The 7 Do's and Don'ts of Addressing Guest Feedback

Customer feedback matters more than ever.

If you haven’t yet, look at your restaurant reviews online and see what people say about you, your neighbors, and your competition. You’ll likely see guest reviews across the board, from compliments and kudos to criticism and anger.

It might be easy to turn a blind eye to what’s going on with your eatery, bar, or cafe on Yelp or Google, but doing that could do more harm than good in the long run.

Online Guest Reviews Matter

Think about the last time you went out to eat, bought new equipment, or booked a hotel room.

What you probably didn’t do was crack open a phone book, pick the first number you saw remotely related to your question, and dive in. If you’re like most people, you probably ran a quick search for your options on Google or Bing and analyzed the results, comparing reviews until deciding what to do.

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According to SEO company Moz, nearly 70% of people polled care about what other customers say. As the world becomes increasingly digital, it’s easier for guests to see what others experienced and base their decisions on star ratings, reviews, and other metrics.

Did you know that a whopping 94% of people choose restaurants based on reviews? There are more than 1 million restaurants in the U.S., and with so many great places, it doesn’t make sense to throw a dart at the wall and hope you have a good time. What guest wants to waste $50 on a terrible experience?

And don’t think guests keep quiet when they’ve had an awful time. Nearly two-thirds of people polled will leave a poor review if the product or service falls short of their expectations. Luckily, 80% of those consumers would update their reviews if their next visit is better.

Sometimes your reviewers might look like nay-sayers complaining about everything under the sun - but comments of all types are critical to your success. If you can get patrons to leave positive feedback and minimize complaints, you can improve sales and operations while learning what makes your biggest fans tick.


What (Not) To Do With Guest Feedback

We’ve all received our fair share of compliments and criticisms in life. It’s what we do after that’s important.

Do: Thank EVERYONE for their feedback. When someone gives us comments, it’s generally coming from a good place. So, whether good, bad, or ugly, thank them for reviewing your business in the first place.

Don’t: Take criticism as a personal attack. Unless the review is clearly trolling you or malicious, it’s meant to improve your restaurant. You might not like everything you read, but it will help highlight areas where you and your team can improve and highlight what you do well.

Do: Address guest complaints privately. As much as you might like to put a reviewer on blast for saying your gnocchi was gummy, the last thing you want to do is start a war on Yelp. If you want to address the issue effectively, contact the reviewer privately and get as much information about their experience as possible. From there, try to find a solution that works for everyone!

Don’t: Wait forever to respond or ignore a review entirely. Of all the things you could do, this is among the worst. Ignoring a review or taking months to respond shows patrons you don’t really care about their experience. It also makes it look like you’re not interested in feedback, fixing mistakes, or earning their business. Worse yet, if other guests see reviews going unnoticed, it may stop them from visiting.

Do: Discuss what you did well and can improve on. It might seem like regurgitating facts, but mentioning successes and acknowledging opportunities in your response shows you understood what the guest was saying.

Don’t: Insult them. This seems like a slam dunk, but it happens more often than you think. Insulting guests who have had a legitimately terrible experience will ensure they NEVER return. It also makes it abundantly clear that you don’t care enough about them to make improvements or correct mistakes. Not only is that terrible business, but it also prevents others from giving your place a second, or even first, chance.

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Do: Fix the issue. Look, we all have an off night every now and then. It’s how we bounce back that makes a difference. If you know something went wrong and can fix it, do it. Never leave your guests hanging because they’re the ones who go to bat for you when others ask about your business.

Don’t: Air out your dirty laundry. When we mentioned that you should address issues in private, that includes pointing out areas where patrons could be mistaken. Respond with a general request to discuss the problem and then follow up with them privately. Try to speak with them over the phone or in-person to address any issues.

Do: Proofread your responses. When you address people in a public forum, like Yelp, Google, or Facebook, you’re putting yourself out there for everyone to see. When you put together a randomly typed and meandering response riddled with typos, you’re not instilling confidence in your restaurant or leadership abilities. If you need a second set of digital eyes, draft your response in Grammarly and then fix any mistakes.

Don’t: Say the first thing that pops into your head. Everyone goes through this moment – You’ve been told something you don’t like and immediately start banging out an anger-fueled diatribe filled with obscenities. Don’t do that. When you get feedback that isn’t flattering, take a few minutes to breathe, cool down, and reflect. Once you’ve had time to think, return with a calmer attitude and offer a polite response instead.

Do: Politely point out factual errors. If someone is clearly wrong, point out why that might be the case without being combative. Mistakes can happen on both sides of the restaurant/guest partnership, so don’t hammer them over the head with their errors.

Don’t: Strongarm guests into changing or removing reviews. This is literally the worst thing you can do. If they left you a bad review, it was done for a reason - unless it is clearly fake, chances are good the guest had an experience that made them feel that way. If you can resolve the issue, encourage them to give your restaurant or bar another shot and reassess their review later. Make things right, and they might be compelled to adjust their score.

Do: Identify factors you can control and act on them. The best way to avoid bad reviews in the first place is to prevent them from popping up. That means taking feedback and actively working to improve. Give guests the best experience possible, so it leaves less room for poor scores and more opportunities for 4- and 5-star reviews! Side note: Reviews aren’t just negative. Don’t forget to reward staff for going above and beyond when someone shouts them out for making a visit unique.

Don’t: Delete reviews on your own. While it’s totally possible to log in and delete every bad thing that’s ever been said about your restaurant, bar, or cafe, it’s a bit dishonest. It also covers up opportunities to receive and act on genuine feedback while possibly preventing others from leaving reviews of their own.


Reviews Are Part of the Restaurant Life

It’s nearly impossible today to operate a restaurant, bar, cafe, or food truck without receiving a single review.

As much as you might hate seeing someone say the service was poor or the food was cold, reviews serve as a beacon of your business. Without reviews, people may not know if your restaurant even exists.

Most importantly, good reviews mean the food, drinks, atmosphere, and prices are worth a guest’s hard-earned money. When inflation makes the almighty dollar harder to come by and more difficult to part with, having a 4.5-out-of-5 star Google rating makes you stand out in the crowd.

So be proactive, be personable, and be ready for anything!