Negative Restaurant Reviews: Best Ways to Respond

A common misconception among many local restaurant owners is that it’s best to take the high road and ignore negative reviews. The thinking being that it’s better to walk away than fight, further damaging your reputation.

Bad restaurant review

There’s a big problem with this thought process. Over 90 percent of consumers now read online reviews of a local business before deciding to make the trip. Of those who make up this rather overwhelming group, only 13 percent will consider visiting a business that has a 2 star rating or lower.

You can try using all the tools in your arsenal, like a kitchen display system that can help you in preparing and quoting orders more efficiently, to improve overall guests experience; but you know how it goes: No matter how well you run your restaurant, you just can’t expect all of your guests will be happy with your services.

There’s no other options; you need to address the negative reviews – fast. The big question is: How?

Times have changed

Years ago, it was nearly impossible for a business owner to effectively address negative reviews to the masses. Now, if you don’t respond and do so tactfully, without letting ego or other emotions get in the way, consumers will take what they read or hear as gospel and likely not give your restaurant a chance.

Now, anyone with a smartphone or who knows someone with a computer and Internet connection, can easily voice their opinions about the service you offer. A few will leave a positive review, while nearly everyone who feels even slightly wronged will certainly post their negative experience for all to see.

The addition of a single star to your restaurant’s Yelp rating can boost business by as much as 9 percent. Believe it or not, an average 5-star rating is considered the gold standard, not the 4-star average that most businesses are willing to live with. If you have more perfect reviews than your competitor, you’ll get the majority of prospective customers scanning the web for other diner’s opinions.

Yelp review

photo credit: Yelp Inc. / Flickr

How to respond to genuine negative reviews that offer constructive criticism

Someone has taken the time to leave a review of the food and service they received at your restaurant. This shouldn’t be taken lightly, no matter how hurtful or untrue that review might seem. People reading reviews on your business will make strong assumptions based on how you reply to your haters.

Never try to contradict the customer, since this makes you look arrogant and unreasonable, and it’s rare that you’ll be able to offer proof that you’re somehow “right” and the negative reviewer is “wrong.”

Consider the following negative constructive review example:

“My family sat down and it took over 5 minutes for a server to offer a menu. They didn’t ask us if we wanted anything to drink and the waitress seemed very overwhelmed, as there was only one other person serving customers in this busy restaurant. Our food appeared to have high quality ingredients, but was served lukewarm at best. While we’ve heard good things from others, I can’t imagine returning for another meal based on this experience. 1-star!”

This negative review actually contains loads of helpful criticisms, and is very tame compared to how most customers who were wronged on multiple levels would word their review. An inexperienced restaurateur might consider attempting to let those reading know why the service was so poor by making excuses or somehow downplaying the reviewer, like this:

“Dear (customer): After speaking to the manager working that evening, it turns out all customers were warned that we were busy and understaffed before being seated. It’s unlikely, given how our servers operate, taht you were never offered a beverage. Everyone has a definition of what’s considered ‘lukewarm’ and you are the first person to ever make this compliant in all our years in business.”

As you can see, this response just adds fuel to the fire and is likely to result in a viral backlash. The customer who made the review, and all who will later read it need to feel like you’ve heard them, and will take action to fix the issues noted by the customer. This, in addition to welcoming that customer back to the restaurant so you can earn their loyalty:

“Dear (customer): Thanks for bringing your experience at our restaurant to our attention. We always strive to offer fast and high quality service and food to all our customers. Sadly, the evening you visited, our team made some errors and your family was left disappointed. We’ve since hired two more servers to ensure fast and efficient service. We’d love a chance to earn back your trust by offering you and your family a free meal to make up for your negative experience.”

In the corrected answer, the restaurant immediately thanks the reviewer for their comments and has addressed the fact that management dropped the ball and forced their customers to wait on service, and later receive food that wasn’t up to their normal standards.

The answer recognizes the reviewer’s concerns, makes no excuses and, in fact offers the customer solutions. The answer also shows people reading the review that you’re reasonable and willing to accept fault and offer solutions (hiring new staff and offering a free/discounted future meal) rather than making excuses and contradictions.

Managing online reviews

How to respond to unruly, unreasonable (slanderous) comments

Constructive criticism is good for anyone who’s willing to listen. However, truly angry customer reviews can come across as more of an assault than an attempt to help people who’re considering to use your restaurant make a decision.

When you feel your body temperature rise quickly after reading an angry comment, it’s best to let them sit for a day or two, so you don’t respond sharply and make the situation worse. Consider the following angry comment:

“Servers were rude, food was crap. The manager laughed when I said I didn’t want to pay. Screw these guys, you’d be better eating at McDonalds. At least the food is fresh! Avoid at all costs!”

Not only is this review vague and seemingly written with malicious intent, it can be very insulting if you know this person’s opinion isn’t the way your customers are treated. In such a situation, it’s easy to feel you can come down to their level and expose all the holes in their review. We’ve already discussed why contradicting and/or making excuses won’t be effective.

There are a couple of ways to respond to this kind of unreasonable review, one of which uses tact to make it obvious to the people who’re reading the review that the customer is being dishonest.

1. Simple and gracious

“Dear (customer): We’re very sorry you had a negative experience during your visit. If you’d consider giving us another chance, we can guarantee you’ll leave satisfied. Our restaurant never takes complaints like yours lightly and constantly strives to make every customer 100 percent happy with our service.”

2. Professionally cheeky

“Dear (customer): We’re very sorry to hear about your recent negative experience at our restaurant. We have a zero tolerance policy against any staff member treating a customer rudely or for being charged for a meal that didn’t meet their standards. Would you consider coming back and identifying the offending staff members, so we can make sure this never happens again?”

The simple and gracious answer will work just fine in most situations. However, the professionally cheeky answer puts a different spin on the complaint, by empowering the reviewer to quell their anger by identifying the staffers who were so rude to them. Even if you know the review is false, this kind of reply also shows readers that you don’t take complaints lightly (Ie., “zero tolerance.)

Quick tips for keeping on top of all your restaurant reviews

  • Recognize that most negative reviews are genuine and that most customers will choose to do this online rather than in person (don’t take this personally).
  • Create a review policy in the restaurant and follow it to the letter, to ensure you’re never impulsive in your responses.
  • Never respond to negative reviews with anger or contempt.
  • Choose solutions over excuses (customers don’t care about the circumstances that led to a poor experience.
  • Don’t be cheap in resolving bad reviews — offer the reviewer a free meal to make it up to them.
  • Encourage customers to leave positive reviews by offering an app, coupons, and giveaway draws that can be entered after they leave a review.

Before responding to a negative review, take the time to determine:

  • The date they visited.
  • The true tone of their review — is it really rude or are you the one being emotional?
  • Are they being specific or vague?
  • The name of all staff involved.
  • The customer’s review history — do they ever leave positive reviews?
  • Question the staff working at the time to get their side of the story.
  • Consider all legal ramifications surrounding the review (Ie., they choked on food, broke their tooth on a bone, etc.)

Restaurant review rating

Final Thoughts

A negative review of your restaurant is never something that’s going to make you happy. However, it is an opportunity for you to improve on your product and reduce the overall negative reviews levied on the business in the future. Using solutions like a Restaurant waitlist app can help you in enhancing customer experience by making your reservation and table management more efficient.

It’s rare that no truth can be found in negative reviews, even those that seem unreasonable. For instance, a disagreeable narcissist will still find it hard to say you or your staff were rude if employees kept their temper in check while being verbally abused.

Remember that most of your guests aren’t looking for perfection. They are looking for attentive service and a commitment to making their experience the best it can be. Responding to negative reviews shows you’re open to what people have to say about your service and committed to improve it.

Don’t miss this most valuable chance to promote your brand to the masses.


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