and customers are aware of that fact. You may be a reputable establishment that happened to be the victim of a bad customer who is just difficult to please. The presence of a negative review is not a death sentence; however, it's how you handle the bad review that determines your trustworthiness in the eyes of the public.

How you should respond to a negative review

Apologize and make amends.

There are some concrete steps you can take to turn bad reviews into loyal customers. First, apologize for the customer's bad experience. When apologizing, do not try to make explanations or excuses. Simply say that you are sorry.

Second, try to make amends. Give them an incentive to return to your restaurant by offering a coupon or complimentary item.

Finally, understand that you will not be able to win every customer back. Do not push too hard if they decline your offer; this makes your attempts seem disingenuous. By simply offering an apology and acknowledging their feedback without being combative, you can show future customers that you appreciate customer feedback – both positive and negative.

Take the constructive criticism.

While it is never easy to receive negative feedback, there are ways you can make the most of it. Use every negative comment as an opportunity to reach out to your customers and see how you can improve. Do not ignore customer feedback or argue with the individual. After all, if their feedback is genuine, it can give you some good tips on how to improve your business in the future.

No business is flawless. Each one has blind spots, and if operations are generally running smoothly, it's easy to overlook details that could lead to a negative customer experience. Even if it's clear that the customer was somehow disgruntled by forces unrelated to your restaurant, that doesn't mean there isn't a kernel of truth in what they're saying.

If they claim the service was slow, pay attention to the pace of your waitstaff. Or if they claim the soup was cold, check the next few orders before they go out to customers. Maybe it was a onetime occurrence or maybe the reviewer did you a favor by pointing something out.

Constructive criticism is never a bad thing, and that's ultimately what reviews are meant to provide. Take the feedback in stride and look for a silver lining. And if there is no silver lining, be courteous and move on.

What you should not do when responding to a negative review

Ignore it

As tempting as it may be to bury a review or remove it completely from your Facebook or Google Plus page, do not do this. Do not try to hide from bad reviews or hide them from consumers.

When you completely ignore bad reviews, the message you send customers is that you do not appreciate feedback and will not work on addressing customers' concerns. While it might be difficult to read harsh reviews, most reviewers are trying to offer genuine feedback. Even if you do not like how a review is presented, it is important to treat your customer and his or her feedback with respect.

Delay responding to the review

The best way to manage public perception is to act swiftly. This doesn't mean that you need to constantly check your Yelp or Facebook to respond to negative reviews as soon as they post, but as soon as you become aware of them, take action.

The quicker you mitigate the negativity, the better it will be for your business's reputation.

Engage inappropriately

While it is important to not ignore bad reviews, it is even more important to not inappropriately engage with reviewers. Do not fight with anyone online or try to prove anyone wrong. This only makes you look unprofessional to those who will read reviews about your business.

Most people are aware that online trolls exist and that the overall quality of a restaurant is not determined by the experience of one customer. However, reacting negatively to these unsatisfied patrons is a quick way to lose the benefit of the doubt. It makes you appear childish and insecure to be lashing out at an avatar on a website, even if you are in the right. Engaging in a hostile or confrontational manner can give the negative comment more traction and could push potential customers toward believing it, rather than giving your restaurant a chance.


Image Credit: Zephyr18 / Getty Images editorial staff editorial staff Member
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