Everyone’s a critic.
This adage is especially resonant today as smartphones give diners the ability to publish their thoughts about a restaurant to dozens of reviews sites before settling the check.
While positive reviews can encourage diners to visit a restaurant, bad restaurant reviews can deter customers and affect revenue.
The bad news is that no restaurant is immune to angry customers and less-than-stellar reviews.
The good news? When you have a solid grasp on how to handle bad restaurant reviews, you can turn them into opportunities for growth. ReviewTrackers found that 44.6% of consumers are more likely to visit a business if the owner responds to negative online reviews.
We’re here to teach you how to effectively respond to bad restaurant reviews. In this guide you’ll learn:
- How customer reviews affect restaurants
- Why you shouldn’t ignore bad reviews
- The dos and don t’s of responding to bad reviews
- How to respond to bad restaurant reviews
- Examples of how to respond to a bad restaurant review
- Restaurant review response templates
- How to avoid bad restaurant reviews
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The impact of customer reviews on restaurants
From Yelp and TripAdvisor to Google and Foursquare, there is no shortage of platforms through which customers can share their opinion of a restaurant.
Reviews aren’t just important for your restaurant’s image, they can also affect your bottom line. 94% of diners reference online reviews to help them decide where to eat.
With so many restaurants to choose from, diners want to make sure that they’ll have a worthwhile experience before committing to one. Smartphones help potential customers to read reviews and make decisions about your restaurant even as they wait for a table.
Ultimately, reviews help customers vet restaurants.
While positive restaurant reviews bring customers in, bad restaurant reviews keep customers away. According to Harvard Business School, a one-star increase in a restaurant’s Yelp rating can generate an extra 9% in revenue.
The inverse can also be true. For an industry with slim profit margins, this revenue boost or loss could make or break a restaurant. For a $2 million per year restaurant, a one-star rating decrease can lead to a $180,000 decrease in revenue.
Next time you’re wondering why you should spend time reviewing and responding to reviews, remember these numbers and the serious impact they can have on your business financials.
Why you shouldn’t ignore bad restaurant reviews
Rule of thumb: Never ignore a review, no matter how negative it is! Potential customers read reviews from past customers and will base their future dining decisions on this.
If a customer leaves a bad restaurant review and a representative from the restaurant doesn’t respond, then the reviewer has the final say. Potential customers will assume that the problems addressed by the reviewer are ongoing, or that the restaurant doesn’t care.
If instead, a manager addresses the concerns left in a review, then potential customers will see that management takes customer feedback seriously and is taking steps to ensure that the mistake or problem highlighted by the reviewer won’t happen again.
Remember, customer service doesn’t stop at the door!
Let’s say that you are hungry for pizza and want to try Pete’s Pizza Pit, the new pizza spot in your town. You read a review on their Google My Business profile that says, “there was a hair on my pizza…yuck!” The restaurant didn’t respond to the review. As a result, you assume that the staff is careless and doesn’t care much about food safety. As a result, you don’t visit Pete’s Pizza Pit.
However, imagine if you read that same review and it was followed by a good response from management that says, “We are so sorry to hear about this. Food hygiene is of utmost importance to us, which is why we wear hairnets and hats to prevent this from happening. While we will do everything possible to ensure that this never happens again, if it ever does, please alert staff and we’ll replace your pizza immediately!” Reading that response, you’re more inclined to try Pete’s Pizza Pit than if they hadn’t responded at all.
A public response to a restaurant review is the opportunity to share your side of the story and show potential customers how you would react if something went wrong during their dining experience. Public responses mean that you’re not only speaking to an angry reviewer, but you’re also giving people who discover your restaurant online a chance to see what went wrong, how you fixed it and why it won’t happen again.
The dos and don’ts of responding to bad restaurant reviews
Responding to bad restaurant reviews is an art form that takes practice to perfect.
Keep these dos and don’ts in mind when writing your response in order to achieve the best possible outcome.
❌ Don’t: Wait too long to respond to a review
Check review and travel sites, your Facebook and Google My Business profile regularly for new reviews. Respond to reviews within two or three days so that you can recover angry customers before they write off your restaurant completely.
❌ Don’t: Respond to reviews when you feel angry
Reading a scathing review can hurt, especially when it’s about a business you worked hard to create. While you should respond to reviews in a timely manner, feel free to sleep on tricky responses or ask for a second opinion to ensure that they are professional instead of retaliatory.
❌ Don’t: Take bad restaurant reviews personally
Many restaurant owners find it difficult to read critiques of their business. If reviews rile you up, delegate responding to bad reviews to someone else on your team. Make sure that the person you choose can be objective and will pass along customer feedback to you.
✅ Do: Take bad restaurant reviews as a learning opportunity
It’s easy to be stubborn and want control over your business, but the business won’t exist without customers. View reviews as opportunities to collect feedback from customers and implement them to help your business grow.
If you’ve read several reviews complaining about server Tony, maybe you need to have a chat with him about his approach to customer service. If customers are complaining that dishes are too salty, consider revisiting your recipes.
✅ Do: Use proper grammar, punctuation and complete sentences
Just because reviews are written online doesn’t mean that you should be informal in your responses. Reviews are a PR opportunity and help you manage your restaurant’s reputation, so make sure that your responses reflect your restaurant well.
How to respond to a bad restaurant review
There are six things that you should cover in each of your responses.
- Thank the customer (by name) for their business
- Highlight something good from the review
- Apologize for what went wrong
- Explain why the error or problem happened and what you’re doing to ensure that the error isn’t repeated
- Move the situation offline
- Invite them back
✅ Do: Thank reviewers for visiting your restaurant
Out of all of the restaurants in the area, this customer chose to spend their time and money at yours. Show gratitude with a simple, “thanks for dining with us!” Use the reviewer’s name to add a personal touch to your response.
✅ Do: Highlight something positive from the review
Even if the review contains more bad than good, bring attention to something positive the reviewer wrote. This practice reminds the customer that they liked something about their dining experience and flips the narrative for potential customers, who may read the review in a different light.
✅ Do: Apologize for what went wrong
After the niceties, it’s time to get to the nitty-gritty of the problem. Everyone makes mistakes. When you apologize to customers, you come off as humble and receptive to feedback instead of arrogant or vengeful.
✅ Do: Explain why the mistake or problem highlighted in the review happened
Explain the changes that are being made to ensure the error won’t happen again. While the reviewer may not care why something went wrong because it already ruined their experience, this response can give potential customers some clarity.
When you explain why the problem won’t happen again, you’re showing customers that you take their feedback seriously. The goal of this strategy is to reassure potential customers that they won’t encounter a similar problem during their visit because you learned your lesson.
✅ Do: Move the situation offline
Try to take the conversation offline. In your response, provide the disgruntled customer the contact information for a specific company representative. Doing this demonstrates that you are receptive to feedback and are approachable. It also shows that you take customer service seriously and really want to address the issues that customer mentioned in their comment.
✅ Do: Invite them back
Once you’ve addressed all of the above, it’s important to invite the customer to back to your establishment so that you can win back their business. Oftentimes, this is followed by a commercial gesture like a discount on their next visit.
These response tactics will increase the chances of potential customers choosing your restaurant despite some poor reviews.
Examples of how to respond to a bad restaurant review
Now let’s find a real example of a bad restaurant review and put our response tips to practice.
A personal and apologetic response
In the example above, we see a review for Recess in Chicago, where the customer, Anthony, provided a mixed review of his experience. While the reviewer appreciated the atmosphere for watching the game and celebrated a friend’s birthday, he felt the food and drinks were just average, with a specific note on the vodka cranberry being too diluted.
A major issue highlighted in the review was with the handling of the trivia and raffle during the game day event, where Anthony’s group was seemingly penalized for winning too often, leading to a sense of unfairness and disappointment.
The Recess team handled the feedback well by:
- Starting with a personal touch: They kicked off with a personal address to Anthony, which adds a touch of care right from the get-go.
- Apologizing. Recess didn’t beat around the bush. They apologized straight up for any mix-up Anthony felt. This shows they’re not just about defending their side but also about acknowledging where things might have seemed off.
- Sharing their side of the story: Recess explained why they have certain trivia rules—to keep things fun and fair for everyone. They also dived into the details of the final raffle issue. They explained the specifics, like why certain names were pulled out or why they had to move on to the next name. It shows they’re not just addressing concerns but also taking time to explain the finer points.
- An olive branch: Ending on a positive note, they expressed hope that Anthony had a good time overall and invited him back. It’s like leaving the door open for a second chance, showing they value his patronage and would love to make things right.
Acknowledging different preferences
Here’s another example, featuring Table Rock Coffee Roasters.
Valeria’s review presented a common dilemma in coffee shops: the balance between ice and coffee in iced drinks. Her review was positive about the coffee’s taste but critical of the amount of ice. The response from the coffee shop was a good mix of professionalism and friendliness.
- Personalized greeting: The response begins by addressing Valeria directly, which adds a personal touch to the interaction. This shows they value each customer’s feedback.
- Explanation of standards: They clarify why they use the specific ice-to-coffee ratio, emphasizing their goal to avoid a watered-down taste. This insight into their standards helps Valeria understand the rationale behind their serving method.
- Acknowledging individual preferences: The shop acknowledges that coffee preferences are subjective and vary from person to person. This shows they understand and respect individual tastes and habits.
- Offering customization: The key highlight of their response is the offer of customization. They invite Valeria to request her preferred amount of ice in future orders, demonstrating their flexibility and commitment to customer satisfaction.
Review response templates
Still need ideas for how to respond to bad restaurant reviews? We’ve put together a few review templates that you can draw inspiration from. Bear in mind though, the best responses are the ones that are personalized and tailored to the situation, so use these templates as a starting point but don’t copy them verbatim.
Restaurant review response template for negative comments about food
Did someone complain about the quality of your restaurant’s food? Here’s a template that you can adapt to your business.
Restaurant review response template for poor customer service
If the negative restaurant review is regarding customer service, the following review response template is a good place to start.
Restaurant review response template for hygiene issues
Now let’s look at a review response template for addressing hygiene concerns at your restaurant.
Restaurant review response template for delayed service
If someone leaves a negative restaurant review about delayed service, consider replying with something along the lines of:
How to avoid bad restaurant reviews
Unfortunately, you can’t get Yelp to delete a bad review, but you can prevent future bad reviews by making sure that your customer service and food are on top-notch.
You can also diminish the effects of a negative review by encouraging happy customers to write good reviews.
How to get more positive reviews
- Offer customers a discount or free drink for reviewing your restaurant on Facebook, Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc.
- Instruct waiters to ask customers who seemed satisfied with their dining experience to write a review.
The only way to decrease the number of bad restaurant reviews is to offer a meal and the best customer service you can and to do it consistently.
It’s not just about making a good first impression, but by following it up with a great service every time a customer visits. That’s easier said than done, but there are a few ways to assure your service is consistently positive.
- Find the right manager.
- Provide proper staff training (Pro tip: check out our risk management checklist).
- Opt for a point of sale system that helps you provide a fast, reliable and personalized service.
By better preparing your staff to provide the best customer service, the more positive reviews you’ll receive. The more positive reviews you have, the less impact your negative reviews will have.
Your guide to responding to bad restaurant reviews
Reviews can be critical to a restaurant’s success. It’s all about staying on top of both good and bad reviews to avoid losing current customers and to be able to attract new ones. Remember to not take reviews personally, and to see them as a learning opportunity.
Everyone will have an opinion, but when your restaurant’s reputation is at stake, it’s important to rise above and remember to keep your customers happy and returning.
Now it’s time to sit down and get started on reading and replying to your reviews.
How do you respond to bad restaurant reviews?
Responding to bad restaurant reviews involves acknowledging the customer’s experience, offering an apology, and addressing the specific issues raised. Be sure to keep the response professional, empathetic, and concise. Another idea? Offering to rectify the situation, such as inviting the customer for a complimentary meal, and suggesting taking the conversation offline for further resolution, can also be effective.
How do you get rid of bad restaurant reviews?
Eliminating bad restaurant reviews is generally not feasible, as they reflect genuine customer experiences. That said, you can mitigate their impact by responding professionally and encouraging satisfied customers to post positive reviews. If a review is inappropriate or violates the platform’s guidelines (like containing hate speech or spam), you can request its removal.
Depending on the platform, the customer may be able to edit their original review. So, if you reach out to them directly and resolve their concerns or offer a solution, they might choose to update their review to reflect the improved experience or the responsive customer service they received.
How many bad reviews can change a restaurant’s rating?
The impact of bad reviews on a restaurant’s overall rating depends on several factors, including the total number of reviews and the platform’s algorithm. While a few bad reviews might not significantly alter the rating in a large pool of feedback, a surge of negative reviews can have a more immediate and noticeable impact.
How can a restaurant owner prevent bad reviews?
Preventing bad reviews as a restaurant owner involves consistently providing high-quality service and food, training staff effectively, and addressing customer issues promptly. Encouraging direct feedback during the dining experience can help resolve issues before they result in negative online reviews. Creating a feedback-friendly atmosphere shows customers that their opinions are valued and considered for continuous improvement.
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