Bad Yelp Review? Here’s How to Respond

Customer service starts the moment someone walks into your establishment. If your greeter fails to acknowledge the guest with a smile, that’s the start of a downward spiral that’s hard to reverse. Very often the greeter or host is doing many things (delivering drink orders, bussing tables), but the one thing they’re not doing is their main job which also happens to be the most important job in the restaurant! The minute the customer has to speak first, you are on the defensive and in the position of trying to win them back throughout their entire experience in the restaurant.

 Let’s say you, your kitchen and waitstaff have an off night. It’s happening more and more because of the difficulty restaurant owners and managers are experiencing hiring and training staff.

 But like I said, the honeymoon is over. And the next day there’s a scathing Yelp review complaining about your customer service, the quality of food or both. That customer didn’t receive the four things that all customers want:

  • To be heard
  • To be appreciated
  • To be acknowledged
  • To be appreciated. I list that twice because that’s how important it is.

 Do you respond to a bad review with your fight or flight mechanism? Neither!

 “Flight” means ignoring that review and avoiding conflict. You do that at your peril. Not responding to a bad review is like running away and hiding, or saying to yourself, “That’s just a bad customer.” Are there bad customers out there? Sure. Do you handle them by ignoring them? No!

“Fight” means making excuses (“we were understaffed,” “the bartender didn’t show up”). To quote Bar Rescue creator and best-selling author Jon Taffer “The common denominator of failure is excuses.”  In the case of Yelp, the reality is the customers’ perception of a problem we created. Let’s give the guest honesty and not excuses. 

The simplest way to take an angry customer and turn them into a brand ambassador is to handle conflict head on.

The simplest way to take an angry customer and turn them into a brand ambassador is to handle conflict head on. If you are not willing to have conflict, you’re willing to give up sales. If you are not willing to have conflict, you’re sending your sales to your competitors. 

We must fight to keep every customer in today’s market. That means we must strategically respond to every negative Yelp/social media review

 In addition, your response is not for the person who had the bad experience, but for everyone else reading that review who is interested in coming to your restaurant. That potential guest wants to see a well thought out response that is genuine. 

 Respond to that bad review by saying thank you: “Thank you for taking time to write your review. I’m so glad you brought this to my attention. We want to provide great service and I apologize that we didn’t meet your expectations. Please direct message me your phone number. I would love to talk to you further.” Or give them your phone number.

This is not easy to do. You must swallow your ego and your desire to avoid conflict. The other readers will see that you are responsive and caring for your customers. They know that you are a concerned owner and that they will be heard, acknowledged, and appreciated.

If you are not willing to have conflict, you’re willing to give up sales.

Have the conflict, solve the problem and that customer will come in again. When they come in, you may want to buy them a round of drinks but do not comp the entire meal because you’ll be rewarding bad behavior. The owner or General Manager should be checking on the table throughout the evening making sure that everything is perfect, and the guest is truly satisfied.

Once you have turned the situation around through guest appreciation, it’s possible that you will not only have made a customer for life, but also turned them into a brand ambassador.

We can also try to win back customers by going back through two years of reviews and responding to each one personally, inviting them to give us another opportunity to exceed their expectations. We appreciate you. We hear you. We want you back.

In today’s world, every restaurant serves food and cocktails, but customers will keep going to the restaurant where they serve a BIG portion of appreciation. Face the conflict head on and your operation will be more successful.