How Restaurants Should Respond to Bad Reviews

Online reviews have a lot of influence on today’s restaurants. Most customers check out reviews before heading over for their first meal. That’s why it can be nerve-wracking when a few bad reviews come in. Thankfully, having a few bad reviews isn’t the end of the world.

However, you can’t ignore them. A survey from GatherUp found that nearly four in ten consumers expect businesses to respond to reviews in one day. Almost three in ten expect a response in three days.

That’s not a lot of time for busy restaurateurs who also need to dedicate time to running the restaurant itself. To make this process easier, we’ve put together a few quick tips and an example to help you work through bad reviews.

Steps to Respond

First, we’ll go over some general steps you should take to respond when a bad review comes in. These steps may differ based on the internal processes you have in place. 

Step 1: Block Off time To Respond Right Away

A quick response is key to making a good impression. We know that it’s tough to carve out time, but it’ll be worth it in the long run when future patrons see your effort. A fast response also helps you fix the problem sooner rather than later.

Step 2: Take A Breath

Although many reviewers point out real concerns, others may be unfair. Some people are downright mean and may be taking out their frustrations on your restaurant.

Walk away or take a breath before responding to these types of reviews. It’s tempting to come to the defense of your restaurant and staff. However, it’s easier to address this person’s concerns when you focus on their main points first.

Other potential and current customers are looking at these reviews. You’ll make a much better impression if you can come back with a calm and fair response. You don’t have to let rude customers walk all over your staff. Instead, you need to take the high road and fairly address their points without letting your emotions take over.

Step 3: Apologize

You owe the customer an apology if something actually went wrong on your end. For example, your staff may have served them raw meat. This is a health hazard and should be corrected as soon as possible.

Many have conflicting opinions, but you should also apologize to the customer if you didn’t do anything wrong. This doesn’t mean you should take responsibility for something that wasn’t your fault.

Rather, you should approach the situation with sympathy and recognize their frustrations. Saying you’re sorry that they had a poor experience is more than enough in these situations.

Step 4: Explain What Happened 

Your response is an opportunity to explain why the issue came up for the customer. For example, they may have complained about a long wait. However, this may not be a normal experience at your restaurant. Service may have been slow if someone called in sick at the last minute and you couldn’t get anyone to cover them.

Proceed with caution with this step. You don’t want to come off like you’re making an excuse for poor service. Instead, you should let them know that this experience isn’t what you want them to experience and that it isn’t the norm at your restaurant.

Step 5: Go Over How You’ll Improve

Along with a quick explanation, you should also include the steps you are planning to take to ensure it doesn’t happen again. This shows this particular customer that you heard their complaints and want to make it right. Potential customers reading the review can see the level of care you have for customers and their experience.

Step 6: Take The Next Steps Offline

You shouldn’t plan to communicate back and forth on the review platform. This leaves the door wide open to potentially more complaints and outside opinions. Leave your contact information so the customer can get in direct contact with you.

Real Example

Below is an example of a restaurant who received a bad review. You can see how this owner chose to lead with empathy and stayed solution-oriented during their response.

restaurant review example

This restaurateur left their ego at the door and spoke to this customer with empathy. They acknowledged that this isn’t the experience this customer should’ve had and, at the least, they shouldn’t have had to pay for it. This is a great example of how you can turn a bad review around.

We won’t know if this customer came back. We do know that this restaurateur did their best to resolve the situation. They also left a good impression for future customers who are scrolling through their reviews. 

If you want to learn more, check out this comprehensive guide to responding to negative reviews that Womply put together. Their guide includes examples from real businesses (including restaurants) and templates you can use when coming up with your responses.