At some point in the life of your restaurant, you’re probably going to see it happen. Even if you’re diligent about providing great service and serving excellent food, there’s going to come a time when a guest wasn’t completely satisfied with their experience and posts something negative online about it.
Because your restaurant and its success are personal to you, it’s easy to interpret any negative feedback as a personal attack. It’s easy to respond with defensiveness and then really lose that guest forever. And it’s easy for potential guests to see your less-than-tactful reply and decide to eat somewhere else.
However, online criticism can give you valuable information on where you and your staff need to improve — not to mention the chance to reengage that customer. If you handle the situation carefully, you can show both the guest and anyone reading the comment that you care about their overall experience at your restaurant.
1. Respond promptly, but not immediately.
If a negative review or comment does warrant a response from management — and we recommend responding to almost any comment, positive or negative — it’s important that it’s done within a reasonable amount of time, preferably one to two days of the comment going up.
This will keep them engaged and let them know that you value your customers enough to pay attention to comments. However, it might be a good idea to not respond immediately after you read the comment.
For one, if there was an issue you’ve never gotten feedback on before, take a few minutes to investigate what the situation was from those who were on shift. It can help you get more context for what happened.
If there is a solution to be found for the issue, you want to make sure all your ducks are in a row so anything you promise in your response will be done correctly.
Also, if the guest’s comment was especially heated and made you upset, taking time in between reading it and responding will give you an opportunity to calm down, assess the issue, and avoid coming off bitter in your answer.
2. Keep the right tone.
Speaking of bitter, tone is an important part of any response to criticism, whether in person or online. The added challenge of online communication is that the other person can’t hear your voice, which means choosing your wording carefully is even more important.
One of the classic mistakes when issuing a sincere apology is starting with any variation of “I’m sorry you were offended” or “I’m sorry if your feelings were hurt.” While on the surface it seems apologetic, the apologizer is actually taking the focus off of their responsibility for the offense and onto the person getting upset. It ultimately comes off as dismissive, especially when read off a screen where tone can get lost.
If the comment is not all negative (“The chili fries were perfect, but the entrees took too long to come out.”), it’s totally okay to lead with thanking them for the positive feedback before apologizing for the negatives.
If you’re still concerned about the tone, consider reading your response out loud (possibly to another member of your team) and listen to how it sounds. If you were getting that response back as a restaurant guest, how would you take it? From there, you can adjust the phrasing so that you have the best chance of the customer reading your tone as respectful and polite.
3. Share what you’re doing next.
One of the reasons guests post reviews is that they’re looking to see how the restaurant will use their criticism. What you say about this in your response will depend on the situation and what you know you can do to fix the problem relatively soon.
If it’s a server mistake, talking about how you’ll use their comment in training is appropriate. If it’s a dining room atmosphere issue and you’re about to remodel, letting them know their comment will be taken to heart is good, too. If it’s a problem with a menu item (and you’ve heard the same complaint over and over about that item), you can mention that you’re saving their criticism for when you next revamp your menu.
If you do decide to respond in this way, the most crucial thing is to actually do the things you promise them. It’ll do you no good to ensure to the guest that you’re making changes and get a new review months later pointing out that the same problem happened again. You’ll lose customers’ trust and tarnish your reputation.
4. Take it private.
While it depends on the review site, you may have an option to privately message the customer instead of responding directly on the webpage. In certain situations, this could be a smart choice, helping the customer feel like you’re really there to solve the problem (instead of just saving face by seeming apologetic online).
In this case, if the program allows for multiple business responses, include one noting that you’ll be messaging them privately to discuss the matter. Once you’ve resolved the issue in private, you can then leave a follow-up comment on their original review acknowledging the resolution.
Do not, under any circumstances, contact a customer via a method they did not explicitly give you permission to use. Do not search for a private email address or phone number for anyone. Only ever use channels of communication they have explicitly given you permission to use with them. This will avoid any appearance — or actuality — of harassment, whether the initial comment was positive or negative.
5. Show your gratitude for their insight.
When it comes down to it, less than glowing reviews are an opportunity, both for improvement and to win a past customer back over.
Unlike an unhappy guest who simply walks out without a word and never returns, the reviewer is letting you know what made the unhappy. They’re giving you one last shot to do the right thing and showing you they still care, even if just a little. If they didn’t, they likely wouldn’t leave a comment at all. By offering a personal response (don’t just post a copy and pasted autoreply), you’re showing them that you’re really listening.
Every review is valuable information, especially if it’s not even an overall bad experience, but one aspect of the meal that felt lackluster. So besides acknowledging that their criticism was heard, also genuinely thank the reviewer for their feedback. That’s powerful customer service.
Want to be sure the reviewers you’re reading actually ate at your restaurant? There’s only one way: