Impact of restaurant reviews

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Dear Advice Guy,

I got a bad review from our local food critic (the only game in town). Business has been OK since but is this the end? Or does it not matter?

– Restaurant Owner, Philadelphia, PA


Restaurant reviewing is in a very interesting state.  With the rise of consumer review sites, in some ways everyone is a critic. Big critics certainly dominate the food scene and to be sure can impact your sales. We’ve all seen restaurants explode from a good review—going from 1 turn per night to tough to get a table for months. On the other hand, we all know some mediocre restaurants that continue to be profitable even though they are widely panned by critics and industry experts. Perhaps most notable in recent history is Pete Wells’s scathing review of Guy Fieri’s Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square. While it may have turned away some guests, neither Fieri’s career nor his restaurants seem to have suffered.

Chef and multi-unit restaurateur Marc Vetri attacked the institution of restaurant reviewing as a whole. He would contend it doesn’t matter (in stronger words). I agree to some extent. Keep in mind that reviews are written for particular readers. The New York Times, for example, has an educated, moneyed readership. For a new restaurant in New York City serving the same demographic, a bad review could be a death knell. A bad review of a trendy neighborhood place, however, probably wouldn’t make a difference—guests will judge for themselves.

In all, it’s really a case-by-case scenario and time will tell. The key question is whether your guests are also readers of the reviewer and whether they can make their own decisions, whether they have read the review or not. It may be time to put forth some PR effort, make substantive changes if the reviewer raised valid concerns, or offer some promotions to get guests in the door to be critics themselves.

More on getting good reviews here.

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