Friday, June 9, 2023

Responding to Reviews

You may have noticed that we live in a world whereby reviews are governing our habits.  You think I’m making this up?  Next time you buy something online, I guarantee you will be influenced by the reviews and comments for that particular product.  And after you have bought that product, you will be bombarded by emails requesting you to review everything from the packaging to the product itself and, more than likely, the state of the delivery driver’s shoes!

I have long said that in the restaurant business you are only as good as the last meal you put out.  It has never been more true than now with virtually every customer attached to a smartphone.  You can fair see them looking round the restaurant wanting to find something to talk about hoping that they will become the next Michael Winner or A.A. Gill.  Perhaps this review will go viral!  But as restaurateurs how is this review culture affecting our business, our staff’s behaviour and ourselves?

Back in the late 1990’s I used to run a pub in a small village not far from London.  It was mainly food led but also with a lively bar trade made up of locals and commuters from North London.  Fortunately we had a good reputation and were, in fact, Dining Pub of the year with The Good Pub Guide.

This was, however, in the days before Tripadvisor and if someone had a complaint with the food, the service or the noise they would speak to me directly, send a letter or just never come back.  My point is that I had an opportunity to deal with any situation as it happened rather than wait for someone to go away and write a review online.

Responding to Reviews

When someone writes a negative review later they are more likely to exaggerate knowing that they are only putting one side of the story and that they do not have to face a response.  I do not wish to focus on the negative, because it is wonderful to receive compliments, but again an old saying goes that if someone has a good experience they will tell only two people but if they’ve had a bad experience they will tell ten people.

Our customers are now so obsessed with finding out the latest reviews that I have actually seen them standing outside our restaurant looking us up on Tripadvisor before deciding whether or not to come in.  Gone are the days of exploring, reading menus and looking at restaurants, now it is all dependant on the last review. It used to be fun to choose a restaurant based on its menu or its look and make our own decision, now, unfortunately, we make that decision based on someone else’s opinion.  It makes it so important for us as restaurateurs to respond to reviews and put our side forward.

Responding to Reviews

Should we only respond to negative reviews, or should we make an effort to acknowledge the positive ones as well?  When replying to positive reviews most people just say thank you and do not actively engage with the reviewer but one thing I have noticed while researching this is that the top restaurants consistently reply to positive reviews.  It shows they care and surely encourages return visits, brand loyalty and gives the reviewer a sense that their time has been worthwhile. That’s the easy part but what about replying to someone who has given you a shockingly poor review?

In my opinion some of the people expressing their opinion on the internet just should not do it and really should stay quiet.  But these people are our customers and they have a right to tell us, and everybody else, if they truly felt their meal was appalling.  As I stated earlier when someone goes away and writes a review later there is a good chance that a degree of exaggeration is going to creep in.  It is imperative that restaurateurs respond by remaining polite and professional and put the other side of the argument.  It is also an opportunity to turn a negative round and spin it into a positive.

We can inform customers that we are actively looking to improve on the area that they have highlighted. Without responding at all it looks simply as if you don’t care and if you start getting a number of comments all mentioning the same thing, for example, service or a dish on the menu, it is time to address the problem.

It is very easy to take criticism to heart and think that it is a personal attack on us and on our business that we work extremely hard to keep operating.  As soon as you take criticism personally you will lose the objectivity to do something about it.

Sometimes a review can be damaging to a business and can also be so exaggerated as to be a lie.  I recently had a group of 4 people look at our menu just as we were about to close, at our stated closing time.  We decided that if they came in to the restaurant we would feed them.  All our other customers had left and the restaurant was empty.  Anyway the group did not  ask to eat and walked away, so we continued to close. 

Nearly fifteen minutes later the same group reappeared and asked if they could eat, to which we politely declined and off they went again.  I later received a one star review stating that we had turned them away only two minutes after our stated closing time and that obviously we did not need the business in these hard times.  I was furious!  I immediately wrote a response calling them out on their lie and contacted Tripadvisor.  It was one of the few occasions in which Tripadvisor took my side and investigated the “review” and later removed it from my site.

A friend of mine has a slightly haphazard way in replying to reviews and I am sometimes cringing at the things she writes to her customers.  I feel there is little point in being confrontational in your response.  It is far better to write a measured, honest reply and sometimes it is what we don’t say that speaks volumes.  We can only hope that if our customers are taking the time to read other people’s opinions of us they are also taking the time to read our opinion of their opinion.  After all we have the last word!

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Dave Winteridge
Dave Winteridge
I am a restaurateur in the South of France but originally from Great Britain. I have spent around 30 years in the hospitality industry and over the past 12 years I have opened restaurants in Spain and France. I am a keen skier, living in the Pyrenees, and ideally for the future I would like to spend less time at the stove and more time at the keyboard.


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