A Cry For Yelp!

Remember the good old days, when word of mouth was king? When success in the restaurant business hinged on good, honest, service with a smile, and if you weren’t particularly fond of a joint’s beef Wellington, you had to speak to a manager face-to-face to tell him that the food stinks? A time when, if the service you received was subpar, you simply refrained from returning to that particular restaurant? Maybe you told friends and family about your experience if it was particularly lousy? Do you remember that golden era, when amateur food critics didn’t have a forum to unleash a vitriolic diatribe decrying a restaurant and jeopardizing its ability to gain new customers because when they worked there as a waitress, they were fired for having one too many cocktails after their shift and telling off the manager? Do you also remember when the burden wasn’t on you, the owner of the aforementioned establishment, to prove that the review is illegitimate? Well, do you?

Before we get carried away, let’s just take a step back and acknowledge that despite our tumultuous relationship with Yelp – it’s here to stay. People love the opportunity to voice their opinion, especially if their opinion is negative. So, as long as the average restaurant-goer with a smart phone and taste for cheap merlot and extra ketchup remains entitled, narcissistic and pessimistic, Yelp will act as a soapbox for them to voice their complaints, no matter how petty and/or misguided.

This time of year is when Yelpers are at their strongest and most agitated, as most people rely on restaurants to overcome the hustle and bustle of the Holiday season.

You may certainly see a boost in sales this month, but your Yelp rating may take a hit. And before we get carried away (again), here’s the good news – you don’t have to go out like a chump. You can fight back against these virtually anonymous cyber mosquitoes with tact and grace. The end of the year is an excellent time to evaluate your reputation management strategy. See our top tips for responding to negative reviews this holiday season:

  • First, step away. Take a walk and cool down before responding. We get it: Your restaurant is your lifeblood. Your emotional reaction is warranted – but that doesn’t mean it belongs on the internet for all to see. Enlist someone on your staff who can be more objective as a sounding board to help you refine your responses.
  • Treat the review as an in-person conversation. How would you handle the guest’s complaint had they brought it up in-store? Ask for clarification, if necessary, to understand the full story. Remember, there’s a difference between someone’s taste (e.g., you don’t have their favorite IPA) and a legitimate complaint (e.g., they found a hair in their food). For the former, acknowledge their opinion. If your team erred, though, seek to make it right.
  • Implement reasonable feedback. No one expects you to change your signature pizza just because that one guy on Yelp said he doesn’t like oregano in his pizza sauce. Still, reviews – welcomed, or not – can give you insight into your customers’ preferences. If several reviews lament a rude hostess or dirty bathroom, address the feedback with your staff.

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