• Mike Hughes

Negative Online Reviews. Part 86

Oh Those Pesky Online Reviews.

One thing I hear often from Restaurant owners, chefs, restaurant managers and restaurant employees, are their 100% disdain of online restaurant reviews.

Yelp, Trip advisor, Google, yahoo and Facebook, along with many others, is polluting the online landscape with these awful reviews of OUR great restaurants.


There is data available that tells us that 92% of consumers read online restaurant reviews.

77% of those readers prefer peer reviews vs. critic reviews and

33% said that they would NEVER eat in a restaurant with less than 4 stars!

As I dug into more data, 51% of restaurant customers said service was the reason they would write a bad review, with food being a distant 2nd at 31.6%

Lastly (for now), it takes 40 positive customer experiences to undo the damage of a single negative online review, and Google is now #1 in online restaurant reviews.

So with the premise that online reviews are not only here to stay, but are increasing each year, how can a restaurant weather the storm of negative review tornado damage?

The first one is the most obvious to me…LISTEN to these HORRIBLE people who have chosen to eat in your restaurant, but left under whelmed by something you did.

Huh? What?

These clowns have no idea you say. If you are an operator with a 4 or 5 star online rating with a large sample size, you can move along as this article isn't for you. However if you are struggling with your online ratings perception, I mean reality, there are things you absolutely have to do if you want to stay open. Yes, if you consistently toil in poor online reviews, you will someday cease to open the doors. Also be careful not to blame the customer for not saying something at the point of sale. Too many times they tried and were not heard, OR were under-compensated for their experience. "Sorry we torched your T- bones beyond recognition, so here's a $4 slice of pie". So lets dig in a little...

Here is where I would start if in my career this ever happened to me.

Look for trends. If you identify the same thing keeps coming up over and over, it is officially a problem and all your denial in the world won’t make those problems go away. These are actual guests that chose you to spend their hard earned money in your restaurant, and then left with reasons not only to not return, but to tell the world why!

Get to the root causes and make the changes in your food, service, facility OR ALL 3.

If you keep seeing in reviews that your host was rude…She needs a wake up call. Same with the reviews that said food takes FOREVER! You may want to address this. Furthermore, your negative reviews are most likely in line with your dwindling sales numbers. Seriously, if you are operationally dysfunctional, you need to get back to the basics of great food and service ASAP.

I would also add that each negative review gives you the opportunity to respond. This is VERY important! In fact 53% of customers who leave online reviews expect a response. I love reading a review site and see a restaurant with 2.5 stars. The only reviews the owner or manager responds to are the rare positive experience thanking them, all while ignoring the feedback from the 2 star reviews. This is your chance, once you’ve identified some trends and fixed them, to ask for someone’s return visit. What’s that? You could care less if the party that had a horrible time ever returned? What a pain in the ass they were? Wow, you must have all the customers and money you need. Swallow your pride and respond publicly. You can prompt them to contact you directly so that you can recover them. You want to recover them. Many reviews tell a detailed story of the shenanigans that occurred during their visit. Pay attention to these stories and start envisioning if those detailed events are possible in your restaurant…I bet they are. You see, while reviews are one side of the story, they are the side that was not treated well and paid good money to not be treated well. Your side really doesn’t matter. Short staffed that night? Not the guests fault. Ran out of 2/3’s of the menu when they tried to order? Again, not their fault. Gross bathrooms and rushed service with hair in their food? You get the point. You see as an operator, giving someone a reason to rate you high is 100% in your control, just the same as someone leaving with a 1 star experience they can't wait to get home to write.

Here are some other key data points on reviews; more consumers than ever before are searching using a rating filter, and guess what? They are more interested in 1 star reviews than any other rating. Why? I guess they enjoy reading the horror stories instead of what makes a restaurant awesome…That should worry you. I’d like to note that the MAIN reason a consumer would write a positive review is because of the food, while the main reason a consumer writes a negative review is because of the service.

I suppose this may because mismanaged service hits more nerves than lousy food?

You need to use Yelp, Google and others as a learning tool, and one you need to stay on top of before all of a sudden you are in 3 star purgatory and have 200 reviews to address. Ignoring online reviews is just as bad as ignoring gaping holes in your restaurant, and if you are consistently lowly rated, you're doing both.

You say you don’t have time to follow up with the guests who didn’t like you and fix the problems they didn’t like? Don’t worry, in due time, you will have all the free time you need if you don’t address it now.


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