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How To Respond To Bad Restaurant Reviews Correctly

How To Respond To Bad Restaurant Reviews

Table of Contents

Even the best restaurant can have a bad day.  It may also be impossible to please every customer. For this reason, most restaurants will get their fair share of negative reviews.

Responding to bad reviews is a crucial part of online reputation management. Because so many people check out online reviews before deciding where to eat, it is vital that you calmly and carefully respond to each review that you receive. Ideally, your response will thank the reviewer for their feedback, apologize for their bad experience, and invite them to continue the conversation off-line.

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Why Managing Your Online Reputation Is So Important

When you own a restaurant, your priority is probably making sure that your food, drinks, atmosphere, and service are all outstanding. While these are all incredibly important, they aren’t the only elements that go into running a successful restaurant. You also need to have a stellar online reputation.

A recent survey found that 90% of guests research a restaurant online before deciding where to eat. While there are undoubtedly people who never check social media or online review sites before going out to eat, the trend in the United States is clearly towards doing some research before choosing a restaurant. As such, it is incredibly important to manage your online presence.

This is particularly true when it comes to user-submitted reviews. Having good reviews can be a major boon to business. According to one study, a single additional star on Yelp can lead to a 5 to 9% growth in sales for independent restaurants.

There are a number of things that you can do to manage your online reputation as a restaurant owner, such as setting up and optimizing your Google Business Profile (GBP), maintaining a website, and posting regularly across social media platforms. You should also claim your business profile on restaurant review sites. Once you have your account set up, you will then need to monitor and respond to online reviews.

You cannot prevent all negative reviews. There will always be bad days or moments for your wait staff or kitchen. Grumpy, unreasonable customers are also a reality of doing business. The key is taking steps to respond to these reviews appropriately. Doing so will show other customers that you care – and that you are committed to getting it right, even when you mess up.

Crafting a thoughtful response is a critical way to manage your online reputation as a restaurant owner. Below, we provide a guideline for responding to bad restaurant reviews to help you respond appropriately.

Common Types Of Negative Reviews

We’ve read thousands of reviews for various restaurants across the country. In our research, we’ve found that negative reviews typically fall into six different categories of criticism. Customers writing negative reviews tend to complain about the following things: 

  1. Food quality (flavor, temperature, consistency)
  2. Lack of menu support for a certain diet (vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.)
  3. Wait times
  4. Staff training
  5. Atmosphere
  6. Pricing

Every situation is unique, but you can save time responding to negative reviews by crafting base templates for many of the main criticisms. The goal isn’t to copy and paste the same response for each review. Rather, you’ll want to create a personalized response for each review using your templates as a starting point. 

How to Respond to Negative Restaurant Reviews the Right Way

When a customer leaves a bad review, your first instinct may be to respond with anger – particularly in situations where you believe that the review is false or unwarranted. Fake restaurant reviews have become a major problem in the industry, including situations where the reviewers then attempt to extort the restaurant owner in exchange for removing the reviews. 

There have also been cases where a group of people are upset with a restaurant for an issue completely unrelated to the business, and decide to tank their reviews without ever patronizing it. For example, after a person on TikTok recently claimed that a restaurant hadn’t paid them, the business got hit with loads of fake reviews – including some outlandish claims, like throwing food at customers and kidnapping children. 

How To Respond To A Fake Review

Although it may be tempting to tell off a bad or fake reviewer, that won’t help your restaurant’s rating and will probably hurt your business. Online readers will be more sympathetic to the person leaving the review over the business. Telling the fake reviewer off will only re-affirm the bias that the reviewer is correct. Instead, you should focus on ways that you can respond appropriately. Ideally, you should monitor review sites regularly so that you can respond promptly to any and all reviews.

If the review itself is false – or part of a spam attack of bad reviews – then you should flag the review for the hosting site. While sites like Yelp aren’t perfect, they have gotten better at weeding out fraudulent reviews. You can and should report the review and work with the site to have it removed as abusive or false.

How To Respond To A Real Negative Review

If the review is simply negative, then you should write a response to show that you are paying attention and that you care about their issue. A good response should include the following elements:

  1. Thanking the reviewer for taking the time to leave feedback;
  2. Apologizing for their bad experience (“we are sorry to hear that…”); and
  3. An invitation to continue the conversation off-line.

You can also ask the customer to give you a second chance, and even incentivize a return trip with a free appetizer or even a comped meal. In this way, you showcase your hospitality – and that you are committed to getting it right.

For example, consider a review where a patron complained that their appetizers came out at room temperature instead of piping hot, and that their drinks were watered down. You may respond with something like, “John, we are very sorry to hear that you had a negative experience. We appreciate you taking the time to let us know about what happened. We’d like to make it right, if you’re willing to give us another chance. Please send us a direct message so that we can get more details and find a way to resolve this issue.”

Of course, there may be situations where a customer completely misperceived what happened or has unrealistic expectations – such as being mad about having to wait for a table during a busy time when they didn’t make reservations or making up a nonexistent service issue. You should still be polite and respectful, but you may want to correct the record. You might say something like, “I have spoken to my employees, and this incident never occurred. Although we are uncertain about why you would make this false claim, please reach out to us directly so that we can work on a solution with you.”

By doing this, you are not letting a false review stand unchallenged while simultaneously showing that you care about customers’ experiences (even when they are being unreasonable or making a false statement). At the same time, you are directing the conversation off of a public platform so that it does not do further harm to your reputation as a restaurant.

Responding to reviews in an appropriate way won’t necessarily get a customer to delete an unfair review. It may not change your overall rating. But it will show that you’re invested in your restaurant and that you want guests to have a good experience. This will shine through when others are reading your reviews – and may help you maintain a profitable business even if you have some dings on various review sites.

If your overall rating does tank, there are steps that you can take to improve it. Generally, review sites won’t take down reviews unless they are demonstrably false or unfair. However, you can ask your patrons to leave online reviews of their own, which may ultimately outweigh the bad reviews. You can also feature these positive reviews on your social media pages and your website. 

Things To Avoid & Do When Responding To Reviews

Respond To Reviews In A Timely Manner

When a customer writes a negative review, you have a short window of time to correct the situation and attempt to recover the customer before they write your restaurant off for good. As a general rule, it’s best to respond to negative reviews within two to three days of receipt. Make sure that you’re added as an admin on directory accounts (Google, Yelp, etc.), so that you receive an email notification whenever a new review is posted. 

Proofread Your Response Before Submitting

Remember that every negative review response is an opportunity to improve your online reputation. You don’t want to ruin that opportunity with unprofessional grammar errors. Make sure to proofread your response for spelling, punctuation, and complete sentence structure before posting. 

Use Trends In Negative Reviews As Learning Opportunities

Opinions are subjective and your restaurant naturally won’t be everyone’s favorite. However, receiving some of the same complaints regularly could indicate that there’s room for improvement in your service. 

Are guests regularly complaining about the lighting or the volume of the background music? It might be time to re-evaluate your restaurant’s atmosphere. Are customers constantly stating that the food is being served cold? You’ll probably want to investigate how the food is being prepared. When you make improvements to your service, you’ll also naturally improve the quality of your reviews over time. 

Avoid Responding To Reviews When You’re Angry

While responding to reviews in a timely manner is important, you don’t want to respond when you’re angry. If you do, you’ll risk writing a response that comes off as retaliatory. Take a few hours or even a day to cool off before crafting a response if you’re upset. It may also be easier to delegate the task of responding to reviews to an employee that can respond objectively. 

Don’t Take Bad Reviews Personally

Last, but not least, it’s important to separate you from your business. It can be hard to swallow negative reviews as a business owner, but negative reviews are not an attack on your character, or who you are as a person. To be able to respond objectively, you’ll need to avoid taking the feedback personally. 

How Budget Branders Can Boost Your Marketing Efforts

Online reviews can be both a blessing and a curse for restaurant owners. For better or for worse, it is a good idea to respond thoughtfully to all reviews – including the negative ones. Doing so can protect your online reputation and show that you are committed to providing excellent service and food.

While having custom printed disposable products won’t make bad reviews disappear, it is an easy, cost-effective way of increasing the reach of your marketing campaign. Budget Branders offers a full range of disposable products, all at prices and in quantities that make sense for small business owners. Our goal is to offer high quality products at low prices, with outstanding customer service.

Want to learn more? We’re happy to walk you through the process and our options. You can press the live chat button to talk to someone about a product quote or fill out our online contact form to request a quote for custom branded disposable products.


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