Beyond profitability, the objective of almost every café, bar or restaurant owner is to ensure their patrons have a great experience. Unlike other industries, their work is public facing, and they can be subject to vast quantities of online praise and criticism. The result of heart, sweat and tears is appraised by strangers via a 1-5-star rating and a few lines of feedback.
Negative reviews can be difficult to navigate. When constructive, they can help to pinpoint issues in the business which can then be remedied. Review platforms also provide a chance for staff to respond and communicate directly with customers, which can humanise the business, and encourage readers to attend the venue, and see the improvements that have been made post-reviews. However, reviews can also be personal, hurtful and – if handled without sensitivity – can dissuade potential customers from dining at your venue.
ResDiary’s Digital Marketing & Communications Manager for Australia and New Zealand, Alana Aguado, has worked in various Head Office and Marketing Manager roles for the hospitality and hotel industry since 2015. She has seen how damaging negative reviews can be for a venue, and has years of experience establishing strategies that have helped to mollify the situation with staff and customers following negative reviews.
“I’ve seen situations where a customer flooded social media pages with hate speech [and other] situations where staff were unreasonably attacked … People can be savage, and responding [to reviews] can be tricky,” Aguado says.
“But, there can be value in bad reviews. It can be a good learning curve as far as feedback goes. A manager can change how the staff deliver service, and chefs can pick up on [criticism] to improve their work. Even before they dine, managers can pick up on [online booking] feedback and adjust accordingly.”
The way that a hospitality venue deals with negative reviews can make or break the public perception of the venue.
So here’s a few tips on dealing with them.
1. Report spam and abuse
There’s not much to be gained from reviews that are hateful or abusive. It’s up to the restaurant owner to determine if a review crosses the line and – if it does – it’s best to report this to the platform moderator. If they choose not to take the review down, it may be worth responding publicly, acknowledging the situation and stating the reasons why the review is out of line.
2. Consider reaching out to the reviewer
People who leave reviews were sufficiently invested in the experience to sit down on their computer or phone, gather their thoughts and share them in a public forum. Even if the feedback isn’t glowing, there may be an opportunity to highlight the care and effort that went into creating the experience. Aguado suggests reaching out, offering an incentive to amend the review and encouraging a return to the venue to rectify the situation.
She says there’s also an opportunity to reward individuals who leave positive reviews. Aguado proposes offering a loyalty card, and acknowledging their kind feedback. “In an industry that’s heavily reliant on good ratings, positive reviews – and the retraction of negative reviews – can be worth their weight in gold,” she says.
3. Consider tone and content in your response
Rather than reacting to negative reviews in a childish or condescending manner, Aguado says being the adult in the room should always be front of mind. In the context of tone, this means remaining calm and professional at all times.
Regarding content, Aguado suggests sticking to the facts, especially in situations where it’s your word against theirs. “At the end of the day, people who read reviews will make a judgment call based on the tone and the facts that are laid out,” she says.
4. Check in with staff, and work with them if they have been affected.
Negative reviews can be hurtful – especially when they’re targeting specific individuals and their performance. Aguado says it’s particularly important for managers to keep tabs on online reviews, regularly check in with staff to see how they’re feeling and respond appropriately in line with their training.
Confronting bad reviews is likely to be an inevitable part of running a hospitality venue. Depending on the personality of the owner, it may be tempting to gloss over bad reviews, or place an inordinate focus on the negatives without considering positive feedback. But, there may be silver-linings in negative reviews, opportunities to build – or mend – relationships and a chance to enhance the venue’s reputation with a considered response.
Disclaimer: This guide is general in nature and does not take into account your individual circumstances. Before acting on any information, you should consider whether this is right for your business.