Review & Response

Responding to your online reviews is one of the only aspects of modern society when honesty is discouraged.

yelp reviews restaurant reviewsHonesty is considered combative. Angry. Confrontational. No matter how polite the honesty is, people will find a way to turn it into a negative.

Online review platforms started with the best intentions but have evolved into a crybaby-hotbed that resides mostly in the realm of fantasy. Blatant exaggerations have evolved into flat-out lies. Negative reviews are now littered with ALL CAPS and several exclamation marks.

People have somehow gone from simply not enjoying a restaurant experience to being personally offended to their very cores because the French fries are a bit colder than they would have liked. God help us all if emojis ever get introduced.

I’m not sure if this comes from an entitlement culture, coddling, or something else, but when our young adults hit the “real world,” they expect absolute perfection. Every time. Without exception. These days giving a 99% positive experience still results in an “F” grade and a 1-star review. 100% is demanded. I’ve worked in reputation management for bars and restaurants for quite a while now and have witnessed the slow progression from, “the volume was a little higher than I would have liked,” to, “my ears were LITERALLY BLEEDING from the volume!!! NEVER, EVER again will I ever step foot in that place!!! If I could give zero stars I would!!!”

Good or bad, you have to respond to all of your online reviews. Always respond publicly, not privately. We’re not really talking to the author of the review anyway. We’re addressing the public reading these reviews. This is where the public is looking when making their decision about where to eat. This is your moment to stand out and show you care more than your competitors.

So the dilemma we all face is: How do we respond to these reviews and not get dragged into the pit of negativity ourselves?

If you can master the art of creative, clever responses that will get a laugh from the public reading them while poking mild fun at the reviewer, you win. The problem is, there is a razor-thin line between clever and offensive, and one becomes the other depending on who you talk to.

The clever response could possibly create media exposure for your restaurant if done right. These cause a buzz either way. People will talk. It’s true that even bad press is press, but it may not be a great idea in this case if it goes south. Only you can decide if this type of response fits your brand.

Negative reviews are very often centered around one staff member. Whether it’s a door guy, a bartender, server, or manager, if the reviewer doesn’t like a staff member on a personal level, the 1-star police get fired-up immediately.

Prevention is the key to success. Preventing 1-star reviews starts with training, of course. If the experience is just OK, but the server is personable, genuine, and actually cares about the guest’s experience, diners can often look past the fact that they got called for their table 10 minutes past the quoted time frame. Conversely, if everything goes smoothly but the guest just doesn’t like the server personally for whatever reason, they will definitely find something to complain about. This all goes back to the, “hire personality, not experience,” rule.

Rule #1 for a clever, honest, and insightfully smart-ass review response: Be right. If there is a shadow of doubt that your staff may have dropped the ball even to a small degree, hold off for a more politically correct response. If you were absolutely in the right, fire away, but keep it fun and light. Over time, the reviewer may realize they were being a bit of a pain that night and remove the review anyway.

Honesty can work if done correctly. Here is a paraphrase of a review from a local restaurant: “…Love that they have pictures of their drinks on the menu but the server literally was trying to sell a $30 single bottle of champagne—I can get that for $10 and bottomless mimosas at [competitor]….”

The response was straightforward, factual, and meant to educate without offending: “Hey [reviewer], you can probably buy that exact same bottle of champagne anywhere from less than 10 bucks at the grocery store to well over $300 at some of the clubs in town. There are also a lot of places that serve bottomless mimosas but none of them as far as I’m aware are under $15 and most require an entree purchase. If all you are looking for is cheap, there are TONS of other options around town.”yelp reviews restaurant reviews

Some people would read this as it is literally written and agree that it makes sense and is factually accurate. Others would take offense to it and think the restaurant is being combative and unnecessarily angry. Just like the proportion of champagne to orange juice in that mimosa, you’ll never make everyone happy. Make your responses match your brand. A dive bar can get away with far more clever responses than any other concept. Fine dining establishments should obviously stick with professionalism and political correctness.

Review response is the fine art of saying the same thing in 1000 different ways. The last thing you want to do is to come off robotic. This is possibly worse than no response at all. Each response should say basically the same thing but be worded differently. “Thank you for your review,” can also be interchanged with, “We appreciate your review.” Interchange words like “review” with “feedback” or “input.”

However you respond, make sure you are responding. Don’t be too busy! Don’t just put out fires and respond only to the negative reviews. Remember this is often the customer’s first impression of you. When a customer searches online reviews, chances are they’ve either never heard of your business or haven’t considered it in quite a while. This goes triple in tourist economies! This is a no-brainer way to stand out among the sea of other businesses all looking to hook the undecided customer.

Online reviews are second only to word of mouth for driving new business. They are that big of a deal.

Love Yelp or hate Yelp, we all have to respond to our reviews on this platform as well to stay relevant. (Let’s be honest, nobody reading this loves Yelp.)

There is software out there that will aggregate reviews for you so you don’t have to constantly check all of the review sites. Software like ReviewPush or ReviewTrackers will pull all of your reviews into a single dashboard and even let you respond to them directly from this platform! Now your reviews from Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Facebook all show up every morning in a nice, easy-to-follow list. They cost around $30/month and are well worth the investment.

By Erik Shellenberger, a bar and restaurant marketing expert, podcast host, Amazon published author, and a public speaker. He has been in the restaurant and bar industry since he was 13 years old and worked for his mother in the food and beverage department at a ski resort. Since then, he has held every position from dishwasher to bartender
to marketing director and everything in between. With a decade of corporate marketing experience, he has gone from student to teacher and now runs Bar Marketing Basics: He has quickly grown his client base from his hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona to across the nation with clients as far away as Caldwell, New Jersey. His book, Restaurant & Bar Marketing: The no bulls#it guide to improving guest counts on bar marketing, is available now: