If you've gotten zinged by an unhappy guest's post on Yelp, TripAdvisor and other online review sites, you’re not alone. Plenty of your restaurant colleagues and competitors are also receiving negative reviews. Unfortunately, low ratings are likely to hinder your business, and they’re not going to go away on their own.
Whether the negative reviews are justified or not, criticism is difficult to take. It can feel like Yelp and the general public are working against you, when in reality, Yelp points out that only a small percentage of people will actually take the time to post a review online. The influential impact happens when millions of monthly viewers rely on Yelp to make informed dining decisions. Further substantiating Yelp’s influence, new research indicates that negative posts can predict an impending restaurant’s closure with 70 percent accuracy. This begs the question: Are restaurants doomed for failure just because Yelp says so?
When you first discover your critical reviews, it’s likely that you will become frustrated with the system (i.e. Yelp’s algorithm) and wonder where all of your positive reviews are being sequestered. You will be tempted to ask friends and family to post reviews on your behalf, and you might even write an angry reply defending your business. Ultimately, you may decide it’s better for your sanity to ignore online reviews altogether. Your best bet is to avoid all of these options, and instead focus on a more proactive approach.
Here's a game plan for dealing with online critics:
• Call a full staff meeting.
• Come prepared with a few negative (and positive) Yelp posts that are credible and can offer teachable moments to your staff.
• Constructively review the feedback as a group and talk about strategies for improvement.
• Solicit comments from both the front and back of the house to get the whole story.
• Reinforce the mantra that either “we all succeed together, or we all fail together.” Invested employees are more likely to be committed to the success of the business.
• Make sure everyone on staff understands the protocol for handling a customer service issue and has the autonomy to correct a problem in the moment.
• Be sure to address positive reviews, too. It’s important to keep morale up by talking about what’s being done well and giving praise.
• Claim your restaurant’s Yelp listing so that you can manage your profile and make posts on behalf of your business.
• Implement a policy of responding to both negative and positive reviews. Keep replies sincere and gracious: “Your feedback is important to us. We hope you’ll consider giving us another try.”
• Depending on the nature and legitimacy of the review, you could invite the guest to continue the conversation offline, and discuss options for correcting the situation
While unfortunately none of these steps can undo a negative customer experience, they can reduce the likelihood of a repeat occurrence. More importantly, your comments will demonstrate to potential guests who are reading reviews that you’re on top of your game.
Holly Machanic is cofounder of Flavor Plate, a restaurant website builder and manager created for the food-savvy, not the tech-savvy.