Can those dreaded one-star reviews be reversed? Experts say yes if handled correctly.
It’s happened to many a restaurateur: he or she logs on to Google to check reviews and sees the dreaded one-star. It seems someone had a negative dining experience and they took it online. Is the damage done? Not always, experts say.
Monitoring online reviews
The first step in reputation management is to monitor online reviews. If it’s a small business, this can be done manually by looking through Google, Yelp, Twitter, Tripadvisor and Facebook individually to check reviews. The most important of these is Google. A restaurant should have set up a Google My Business account as the business opened.
“Restaurant owners or managers should absolutely respond to as many reviews as possible, whether they are positive or negative,” said Mary King, a 14-year restaurant veteran and expert for Fit Small Business. “Customers like to feel heard, and even if they had a negative experience, they are more willing to give a restaurant a second chance if they feel the team heard their feedback.”
For larger businesses, it might be beneficial to use a review monitoring service, said Zack Oates, founder of reputation management site Ovation, which pulls all reviews into one place. “The good ones will give you summary data, such as aggregate star ratings,” Oates said. The better ones will pull out recurring themes or trends, and the best ones will synthesize all of this into actionable steps to improve your business.”
Responding to reviews
King advises keeping responses short and sweet, even if the feedback is negative. “Your target reader for your response is not necessarily the person who wrote the review, it is other potential customers,” she said. “It is better to respond to negative comments with a request that the writer contact you directly so you can find a satisfying resolution. If the platform allows you to reach out to the review writer directly, then do that and mention in your public response that you did. Something quick like ‘I’m sorry to hear about your experience, I sent you a direct message and hope we can find a way to resolve any issues you had. Thank you for dining with us; I hope you will give us another chance to make your day.'”
Respond to negative reviews as soon as possible, preferably within seven days, if not sooner, Oates said. He tells operators to remember the three C’s: collected, compassionate and call to action.
First, don’t take reviews personally, and respond professionally. “The only thing worse than a one-star review is a one-star review with an immature response from the owner beneath it,” Oates cautioned.
Be compassionate and try to understand the customer’s perspective. “Everyone makes mistakes — it doesn’t make you a bad restaurant. Once you’ve acknowledged their experience, without trying to defend yourself or justify the mistake, be sure to include a brief apology,” Oates said.
Remember a call to action. Refer the guest to a number, email or webpage where he or she can provide additional, private feedback. “Make sure they know their voice will be heard and action will be taken to improve their personal experience moving forward,” Oates said.
Finally, end on a positive note, and don’t get defensive. Diners are quick to acknowledge when a review is “over the top or being overly critical. They don’t need you to point it out,” King adds. “When you get a negative review, it is funny to think about writing a snarky response that might land your restaurant on the front page of Eater. But that sort of response can backfire. Potential customers don’t want to think they might be publicly embarrassed if they eat at your restaurant and have a bad time.”
Oates said operators should:
- Avoid getting defensive or saying anything to belittle the guest. It might not have happened just as they said it did, but it is about how they felt.
- Avoid always thinking it is just a server at another restaurant sabotaging you.
- Avoid publicly giving away free meals. This encourages further bad reviews.
- Don’t talk about the customer, talk to them. For example, if they say, “The pizza was cold” don’t say “This customer only posts negative reviews and was late picking up their pizza!” Instead, talk directly to the customer, “Hey Sandy, this is Jim the owner. I’m so sorry your pizza was cold — our drivers were so backed up on Friday and it took longer than it should have. Can you email me personally? I would love to get a chance to earn another shot.” Then an operator can offer his or her personal email.
Matt Plapp, CEO and founder of America’s Best Restaurants, a media and marketing firm working with independent restaurants to help them develop more frequent customers, said it is not as important to reply to negative reviews as it is to positive reviews.
“All reviews should be replied to,” he said. “Both should be treated exactly the same as they would if you were walking through your restaurant and a customer voiced their concerns to you in person. Would you look at them for 10 seconds and then walk away? Of course not. Then why are restaurant owners doing that to customers?”
Asking for reviews
Offering an incentive for reviews may seem like a good way to get people to leave feedback, but a word of caution from Oates: “If you incentivize people to leave positive reviews — through a giveaway, a discount, or a free item — you are at risk of being delisted,” he said.
Training staff to ask customers to leave reviews — we’ve all seen surveys at the end of receipts — or offering a business card with a QR code is a quick and easy way to encourage a review.
Plapp said to do what 93% of restaurants are not doing — offering an incentive to gain customer data, including name, email, phone number and visit frequency.
“When you get this information, you have the info you need to start a conversation after the visit and ask them for their review,” he said. “We use one-off digital promotion early in the client relationship that are redeemed through Facebook Messenger. This allows for us to ask them in Messenger immediately after their visit for a review, and 30-40% give us one. And if they give us a four- or five-star review, we politely ask them to leave that one Google and give them a link. If it’s three stars or below, we let them know the owner or a manger will be calling them.”
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is the managing editor at Networld Media Group and the site editor for PizzaMarketplace.com and QSRweb.com. She has more than 20 years’ experience covering food, people and places.
An award-winning print journalist, Mandy brings more than 20 years’ experience to Networld Media Group. She has spent nearly two decades covering the pizza industry, from independent pizzerias to multi-unit chains and every size business in between. Mandy has been featured on the Food Network and has won numerous awards for her coverage of the restaurant industry. She has an insatiable appetite for learning, and can tell you where to find the best slices in the country after spending 15 years traveling and eating pizza for a living.