It’s never a good feeling to get negative comments from your past guests. With the internet connecting consumers in more ways than ever before, unhappy customers are able to let others know exactly how they feel through bad restaurant reviews.
While criticism can sting your pride, you’re still running a business. Emily Mendenhall of Lily’s Bistro in Dayton, OH, says it best: “Sometimes you might read a negative review and you want to think that they weren’t there, and sometimes you just need to look at it head on and say ‘We did not do our best that day and we can do better than that.’” The feedback from bad restaurant reviews is not only helpful, but a key to improvement.
As Adam Bajko, owner of Chip’s Family Restaurants in Connecticut, puts it: “[Customer criticism] certainly benefits us from making mistakes in the future by critiquing, by teaching, or re-teaching the staff and the management to make sure they’re up to snuff.”
There’s an old saying that still rings true: for every one customer that has spoken up there’s at least 10 feeling the same way who did not. And if a customer is willing to take the time out to give you that feedback, you need to listen. It’s only by seeing criticism as an opportunity to improve that you can use bad restaurant reviews to your advantage.
Don’t take bad restaurant reviews personally.
Ahead of anything else, you have to prepare yourself to come at criticism from the right mindset. Yes, it’s really hard to not take bad restaurant reviews personally. Your business is your baby, and when you put your blood, sweat, and tears into making it the best it can be, a stranger putting it down or picking it apart can feel incredibly personal. But without the right attitude towards customer critiques, you won’t be able to fully turn this into an opportunity for change.
Take some time starting now to get used to seeing negative or partially critical customer reviews as an asset instead of a problem for your business. After all, if a customer has a bad experience at your restaurant, would you rather they not say anything and simply leave unhappy (possibly never to return), or would you rather find out about what happened so adjustments can be made where needed?
Look for patterns in the comments.
When evaluating what changes can be made to your service based off bad restaurant reviews, it’s good to think in terms of trends rather than one-off complaints. If one person complains that their soup was too salty but other commenters say they love that soup, it could be a matter of taste. You should still be gracious when apologizing for their bad experience, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll immediately change the recipe.
But if you see several bad restaurant reviews specifically mentioning the soup, then it’s a big red flag that it’s a problem across the board. The same thing goes for complaints about the service, your decor, and your menu as a whole. When you see the same kinds of comments come in, that’s when you know adjustments should be made.
That being said, if a customer contacts you about a particularly serious complaint (such inappropriate behavior by an employee or a severe health code violation), it doesn’t matter if that’s the only comment like that you’ve received. Those kinds of comments should be investigated right away. Ignoring serious concerns in your business will only allow the perpetrators among your staff to continue getting away with unacceptable behavior.
Find the right solution.
Once you realize there is a consistent issue that customers are noticing in your restaurant — and may or may not be showing up repeatedly in bad restaurant reviews — the next step is to figure out how to adjust what you’re already doing to fix those issues.
Does that mean retraining your staff? Does it mean updating your decor? Does it mean adjusting your recipes or adding in more options? Take this as an opportunity to step back and see where your business has room to improve and be the best it can be.
There’s always a chance that your customer’s complaint will come with a suggestion on how to fix it that doesn’t work for your business. If customer reviews repeatedly say the menu prices are too high and you should lower them, that doesn’t necessarily mean lowering your prices is the right choice for your business. But it could mean looking at plating and portions so that what you’re selling reflects the prices you already have in place.
Respond to the customer.
Don’t forget to respond to the customer’s comment, especially when their complaint has been used as valuable feedback for your restaurant. Your response should be prompt, preferably a day or two after the comment was posted. Be apologetic for their less-than-ideal experience, and if you are planning to use their bad restaurant review to make changes to the restaurant, say so and be specific. And then, of course, follow through and make those changes.
Take advantage of verified reviews.
One of the reasons restaurant owners like Mendenhall and Bajko value feedback specifically from Rewards Network is that our platform captures 100% verified consumer reviews. Because each review is tied to a program member’s actual dining experience, you can be sure the feedback you’re getting is from real guests.
On top of that, Rewards Network asks our members to rate the restaurants they visit on many aspects of the dining experience.
“One of the biggest things we do is use the Rewards Network analytics for the purposes of training the staff,” says Jonathan Stan, owner of Pacific Standard in New York. “We get ratings for things like cleanliness and service. If we see a dip in something like cleanliness, we make sure to get on them to make the place cleaner. That definitely helps.”
By getting more specific criticism from customers we can guarantee ate in your establishment, our restaurants can really pinpoint where things need to change when bad restaurant reviews come their way.
Want more tips on how to navigate word of mouth and social feedback? Download our free eBook “Social Media for Restaurants” today: