A customer that frequents your restaurant has left you a bad review. Perhaps the customer was passing through, and you’ll never seen them again, or maybe they were a regular that no longer wants to visit your establishment.

In either case, you need to know how to handle negative reviews gracefully.

I’ve seen some restaurant reviews responded to by the owner with blunt, strong language asking the former customer to never come back into the establishment. And unless you knew the owner personally, it would be very easy to be turned off from going to the restaurant ever again.

Professionalism is key in these situations – negative restaurant reviews are common.

Statistics show that 70% of people are influenced by online reviews, so your business needs to take reviews, both good and bad, seriously.

How to Handle a Bad Review Publicly

Bad reviews, when they’re public, are a stain on your restaurant’s reputation. It's important to not snap back at the customer. The customer wasn’t happy with the service – it happens. Your next actions are very important.

Before responding to negative restaurant reviews, it’s important to let your anger simmer down.

Give yourself time to calm down before responding to any negative reviews. Doing so will help you avoid saying something that may further taint your reputation.

Once you’ve calmed down, you can craft a response that will turn a negative review into a positive one. This is difficult, but it's definitely possible.

Note: Responding to a review too late is an issue, but you do need to let your temper or emotions settle or let your PR executive handle it. Make it quick though because most restaurant owners claim that it’s best to reach out to unhappy guests within 24 hours.

Faster responses tend to show that the restaurant cares about the review and is paying attention to the concerns of the reviewer.

Let’s assume that the review said the following:

Food and service were horrible. My pizza was cold, the food took 30 minutes to come out and the waitress was rude. I will never go back to this location.

Someone that is craving a nice, hot pizza may skip going to your location if they see this bad review. It hits on a lot of pain points that customers have:

  • Slow service

  • Cold food

  • Rude staff

A proper response isn’t a defense – the customer was not happy. When you come back with a very defensive response, this is not fixing the problem.

Rather, you want to respond in a way that shows that the customer’s response is important to you. Here’s an example:

  • We are sorry that our service didn’t meet your expectations. We want to make it up to you. Please call us and ask to speak to John. We want to see what we can do to better our service.”

Now, you also have the option of offering a free meal or discount right off of the bat. This shows that you’re willing to make the customer happy, and inviting them to give your establishment another try is very important.

When the person calls, if they do, you’ll want to:

  • Ask what day they came into the restaurant. It may have been a busy day, and sometimes, service is slower because of an unexpected rush.

  • Ask what the waitress’ name was so that you can sit them down and talk to them.

  • Explain how cold pizza is unacceptable and not what you consider acceptable. Ask the patron to come back to the store, offering a free meal or a steep discount to make up for it.

All of these comments need to be taken seriously because there may have been very real issues that the customer experienced.

You also have the option of being a little more descriptive in your online response, and this could be a little more explanatory. For example, your response may include the following:

  • I’m sorry. Our staff was stretched to their limit. One of our regulars came in with a big party, and we were trying to cater to someone with a food allergy. Give us another try to make it right.

This message explains why the service was slower, and it also shows that your restaurant tries to cater to the needs of regulars. If the review complains about slow service, you should express your apologies and claim that you’ll talk to the waitress. But you can also ask how the rest of the experience was. Oftentimes, the reviewer may have liked the food and may be complaining about slow service, which is a lot easier to forget than a bad dining experience.

Avoid Canned Messages

Never respond to negative restaurant reviews with a canned response. This is not how to respond to a bad review. Canned messages don’t have the personal nature of a real response that was crafted directly for the complaint.

Customers will view a canned response as bad or worse than no response at all.

You need to dedicate the time to responding to negative reviews personally, or the negative reviews may start to cause you to lose customers.

Genuine responses that address the customer’s key complaints work best.

The Customer is Always Right Attitude

Customers keep the lights on and bills paid – their opinion is paramount. Trolling is a major issue, so you’ll need to know where to put most of your attention and energy. But one way to make sure that the reviewer is happy is to take the attitude that the customer is always right.

This means:

  • Understanding that something went wrong.

  • Ensuring the response is written with an attitude that is caring and understanding.

Positive reviews should also be acknowledged.

A simple, “Thank you so much Matt. We hope to see you again soon,” is sufficient.

Any time someone leaves a review, they’re waiting for a response back from you. Make responding to reviews a part of your normal work day, ensuring that your response is done in a timely, professional manner.

Research the Customer

You can do your own research on a customer, too. Look at the previous reviews that the person has made. You may find that the customer is impossible to please, and this is represented in the person habitually leaving bad reviews.

It’s essential to research the customer when your emotions are flaring.

You'll gain insight into the customer, and perhaps you’ll realize that your restaurant was really at-fault. You may also find that the reviewer is just complaining to complain, and this can be met with a positive reply and forgotten.

Bad reviews won’t have a lasting impact – granted they’re not the only reviews that you have – so long as you respond to them quickly. Bad reviews are an opportunity to:

  • Better your service

  • Improve customer service

  • Improve your food

What you do with a review will set your restaurant apart from the competition. In the case of cold pizza, you’ll want to do some of your own research. Find out why the pizza was cold, and make sure that the issue is corrected as soon as possible.

People aren’t looking for your restaurant to be perfect.

These restaurant reviewers are looking for an honest response that shows that their opinion and experience matters.

I suggest monitoring reviews on your restaurant, responding to bad and good restaurant reviews equally.

If you want a quick and easy way to monitor content relating to your business, I suggest setting up Google Alerts. Offered for free, these alerts will let you know when anyone is talking about your business online.