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How Not to Handle Restaurant Reviews: National Restaurant Association Show Day 1

Imagine you're a restaurant owner. One day you get a 1-star review on Yelp or OpenTable from a guest complaining that he waited at the host stand for a long time and nobody came to seat him so he gave up and left.

What would you do? In this particular (true) story, the restaurant owner decided to investigate. He looked through the CCTV and saw that the guest had entered the restaurant, waited about 20 seconds, and then walked out.

Understandably the owner was unhappy with this, so he did what many of us would have done: he posted a reply to the guest’s review explaining that 20 seconds is not a lengthy wait and that it wasn’t a fair review of the restaurant.

Sound like a reasonable thing to do? It did to me (the restaurant owner above is a friend of mine). But according to Darnell Holloway and his colleagues at Yelp it’s the worst thing a restaurant owner can do.

In a really insightful session at the National Restaurant Show today, Darnell was joined by Sam Elbandak, owner of New Spot On Polk in San Francisco, who told us:

  • He used to drink three tequila shots before he looked through his reviews.
  • If a customer complained about his gravy, he would write a lengthy reply defending the gravy and explaining why it was great.
  • But this was the wrong approach: if you reply publicly to a review you are not replying to the complainant, you’re actually talking to 10 other potential customers. And they don’t see an unreasonable guest; they see a restaurant owner that argues with his or her customers.

Craig Richardson from Batter and Berries was also on the panel and he talked about how he once received a complaint about a delivered order that was late and had gone cold. He offered a meal in the restaurant and ended up with three 5 star reviews instead of one poor one.

Shelby Forsythia from the Tortoise Supper Club also offered her advice: say thank you for a 5 star review and never take the 1-2 star reviews personally. A complaint is about an expectation that hasn’t been met, so what was the guest expecting and why was there a gap? You can often find useful information in answering that question.

Stay tuned for more highlights from NRA 2019!


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