Your restaurant sucks: Responding to negative social media the right way


It can happen anytime. You check out your profile on Facebook, Google+ or other social media channels and your business has been given a less than favourable review or feedback. Let's face it: some reviews can even seem downright unfair.

What would you do if you received this?

Let's have a look at this brutally honest review that Woolworths received from a customer who was displeased with the quality of the avocados he purchased:

This public post could be easily viewed by Woolworth's 730,000+ Facebook fans and was only a click away for everyone else on Facebook to see. The negative connotation surrounding Woolworths' fresh produce and avocados in particular was on show for the world to see. Okay, so Woolworths may not be a restaurant or hospitality business exactly but this is still a good test case of how to react to negative feedback.

So how would you respond to a review like this? How did Woolworths respond, and what was the outcome?

We'll get to the outcome of the above case shortly but first, let's discuss some of the challenges with negative social feedback.

A common attitude to negative feedback/review

The main concern that arises from negative social media reviews is that the initial reaction of a business tends to fight the issue, which can lead to a lot of regret down the line. Negative reviews, though seemingly destructive at first, can actually enhance your business.

The reality is that negative reviews are a fact of life and having a plan in place to deal with them is important. Even the challenge you face with a negative review can present some great opportunities. As Bill Gates famously said, "your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning".

So let's have a look at a plan for dealing with negative comments about your brand, product or service...

Step 1: Inhale, exhale

Having someone slander your business is bound to bring up uncomfortable emotions. Realise that this is completely normal, but that you must maintain professionalism and refrain from reacting in an emotional manner. It is an important rule of business, and generally in life as well, to refrain from responding when your emotions are still running high.

So rather than instantly starting to type a response take some time to think about what the person has said. While you may want to quickly tell your side of the story, just take a few minutes to think through the situation. It is often a good idea to have protocols in place to respond to negative reviews, and even examples of reactions from out in the world that seemed to have been received well.

If your business has received a negative review for an action of the business, the best piece of advice that can be given to you is to be honest about it, learn from the mistake and use it to improve your services in the future. At times, negative social media reviews can be a blessing in disguise – though they hardly feel like it at the time. It is natural to feel offended, upset or hurt. However, as a business, you must learn to handle your reactions and confront the issue in the most professional way possible.

Step 2: Assess the situation

You need to get behind the truth of what really took place. It's quite possible that the reason a person decided to leave you a harsh or unkind review is completely unrelated to your business at all. It's possible someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed or found an opportunity to release their pent up anger through your business. It may be possible that a negative review has no real root cause that reflects on the business itself. However, before jumping to that conclusion immediately, first be sure to make an honest assessment of the situation.

How two different restaurants dealt with very similar feedback:

A polite, professional response where the customer was most likely satisfied soon after.

Here is a very similar comment which resulted in a very different conversation:

If the conversation finished there it would have been a fairly bad result. Unfortunately however, that conversation continued and not for the better…

There are many instances in which the person who writes a comment or review will take back their initial statement when they are politely addressed, asked for more specific details and genuine intent is shown to satisfy their concerns.

It is highly likely that they were aggravated when they decided to post their thoughts, but softened since then and are able to see their response as an unfair critique instead. When this is the case it is often possible to encourage the person to delete their review once you have shown them your concern and made it clear you want to ensure they have a positive experience with your business. Or, you may even want to keep the brief conversation available for viewing to show others how your business is serious about providing great service.

Step 3: Crafting your response

Once you have reached a position where you have a firm belief as to the fairness of the criticism placed against your business it is time to craft a response. Even if you come to the conclusion that the criticism is completely unfounded, it is still important you reply professionally and politely. This can still reflect well on your business. For a particularly unfair review, it is usually best to keep a short response inviting the person to take the conversation offline. Resist the temptation to get drawn into a debate or conversation online.

To take a conversation offline offer the person an appropriate phone number or email address where they can reach you so you can attend to their situation. Even if they don't take you up on the offer to contact you at least anyone else who sees the interaction will be comfortable that you as a business owner did everything in your power to satisfy the customer.

And what if the criticism was fair? No one really expects any business to be perfect and if you humbly concede that there is merit to the criticism it will not turn people away in their droves. In fact, a personal response that shows how much effort you do put in to please customers can be very comforting not only to the reviewer but also the hundreds of people who may come across the response.  

In summary

Regardless of what you decide to do, make sure that your emotions do not have the better part of you while you are responding. A less than well-considered response on social media can be captured and shared before you have a chance to delete it. Consider learning some techniques to calm your mind to react in a calm and reasoned way. Find out the reason behind the unfair social media review and determine whether the situation should be dealt with in public or private. Even if you choose to respond in private, make sure that you always respond in a professional manner and make it clear on the social media channel or review site that the matter has been resolved. Even if you cannot fix the issue, the customer will likely be satisfied with a professional response. Plus, it is possible that hundreds of others will see the post and that will reflect on your business one way or another.  

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