How To Respond To Reviews

If you want to read the article containing the original review you can find it here.

I recently read a story about a restaurant owner who got so distraught with a “bad” Yelp review that he got the reviewer’s address off of the delivery service’s tablet and called her several times and then went and knocked on her door later that night to complain.

The reviewer, understandably, called the police.

The restaurant has been removed from the delivery service app and the restaurant and the manager have made national “restaurant” and “review” headlines and have become the most recent poster child for what not to do about internet reviews.

The funny thing is that the original review isn’t that bad. The sad thing is that by completely overreacting, the restaurant owner has created a mountain of discontentment that it will be very difficult to overcome.


I don’t respond to reviews. At all. Ever. And there is a good reason for that. It’s fun and easy to respond to good reviews. “Hey, thanks for the great words! Really appreciate it.” It’s also relatively easy to respond to the bad reviews, “I’m so sorry you had a bad experience. We’ll take your words to heart and see if we can improve our service.”

The problem is that if you have “rote” responses like this your review environments are going to go downhill fast. Here’s why.

The online review world is a difficult world for old-school folks like me to understand. The easiest way for me to think of it is like the old days of market research, when we would bring in a big focus group and sit behind a window and have a moderator ask them questions and listen to the answers. We didn’t interact with the focus group attendees. The point wasn’t to influence them, the point was to listen to them.

Reviews work the same way. Most people who write reviews, good, bad or indifferent, aren’t interested in interacting with the restaurant owner. They want to tell their fellow review community members how they felt about their experience of a product or service. Businesses that over-respond court a powerful beast. If the reviewers decide your responses are disingenuous, overly trite, or the WORST, “canned,” they’ll basically abandon your business altogether.

My response to reviews is pretty simple. If I read a positive review and I see the reviewer in the restaurant, I’ll stop by their table to thank them for taking the time to post their thoughts. Sometimes I’ll send a drink or dessert, but not always. If I read a negative review I try to learn from it. What could we have done better? Was it a staffing issue? Did the menu not accurately describe the menu item? Every once in a while, like it or not, the reviewer is just, well… crazypants. There’s nothing I can do about that and luckily most people who read reviews can figure that out.

But also every once in a while, we just massively screwed up. In some of these cases, I will reach out with a private note of apology to the reviewer (knowing full well that it may be posted) letting them know I’m sorry we let them down. I’ll always conclude these notes with a thought like, “I know we haven’t earned a return visit, but if you decide to come back please let me know so I can try to provide a better experience.”

There are some very simple rules:

  1. Never, ever defensively respond to a review.
  2. Don’t be overly effusive about responding to a positive review.
  3. Never question the reviewer’s opinion.
  4. Never “pay” for reviews, even subtly.
    1. “Write a good review and we’ll buy you dessert,” is most likely to illicit a review that says, “These guys pay for positive reviews” and all of your reviews will lose credibility.
  5. Don’t overreact to reviews. A bad review isn’t necessarily an employee’s fault and blaming your staff for a bad review typically invites the question, ‘What could you have done to hire better, train better, manage better, so the circumstances of the review would not have occurred?
  6. Never try to get a review changed. Pleas to change reviews typically end in disaster. If a diner comes back and has a better experience and wants to update their review, that’s totally up to them.
  7. Use your reviews as a measuring stick for how your business is doing overall. What are the themes? Are there things a lot of reviewers are pointing out? Focus on these and fix them in your restaurant. You’ll smile when you see an unsolicited future review that says, “A lot of people complained about ‘x’ and I didn’t experience that at all…

Are reviews sometimes frustrating? Yes. Are there things the review sites could do better? No question. But are reviews also a useful tool for a business owner? Absolutely. It’s just that – like any useful tool – if you don’t read the warning labels, you can get hurt.



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