Love it or hate it, but customers who don’t enjoy their experience have a whole host of public platforms to voice their disgruntlement. No matter how great your restaurant is, there are always going to be some people who don’t like it or perhaps don’t have a great experience (any restaurant can have a bad night). Sometimes a guest's grievances are valid and other times they can be completely unjust. Sadly, Trip Advisor and the like can’t tell the difference. Once a poor review has been published it is there, permanently, for everyone to see.
If your restaurant has been open a few years, perhaps the odd bad review won’t make much difference, but for new enterprises these types of reviews can be hugely damaging. Not just for the success of the restaurant but for the morale of the staff who have all worked so hard to get it open.
I’ll be honest, we’re not big fans of people who don’t mention their grievances in the restaurant (especially new restaurants) only to then go and write scathing reviews online. If they knew how much time, effort and sheer courage it takes to open a restaurant, I’m sure they would take a much softer and rational approach. Let’s be clear it’s far more beneficial for guests to air their grievances to the restaurant privately instead of publicly trying to shame them.
One new restaurant recently came under fire for candidly replying to reviews that they felt were unfair and unjust. Although they were arguably acting in self defence, the owner still had to publicly apologise for his actions. So it does still seem a bit of a one-way street when it comes to public reviews the customer can say whatever they want, but the business’ response still has to be professional and measured.
So what can we do? There are always going to be people who, given the opportunity, will write scathing reviews if they’ve had a bad time. We’re never going to change that. So the changes have to be at our end.
A manager's first response when reading a terrible review is usually something like, “If only I’d known - I would have put it right before they left.” I have no doubt most managers would do everything in their power to resolve an issue and not let the complaint ‘leave the restaurant’. But people aren’t always going to tell you that something’s wrong. People may be shy, embarrassed, scared or there may be a number of other reasons why they aren’t willing to come over and tell you they’re upset.
But here’s the thing. No guest should have to tell you something’s wrong. If you know what you’re looking for, it’s obvious. Any guest who is unhappy will give you a whole host of signals that identify they are not satisfied. It’s all about awareness. Managers and servers alike should be incredibly sensitive to those signs. Looking for the slightest shifts in body language, conversations stopping, people looking around anxiously or straight down at their food, lack of smiling, lack of interaction with the server or their dining partner…there’s so many signs to be looking out for. Even though your guests aren’t actually speaking their concerns, their body language will be telling you exactly what’s going on.
Notice your guest's mood when they come into your restaurant, if this changes for the worse during their meal, perhaps something has gone wrong. This is then the time for you to step over and subtly interact. Find an excuse to go to the table; pour water, pour wine, clear some plates, make eye contact and they’ll quickly let you know what’s going on. Then you have an opportunity to fix it. Empathy and understanding are key here.
The morale of the story is thus; don’t wait for guests to come to you. It’s you and your team's job to spot things before they happen, and unhappy guests can be spotted a mile off. Of course, not all unhappy guests are going to write scathing online reviews but most of them won’t come back and that's even worse. Guest awareness is the key to not only reducing poor reviews but also to gaining life long customers.