Online reviews have become the new word of mouth.

According to BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey97% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, including restaurants. And 77% of consumers always read online reviews when browsing for local businesses. 

Because reading online reviews has become an integral part of many guests’ purchasing or dining decisions, good reviews are basically free marketing for your restaurant, and responding to every review you receive shows those browsing how much care about your guests and their experience at your restaurant.

But what about bad restaurant reviews? How should you handle those? It’s inevitable that your restaurant will receive a negative review at some point.

What’s important is knowing how to deal with bad restaurant reviews, keeping hospitality and good customer service at the heart of your response to minimize the impact bad reviews can have on your business.

Here are the steps you can take to fix, learn from, and avoid bad restaurant reviews.

How to become aware of bad restaurant reviews ASAP

In order to respond to and fix bad reviews, you’re going to need to hear about them as soon as they go online.

That means you need to track bad restaurant reviews on Yelp, Google and Facebook, as well as popular restaurant review sites, such as OpenTable and TripAdvisor.

You should also monitor comments guests may leave on your social media accounts, as well as any online chatter on other’s accounts that tag you or mention your restaurant’s name. 

Start by claiming your restaurant’s listing on sites like Google Maps, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Foursquare. This will allow you to monitor reviews as they’re posted, so you hear any negative (or positive) feedback right away and can start working on a response immediately.

Source: Yelp

Next, set up alerts for mentions of your restaurant – Google Alerts and Twitter have great platforms to notify you when people are talking about your restaurant business online (if you’re not sure how to set up alerts, Build Book Buzz has a great guide). These alerts can help you catch any negative feedback that’s posted to social media, outside of traditional review sites.

Google Alerts Set-Up

How to respond to bad restaurant reviews

Bad restaurant reviews are inevitable — eventually, your restaurant will receive one. The good news is that most potential guests understand that no business is perfect, and they aren’t necessarily expecting to see 5 star reviews across the board. What you may not know, is that responding to negative comments is necessary! According to BrightLocal’s Local Consumer research, consumers respect businesses that try to make the best of a situation by responding to negative reviews, rather than those with replies to positive reviews only. 

So, what matters the most is what you do next; how you handle the review can help determine how much of an impact it has on your future business. Here are the steps you should take to handle it the right way.

Step 1: Stay calm and don’t overreact 

One of the worst things you can do is to write an immediate, emotional response to a bad review. The first step is to hit pause, take a deep breath and know that it’s not going to help to rush into your response. Even the worst restaurant reviews aren’t the end of the world, so don’t panic.

Step 2: Respond to bad restaurant reviews carefully, but promptly

Before responding to bad restaurant reviews online, craft your response the old fashioned way: on paper. Write it out, then take a break from it so you can come back later with fresh eyes. The idea is to take your time, so your response isn’t reactive, but to still respond quickly.

When crafting a response to a negative review left at your restaurant business, do these three things

  • Apologize to the guest, and thank them for their honest feedback.
  • Let them know you’d like to try to fix the problem.
  • Offer to continue the conversation offline (and away from the eyes of the public) by leaving a phone number or email address where they can reach you directly.

If there’s not a fixable problem at hand and perhaps it’s just a guests poor attitude at play, provide an explanation and address the response nonetheless – and always remember to stay as polite as possible in your response.

Step 3: Fix the problem

Whatever the reviewer complained about, address it with your team. If they thought the service was slow, talk to your staff about how you can cut down on wait times. If there was a mistake with their food, make sure the kitchen staff knows so that they can be more careful not to repeat the mix-up.

Step 4: Offer a solution or incentive

If the reviewer follows up with you one-on-one after you respond to their review, address their concerns and tell them how you’re fixing things. It’s also a good practice to offer an incentive, like an appetizer or drink on the house, if they’re willing to come back and give your restaurant another try.

Step 5: Remember not all bad reviews are your fault

Sometimes a guest just can’t be pleased, or they’re taking out a bad day on you and your staff. Don’t take it personally. Do what you can to address bad restaurant reviews and fix the problems they highlight, but don’t dwell on negativity if the guest won’t let you fix the problem for them.

Lessons you can learn from bad restaurant reviews

After providing a quick response and solution to bad restaurant reviews, it’s a good idea to take some time to reflect on them. Every bad review has the potential to teach you something about your restaurant.

Make sure to record bad reviews somewhere, like a dedicated spreadsheet, along with ideas about how to address or solve them. Go over bad reviews in staff meetings and talk about them with your team, as well as how you can all work together to turn a bad review into a positive change at your restaurant.

Then check out the below examples of bad restaurant reviews, as well as the lessons you can learn from each of them.

Lesson 1: Improve your food

Sometimes a bad restaurant review happens just because the food wasn’t to a guest’s taste. But if a review mentions a problem with temperature or specifies problems like “crunchy oily batter” on a dish you know isn’t meant to be this way, it’s worth looking into how that menu item is being prepared and if any improvements can be made.

Lesson 2: Make your menu inclusive to all diets

Today’s diners expect restaurants to be able to cater to a variety of lifestyles (e.g. vegetarian, vegan, keto) and food sensitivities (e.g. dairy, gluten). If reviewers are upset about your restaurant’s lack of options for people with certain dietary needs, think of it as an opportunity to expand your offerings so more guests — with more diverse dietary needs — have a place at your table.

Lesson 3: Adjust your prices

If just one bad restaurant review says your food is overpriced, it’s possible you had just a guest with tight purse strings. But if you start to notice a theme where multiple reviewers are saying your food costs too much or doesn’t deliver value that matches the price tag, it’s not a bad idea to revisit your pricing. Even if you don’t want to outright lower prices, you can offer more to help your guests feel like they’re getting better value, like bigger portion sizes or a free bread basket

Need a refresher on how to price your menu? Here’s how to set prices to maximize your restaurant’s profits.

Lesson 4: Improve service

If you notice a pattern of bad restaurant reviews mentioning that your service is lacking, it might be time to investigate those complaints and implement measures to improve your service and hospitality. Whether it’s because of wait times, poorly trained staff or a disorganized kitchen, get to the bottom of service complaints and fix them.

Lesson 5: Improve atmosphere

Complaints about decor, the music, temperature or the lighting at your restaurant can all be clues it’s time to update your ambiance. This doesn’t mean you have to undertake a complete remodel. However, if your guests aren’t happy with the atmosphere, take the necessary steps to correct what they don’t like and make the dining experience more pleasant for everyone who visits. Here’s how to get in tune with your location, space and vibe to set the scene for a winning restaurant.

Lesson 6: Don’t wait for a bad review

Even good reviews can come with constructive criticism, which is why it’s a good idea to keep tabs on everything that’s being said about your restaurant online — the bad and the good.

You should also try to see your restaurant through a reviewer’s eyes. Separate yourself from your love for the business, and see the experience, atmosphere, food and service as objectively as possible. Try to anticipate anything guests may complain about, and address those problems before a bad review is even written. By being proactive instead of reactive, you may be able to avoid some bad restaurant reviews altogether.

Source: BrightLocal Survey

Combat Bad Restaurant Reviews with Good Ones.

It’s hard for a potential guest to focus on a bad review or two when there are hundreds or thousands of glowing reviews to combat the negatives.

Talk to guests when they’re in your restaurant, and if they’ve had a great experience, encourage them to leave you a good review. Include links to your social media and review site pages on receipts and menus. Offer tablets where guests can leave positive reviews before they even leave the restaurant, while the good experience is still fresh in their mind. Ask for reviews from loyal guests and regulars — there’s a reason they keep coming back, and odds are good they’ll want to share that with other people.

Love them or hate them, online reviews are a major part of running a restaurant. Being able to properly respond to bad restaurant reviews will give you a huge advantage over restaurants that don’t have a strategy in place to deal with inevitable negative experiences.

Remember to stay calm, take the high road, and use bad restaurant reviews as an opportunity to better your restaurant. You’ll weather the bad-review storm without any problems!

Looking for more opportunities to improve your restaurant operations? Price your menu to please customers, and your bottom line.