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How to handle negative comments

Question:

Occasionally we get negative comments on Yelp and other review sites. Should I respond?

– Natalie Kalb, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, Mercadito, New York, Chicago and Miami

Answer:

The short answer is yes, but with a strategy.

It used to be that guests communicated bad restaurant experiences privately to the server or manager or to a select group of friends and family.  Only a few professional reviewers could make their experiences known to a broader public.  With Web 2.0 everyone can be a restaurant reviewer and can post his or her thoughts to the world-- even before dessert is served.

“Many people ask how to get involved in social media,” says David Toth of Worksmart Integrated Marketing in Cleveland, OH.  “[Use review sites to] listen to your customers, because they are talking.  Then develop a strategy with your team to respond.”  Toth recommends responding publicly to concerns to let your guests know their voices are heard and the operation values their business.   For example, “This is Jon, the Chef-Manager.  I’m really sorry to hear that your food took too long to arrive and wasn’t at the proper temperature.  We’re constantly working to improve our system and value your feedback.  Please come back and give us an opportunity to do better.”  Then, via a private message to the reviewer, the operation can offer a discount, free appetizer, or other incentive to get that guest’s business back.  The same strategy can be used to publicly thank positive reviewers—and let them know their next dessert is on the house in appreciation.

For future reviewers, knowing they aren’t typing into a vacuum, but sharing their opinions with a real management team who cares what they write, may help minimize the venom and make reviews constructive opportunities for great service.

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