The culinary industry thrives on word-of-mouth. It takes more than a restaurant’s advertising campaign to bring customers in, as hearing about a great little burger joint from a friend of a friend goes a long way in bringing in business.

As the name implies, the service industry relies on its ability to deliver. When people hear about great service they flock to experience it for themselves. In contrast, when people find out that there is much to be desired in the food or service they are less likely to ever go in the first place.

How to handle negative restaurant reviews

The truth of our modern digital age is that information can be spread very rapidly. As a result, negative information is spread just as rapidly because of the technology we have at our hands. Knowing how to handle negative reviews online is extremely important.

In the past, a bad restaurant review would be printed in a circulated newspaper, giving you little opportunity to respond. In fact, the traditional way to address a review was to invite the food critic to return. Now, with numerous sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon not only can customers post their experiences, but the restaurants can also respond to those reviews.

As a restaurant owner you have very limited control over what someone says online, but you do have control over how you handle bad publicity. Fortunately, this builds positive rapport with restaurant goers that has the potential to turn any negative attention into an opportunity to strengthen credibility within the hospitality industry.

Take a deep breath

The natural response to being attacked is to quickly defend yourself. The problem here is that a quick response means you did not spend a lot of time thinking it through. Before you respond to any criticism, stop, take a deep breath, and walk away. Give yourself a day to think it through and sleep on it. When you have had sufficient time to flush out your angry adrenaline, then you can come back to dealing with the criticism.

Accept the criticism for what it is

Whether a critique is good or bad, accept it for the opportunity that it presents to grow and develop. A gleaming customer review points out where the strengths are in your experience. If they loved the way their steak was cooked then you know you’ve got a chef doing something right in your kitchen, if they liked the service, then you probably have a waiter or waitress that could teach the other members of the staff a few things.

The common belief when reading a negative review is that it is exaggerated. While it is certainly true that people have a tendency to blow things out of proportion, don’t immediately dismiss a negative review because you think it may have been exaggerated. Instead, carefully consider what was said. Did they complain about a particular server, was the restaurant too noisy, or maybe their dinnerware was dirty.

Ask the server in question if they remember the customer and the incident. Maybe you can turn down the music in your dining room. And dirty dishes might be an indicator that a dishwasher, man or machine, may be in need of some attention.

Be cool and respond

After you have had some time to handle the problem on your end, now is the time to respond to the criticism. Most reviewing sites offer a way for the business to respond, either by posting to the same review board or by personally contacting the people posting reviews.

Don’t open a response with an attack. Be apologetic, thank the person for coming and offer your sincere wishes to address the concern and improve their experience if they choose to return. If the situation is about to escalate into an internet nuclear war, then just walk away. Getting involved in a confrontation almost always ends up with your business looking like the bad guy. Be polite, apologize, and let it go.

Don’t just focus on the negative

You might find that handling bad reviews can be a little time consuming. Although, if you spend all your time dealing with complaints this is a sure sign that something in your business plan needs to be seriously evaluated. Even if you try and address the situation and offer amends, some people just want to vent their anger, and others can never be appeased.

It’s easy to be distracted by negative comments and reviews, but don’t let that monopolize your time. If a customer leaves a good review, thank them for the experience and for taking the time to write the review.

By taking the time to relax and address concerns with a clear head, you’ll show that your business is not only professional, but cares about its customers as well.

This article was contributed by Cassie Corbett. Cassie is a writer and culinary enthusiast with the cookware suppliers at World Kitchen.

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