Responding to Bad Restaurant Reviews – Be Proactive

In the past, a bad meal or poor service could cost a restaurant a customer, and perhaps that customer’s family and friends. Today, thanks to social media and the exponential distributive power of viral networks, a single diner’s experience of cutting into an overcooked steak or encountering a surly waiter can influence thousands and quickly become a PR nightmare that impacts revenue and damages brand reputation.

Despite the risk of negative publicity on social media, many restaurant chains are passive about developing strategies to respond to snarky reviews and hostile comments. One rationale is that it’s impossible to monitor vast social networks for any and every negative mention of a restaurant brand. Another is that giving rewards or freebies to complainers sets a precedent for additional giveaways. Yet evidence suggests that restaurants that do respond proactively to complaints on social media and take steps to make things right with disgruntled customers are perceived favorably.

While the marketing function should own the task of monitoring, analyzing and responding to social media commentary, close collaboration with IT is imperative.

By combining technology tools and clearly defined processes around incident response, innovative restaurant chains are developing proactive strategies to mitigate the risk of negative social media reviews and build a positive brand identity. From a technology standpoint, intelligent automation software can track social media channels for any mention of a restaurant brand. Programs that apply natural language processing capabilities, meanwhile, can parse keywords and sentence structure to conduct sentiment analysis and gauge whether comments are negative, neutral or positive. Once comments are categorized, the systems can generate automated responses, while flagging especially provocative, negative or widely distributed comments for intervention by human administrators.

By collecting and analyzing diner commentary data an ongoing basis, moreover, the systems can enable proactive strategies to address and resolve underlying causes of customer discontent. Pattern recognition tools, for example, can track the relative frequency of comments that reference, say, “soggy fries” and direct restaurant management to appropriate corrective action. The effectiveness of the restaurant’s responses to complaints and negative reviews can be similarly tracked and analyzed, and positive customer reactions can be highlighted via the restaurant’s own social media channels.  

While the marketing function should own the task of monitoring, analyzing and responding to social media commentary, close collaboration with IT is imperative, for several reasons. For one thing, the restaurant industry is increasingly characterized by a convergence between marketing and IT, so taking a partnership approach to the challenge posed by social media makes sense conceptually. Moreover, technology tools are imperative to successfully monitor and respond to the high volume of comments generated by a major restaurant chain. Ongoing collaboration and communication between technology teams and business users, meanwhile, are essential to ensuring that the technology is effective and stays relevant to continually evolving needs. Finally, in addition to bringing technology expertise to the table, IT experience in service desk management is relevant to social media monitoring.  Specifically, IT service desk processes related to managing and resolving incidents, as well as tracking incidents to ensure issues have been resolved, can be applied to the task of monitoring social media and responding to complaints in a timely manner.

In today’s increasingly competitive restaurant environment, the stakes surrounding the dining experience have never been higher. And restaurants are rightly investing in doing all they can to ensure that that experience is consistently a positive one. At the same time, they need to prepare for the inevitability of a dissatisfied customer who will voice displeasure via social media. A proactive social media monitoring and response strategy can help restaurants mitigate the risk, minimize the damage and, ultimately, create a positive diner experience.