Restaurant reviews – these days, they can make or break your restaurant. And many restaurant owners feel that there is little or nothing they can do to impact the types of reviews they receive.

That isn’t the case.

While most review sites discourage restaurant owners from asking for reviews or rewarding reviewers, there are steps you can take to encourage more positive reviews and reduce the damaging impact of negative ones. This article dives into why it is important to reply to all of the reviews you receive and how to respond to all types of reviews.

Why respond to reviews?

Once you’ve received a negative review – it’s out there, right? What is the point in responding? It isn’t going to fix the problem, and you may end up encouraging others to leave negative feedback just to receive freebies, right?

That is the mindset of many restaurant owners. But frankly, it isn’t the truth. There are many good reasons to respond to reviews.

It solves the problem

If a customer came up to you in the restaurant and complained, as a restaurant manager, you would do what you could to solve the problem. You should take the same approach online. There are some precautions you should take as well, but we’ll cover those when we dive into exactly how to respond to negative online reviews.

The takeaway here is that many modern customers will not complain directly to you when they are visiting the restaurant. They don’t want a confrontation and they don’t want to cause a scene. So instead, they will leave an online review. It is your job as the restaurant manager/owner to solve their problems, just as you would with any complaint you received.

Acknowledges the customer

Sometimes all a customer needs when a problem arises is some acknowledgment. For minor issues that come up during a diner’s experience, sometimes all those people need is an apology, and a commitment to do better on their next visit.

By responding to online reviews, you go a long way in cultivating positive relationships with your customers. When customers feel acknowledged, they are much more likely to return and give you another chance to rectify issues they had during a visit than they would be had you not stepped up and owned the issue.

Looks good for your business

Responding to online reviews also looks good for your business. It makes management look invested in the reputation of the restaurant and in the experience of your guests. However, this only works in your favor if you respond to the reviews, both positive and negative ones, in the right way.

If you respond to every review but come across as confrontational on all of the negative ones, you won’t be doing yourself or your restaurant any favors.

Increases the chances of keeping the customer

Most customers will give you a second chance if you own up to any mistakes you made and commit to doing better in the future. In many cases, all a customer needs is to be acknowledged and listened to in order to feel like the problem was solved.

One of the first rules of business is that it is much easier and cheaper to keep a current customer than to convert a new one. Therefore, by incorporating review replies into your overall business strategy, you are working towards keeping the current customers – even if their recent experience was less than stellar.

Encourages additional feedback

Your customers want to be engaged. When they see that you’ve replied to others on review sites, it actually increases the likelihood that they will leave their own review – whether it is positive or negative. Ideally, you’ll encourage engagement from more customers who had positive experiences instead of negative ones.

How to Respond to Good and Bad Reviews

Replying to reviews of your restaurant is a little bit of a science and a little bit of an art. It can be a very tricky thing to do well. Some restaurant owners and managers are too emotionally invested, and therefore become immediately defensive to any negative feedback, even if the customer’s experience was accurate. If you worry that this could be you, you might consider hiring someone to perform reputation management on your behalf.

If you do want to go about it on your own, there are a few things to keep in mind whether you are replying to a positive review or a negative one.

Good reviews

People think that replying to positive reviews is easy. While it is certainly easier than responding tactfully to criticism, it can be difficult to present your brand in an authentic and sincere light. You definitely don’t want to come across as robotic or uncaring to your “best” customers, so it is important to respond to these reviews just as effectively as negative ones.

Greet the customer by name

Greeting the customer by name is such a small step, but it can go a long way in making your response stand out. When you use the customer’s name, you show that you took the time to read the review (hopefully) and didn’t just look at the higher star rating and type “thanks!”

Thank them for taking the time to review your restaurant

While you shouldn’t simply respond, “thanks” – you should thank the customer for taking the time to review your business. They aren’t getting rewarded for leaving a review, so especially if it is a positive one – you’ll want to show gratitude for their extra effort. People know that reviews can be very important for restaurants and when someone chooses to leave a positive one, they feel like they are directly contributing to your business’s success. And definitely thank them for their help!

Acknowledge what they are saying and respond accordingly

Responding directly to their feedback is another way to show sincerity from your brand. If they said they appreciated your décor, thank them and mention where the inspiration came from. If they said they loved their entrée, let them know that the recipe was handed down for generations in your family.

If you really don’t have anything to add based on what they’ve said, simply repeat it back to them. For example, if someone said “my steak and shrimp entrée was delicious!”, you would respond with something like, “we’re so glad you enjoyed your steak and shrimp entrée!”

Welcome them back

With restaurant marketing, we know that customers are driven by “calls to action” such as “visit our website” or “download our menu.” This philosophy applies to reviews as well. Use the end of your review to politely suggest that they come back to your restaurant. “We’ll see you next time!” or some other phrase actually helps to psychologically keep your restaurant in their head the next time they choose to go out to eat.

Bad Reviews

Bad reviews are very difficult to respond to. Many times, people can come across rudely when writing a negative review, even if that isn’t how they intend their message. Sometimes people who are leaving negative reviews are angry and do exaggerate. It can be very tempting to try and defend your staff, your food, or your business, or to try and find holes in the customer’s story. However, those aren’t the approaches that are going to help you win back customers or build trust and credibility for your brand. Instead, consider these tips the next time you’re responding to a negative review:

Greet Customer by name

Just like with positive reviews, you want to acknowledge your customer by name. This is a subtle signal to them that you are responding directly to their feedback, and not just hitting them with the same lines you give everyone else about how great your restaurant is.

Acknowledge the problem

Right upfront, make sure you read through the review thoroughly and summarize their main feedback. “I’m sorry you had to wait so long to be seated” or “I’m sorry your entrée was cold when it arrived.” This can be the time when it is easy to slip in defensive language like “but no one else complained of a cold entrée.” However, using defensive statements like that one will only result in damaging the customer relationship further. You are trying to win back business here, not convince someone else that you were “right.”

Be sympathetic

Instead of being defensive, try sympathy instead. You could say something like, “I know it is frustrating to wait a long time to be seated at restaurants” or “I hate when my entrées arrive cold, too.” This type of statement helps the review writer realize that you are a person, too. You are a human being who is running a business and trying your best, just like everyone else.

Even if you don’t want to believe that they had a negative experience, keep in mind that it could happen (unless it was impossible, such as you served them cold spaghetti and meatballs and you’re a sushi restaurant, in which case, you might simply let them know that they may have written a review for the wrong place.) You aren’t in every place at every moment of every day. Maybe they were overlooked by the hostess, or maybe their entrees did sit a little too long for some reason. Try giving your customers the benefit of the doubt, and sympathize with their version of the experience.

Make an offer

If it is a very minor issue, you might just end with “we hope you’ll come back next time, and we’ll be sure to seat you more promptly.”

But if it is a bigger issue, and the customer is suggesting they may not come back, you will want to make an offer to correct the issue for them. However, you shouldn’t post what this offer is public. Instead, you’ll want to say something such as, “I want to make things right. Please contact me at [email or phone] to discuss a solution.”

This will help prevent people from writing negative reviews just to get freebies from you. Scammers generally don’t want to have a phone call or email conversation – they just want to be offered something for free.

What if you are responding to a scammer (or a competitor writing a fake bad review?) This approach actually helps you out in these scenarios as well. Your reply is visible to the public, and you’ve come across as humble, human, and like a business who cares about its customers’ experiences. Even if they never reach back out to you, you have demonstrated that you are willing to go above and beyond to take care of your customers – and that will go a long way for prospective customers who are reading reviews and trying to determine whether or not to visit your restaurant.

The Last Word

As you can tell, there is definitely a lot that goes into responding to positive and negative online reviews. However, the practice does do a lot for your business when it comes to managing your reputation.

Remember that regardless of which type of review you are responding to, you’ll want to come across as personable and you need to customize your response – no room for vague copy/paste responses here! If you find that you are having trouble keeping up with responses to reviews (we hope you’re getting a lot of positive ones!), or you have a hard time staying objective when it comes to negative ones, consider hiring someone to help you with reputation management. Even if you don’t keep them on your staff full-time, they can help you learn the best ways to respond to different types of reviews.

Take the next steps – claim your businesses on review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor (if you haven’t) and start responding to everything people are writing about your business with tact. Use this article as a guide, and remember that if you get stuck, put yourself in their shoes and talk to them the way you’d want another manager to talk to you.