Should Restaurant Owners Respond to Negative Yelp Reviews?

So someone just left a bad review on your restaurant’s Yelp page.

It eats at you and eats at you!  How could someone be so critical of the hard work you’ve put into your business, your passion, your craft?  It’s disheartening.  But worse, it’s bad for your business, since others will see these reviews on your Yelp page.

So what do you do?

Do you stalk and ridicule that bad reviewer and end up getting yourself arrested (like one restaurateur did).  Of course not.  Do you simply ignore the bad review?  That might do more harm than good.

Perhaps your best option will be to publicly respond to that negative Yelp review.  But be careful!  This is very tricky business.  So in this article, we’ll take a closer look at responding to negative reviews on Yelp.

This is More Important Now, than Ever

Just this month, Yelp announced they’ve added “consumer alerts”, which is a major crackdown on fake reviews, or reviews that cheating restaurant owners have paid for.

So it’s more important than ever that restaurants approach Yelp the right way, by being authentic, and show integrity for your business and your customers.

For more general info about improving your restaurant’s yelp page, see our ultimate yelp marketing guide.

Why Respond To a Negative Review on Yelp?

Why should restaurant owners even bother?  Negative reviews do nobody any good anyway.  Right?

Wrong.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say negative reviews can actually be a good thing!  huh??  Let me explain…

“Negative reviews are a huge opportunity for restaurant owners.”
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Negative reviews — or any type of negative feedback for that matter — are a in fact a huge opportunity for you as the business owner.  There are two very valuable things that can be gained from a negative review:

  • They can uncover problems at your restaurant that you might not have seen (you can’t correct a problem you don’t know is there).
  • They present an opportunity for you to show — publicly — that you care, and that you’re working on improving the situation.

There’s one more important thing to realize about negative reviews:

The people who leave detailed and brutally honest reviews, are often what is known as “influencers”.  Malcome Gladwell talks about these types of people in his book, The Tipping Point.  Influencers are the people who are most likely to tell their friends about your restaurant and spur on the word-of-mouth buzz that is so vitally important to the success of a restaurant.

So if there are any people that you really want to respond to and convert to your site, it’s the people who are leaving you negative reviews.

Let’s dig into how this is done:

How to Respond to a Negative Review on Yelp

1.   Read the full review and step back

The most important thing is to fully digest what the negative review is saying.  Most reviews on Yelp are several paragraphs long, so there is a lot to dig into.  Hang on every word.  Stop and think about what they’re saying.  Try and put yourself into the shoes of the reviewer to see it from their perspective.

2.  Take a few days and let it marinate

Before responding, take a day or two to let your thoughts about this marinate a bit.  Go back to your restaurant keep a close eye on the things the reviewer commented on.  See if anything they said is actually true.

Did they complain that a dish was too spicy?  Go taste that dish and see.  Did they claim the waitstaff was slow and unresponsive?  Keep an eye on this.

3.  With a cool head, prepare your response

After a few days, come back and log into your Yelp account.  Find the negative review, then click the small link in the bottom-right corner labeled “Add owner comment”.

4.  Respectfully craft your response

This is very important.  Go above and beyond to be respectful and positive in what you say in your response. Remember, you’re representing your business, and you want your audience to come away with a positive impression.

DON’T:

  • Insult the reviewer.
  • Tell them they are wrong.
  • Deny their accusations.
  • Argue.

DO:

  • Thank them for their feedback.
  • Address the specific points they brought up.
  • Explain (honestly) how you plan to correct the problem in the future.
  • Kindly point out anything they may have missed.
  • Invite them back in to see how you’ve improved.

5.  Go Above and Beyond

Now here’s how to turn this negative review into a big Win:

Ask them to come back in and ask for you (the owner).  If they do, this is your chance to connect with them directly, in person, and hopefully change their view of your restaurant.

And if they say they’re impressed the second time around, go ahead and ask if they’d be so kind as to leave a new review on your Yelp page, reporting on the improvement.  Now that’s something visitors don’t see every day, and will really make a positive impression on many people who find you on Yelp!

What do you think?

Should restaurant owners respond to bad reviews on Yelp?  Post your thoughts in the comments!

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  • http://gomosolo.com/Blog Sadie-Michaela Harris

    Great post Brian and it’s a question that often comes up. Responding is always the best thing to do. It offers the opportunity to rebuild the relationship, to show other customers that the business cares. There are businesses scattered across the world who are not taking care of their reputation on the Internet and it will be to their detriment. These days a business does not need to have an Internet presence to receive bad reviews. Customers are online and they are happy to voice good and poor reviews… especially poor ones and they vent their frustrations on social networks as well as reviews sites too!

    • Brian Casel

      Thanks Sadie! Agreed, businesses — particularly restaurants — should be active when it comes to keeping a good reputation, online and off.

  • http://www.39celsius.com Toby Danylchuk

    Nice post, Brian! I think all too often small businesses ignore the negative review or just don’t do anything at all. Retail stores, especially restaurants, should always respond thoughtfully. Most consumers aren’t unreasonable, and I don’t think anyone reading Yelp reviews on a restaurant or company expects them all to be 5-star; responding shows mgt cares enough to reach out. Plus it can be a great opportunity to win the customer back. However, I recently wrote a post recommending a proactive approach about getting positive reviews to bury the negative as best as possible by emailing your best customers, or printing up a business card that has your shortened Yelp URL on the card, or even printing up POP material and posting in the store or restaurant. http://www.39celsius.com/how-to-get-rid-of-bad-yelp-review/)

  • bryan watari

    I do agree with much of what was said, but I have a dilemma with one of the people that posted negative comments on Yelp about us. They lied. And I’m not just saying they exaggerated. They flat out lied. How can I post a reply that is positive when I know this person just wants to ruin our reputation? It really burns me up when I think how hard we work to build an honest local business and then comes this person that just wants to knock it down. I know that if I reply, no matter what I say, this person will lash back at me with more lies. I think in this case, staying silent might be the best approach. You agree or disagree?

  • http://www.localrootchicago.com Isaac Weliver

    I just found this website today! Glad I did. Looks like there is a wealth of knowledge here.

    I struggle greatly with responding to bad reviews. I agree completely that we must find truth in bad reviews. I worked internationally for years and Trip Adviser is the Yelp for the world. Trip Adviser seems to be a very mature and thought out forum. Once we opened Local Root I was SHOCKED to see the difference in approach from Yelp to Trip Adviser. My impression of Yelp is that it’s sophomoric in nature, at best, and should be treated as such.

    My partners differ on this issue of Yelp, but I am in favor of letting Yelp, be Yelp. Writing responses seems like a way of reinforcing a forum which is often abused. Having said that, we do have 4 of 5 stars and often other guest defend us against bad reviews.

    Interesting debate, I’m thankful to take part.

    -Isaac, Chef/Partner Local Root

    • Brian Casel

      Thanks Isaac,

      Great points. I think its great that your loyal guests hop in to defend you. Showing your presence (by writing positive responses) will help with that.

      Thanks for reading :)

  • http://nsanford.yelp.com Nate Sanford

    Great post. I had an issue with Hyatt the other week and was responded to from the company on yelp. They responded very well so in my case, having a problem with costumer service, I upped the review.