False Reviews Can Be Alarming and Costly

Getting negative reviews can be devastating for any restaurant, but receiving inaccurate or false reviews can be disastrous and end up causing long-term damage to your business. Whether it be from a malicious competitor, a disgruntled former employee or an unsatisfied customer the practice of leaving false online reviews is becoming more commonplace as reviews on sites such as Yelp, Google and Tripadvisor keep gaining in popularity.

Online reviews matter, not only does the majority of customers base their decisions on the feedback of other customers, but a study by Harvard Business School cites that a one star change in rating on Yelp could mean a potential revenue shift off up to nine percent. With this in mind it’s easy to see why safeguarding your restaurant’s reputation online is so important.

So how do you deal with fake reviews? Prevention is the first and most apparent answer. MRM magazine discussed best practices for online reviews here. Obviously outstanding customer service and treating your employees with respect is a good place to start. In the case the aim is to cause harm to your business, say by a competitor, prevention might be somewhat tougher.

Inaccurate reviews happen more often than you’d think, so take a step back and assess the situation.

It’s important to differentiate between negative and inaccurate or false reviews. One restaurant owner describes his experience of having a negative review left online describing dissatisfaction with a dish he didn’t even serve. We’ve also heard from restaurants having feedback left by angered customers who confused their restaurant with another one with a similar name or mentioning staff who don’t exist. Inaccurate reviews happen but others are more malicious, criticizing the quality and hygiene of the restaurant or launching personal attacks on owners and staff.

Whatever your first reaction might be when receiving any type of negative review (false or not) it’s important to keep a cool head; don’t panic! Inaccurate reviews happen more often than you’d think, so take a step back and assess the situation. You don’t want to lash out or respond in anger. Is it a case of a customer getting their facts wrong or is it a review left with malicious intent? Whatever the case might be make sure you do your research to establish the validity of the review in question. If the review mentions a specific day or time (such as “last Friday” or “yesterday lunch time”) you might want to run the feedback by your general manager or staff working at the time to ensure the review is in fact false.

If you’re certain the review is a fake, it’s time to move on to damage control. Leave a public response on the review stating the facts; remember to be polite and professional (“John Doe is not and has never been a customer of ours. This review is fabricated.”). Being able to back your response with facts is helpful for public responses (eg. “if you take a look at the menu on our website you’ll see that we in fact don’t serve the dish John mentions in his review”). Most review sites have terms of use protecting businesses from false reviews and depending on the website the review was left on you’ll have the option to flag it as a violation of these terms; this should be done next.

The absolute easiest way to get a review removed is for the person who left it to remove it themselves so send them a private message asking if they’d be willing to remove their review. Be polite, this could very well be enough to diffuse the situation and convince the person to take the review down.

If this fails, you’re going to want to get in touch with the site management. Google, Yelp and Tripadvisor all have procedures for handling fraudulent reviews. Once this is done the flagged review will then get looked over by the websites review team (the time this takes varies from website to website and case to case) and considered for deletion. Although most of these sites are fairly efficient at dealing with fake reviews, keep in mind they are under no obligation to remove reviews they don’t deem false or inaccurate.

Lastly, there’s the widely debated matter of legal action. This is an avenue most small businesses neither have the time nor money to pursue. Suffice it to say this is something that requires thorough research before consideration and should only be used as a very last resort.