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How to respond to negative restaurant reviews like a pro

Kim Mercado image
By Kim Mercado
Jul 9, 2021 min read

Unfortunately, you can't please everyone all the time.

While it would be nice to receive only glowing reviews from satisfied customers, if you're in business long enough, there will come a time when a customer is unhappy with their experience.

But negative restaurant reviews are no reason to panic. Most of the time, a little professionalism and a well-crafted response can resolve the situation and get your customer to give you a second chance.

We spoke with two restaurant industry professionals to get their thoughts on the best way to respond to a bad review. Here's what they had to say.

Respond to (almost) every review

Twenty years ago, if a customer wasn't happy with their food or the service they received, they might go home and tell their family or neighbors. Today, they can post about their experience online at restaurant review sites like Yelp and Google for the world to see.

That's one reason Melissa Lewando, marketing director of Moe's Southwest Grill Long Island, and Russell Parrott, restaurant consultant and founder of Russell Parrott & Associates, recommend responding to every review customers post.

"I know a lot of people let it fall off, and that's when customers get mad and won't come back. If you respond, you're opening yourself up to the opportunity of not losing that customer and having them come back," Lewando says. "The only time I would recommend not responding is if we handled the situation the best way we could, and they're still upset and keep submitting negative feedback."

Develop a structured process for responding

You don't want your customers to think that some people get special treatment while others don’t. But according to Parrott, many restaurants don't have a structured process for responding to reviews, which leads to inconsistencies in how they're handled.

He recommends creating a process and following it for every restaurant review — good and bad — to ensure you treat everyone the same.

Move the conversation out of the public eye

You don't want a single person’s experience to influence everyone else's opinion before they even give your restaurant a chance.

After thanking the reviewer for their feedback and apologizing for their experience, Lewando and Parrott recommend moving the discussion somewhere private such as email, phone or private messenger.

"I don't want that conversation to go back and forth where everybody can read it. I'm trying to settle the situation, and I'm not sure what the reviewer is going to say," Lewando said.

Get to the root cause of negative reviews

People want to have their feelings validated. When you speak with the customer privately, it's important to listen without interrupting.

"It's hard because you want to jump in and give an explanation. But the customer really just wants to be heard, so you have to listen to what they're saying," Lewando said.

Parrott says it's also important to dig deeper to get the full context. Find out if what they wrote in the review is the real reason they're unhappy or if it was the last straw in a series of unfortunate events.

"You need to get to the root cause and identify it," he said.

Ask how you can make it right

"If you ask, most customers will tell you how you can make it right," Parrott said. Some people might want a free drink or the best table in the house the next time they visit. Others might like a full refund for their meal. Whatever it is, you should try to make it happen — within reason.

After resolving the situation, Parrott recommends asking the customer if they'd be willing to update their review, saying the restaurant contacted them privately and they're happy with the outcome.

If they won't do that, he advises restaurants to respond to the review, letting the customer know they're happy they could resolve the situation privately. It sends a message to anyone thinking about dining there that the restaurant takes customer concerns seriously.

Invite them back

Repeat customers are the lifeblood of the restaurant business, so it's important to welcome back all your customers — even the ones who leave bad reviews.

"Always encourage them to come back. We want them coming back. That's how we survive as a business," said Lewando.

Investigate and make changes

If they're handled properly, negative restaurant reviews can help improve every customer's experience. When you receive less-than-glowing feedback, be sure to ask yourself what lesson you can learn from it.

Was the service slow because it was a holiday weekend, and you didn't have enough staff scheduled to work? Did a piece of equipment fail, and you didn't have a backup ready to go?

If you can learn and make changes for the future, you can help prevent mishaps from occurring again. And if you're getting similar feedback from multiple people, it's especially important to investigate what's going on.

"When there's consistency in negative feedback, you know there's a problem," says Lewando. 

Having the right business insurance is important

Running a restaurant is tough, and mistakes will happen. Having the right restaurant, food and bar insurance for your business gives you one less thing to worry about. General liability insurance can help protect you from mishaps that involve customers.

For example, let's say two servers collide during the hustle and bustle of the dinner rush. The food and drinks from their trays spill onto the customers seated at a nearby table, ruining their cell phones — in addition to their dining experience. General liability can cover the cost to replace their damaged electronics.

Or the restaurant manager responds to a bad review in the heat of the moment. Instead of crafting a thoughtful, professional response, the manager badmouths the customer on social media for the world to see. And the customer sues the restaurant for libel. General liability covers that too.

With the proper insurance coverage, it's easy to make things right with your customers when something goes wrong. And they may even be so impressed with the way you handled the situation that they'll skip posting the negative review they were drafting in their head.

How you can get insurance for your restaurant

While we can't erase negative food reviews, we can make it easy to get the business insurance you need to protect your business.

At NEXT Insurance, you can mix and match policies to get just the right amount of coverage customized for your business. Choose from general liability, workers' compensation, commercial auto, and commercial property.

With our online application, you can view policy options, get a quote and purchase coverage in less than 10 minutes. As soon as you make your payment, your certificate of insurance will be available online.

If you have questions at any time, our licensed, U.S.-based insurance advisors are ready to help.

Get your free instant quote today.

 

Kim Mercado image
By Kim Mercado
Kim Mercado is the managing editor of NEXT's small business blog.
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