Handling Negative Public Reviews

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QUESTION From: Nicole in WI

“I am about to my tipping point with false reviews and looking for advice. We let an employee go about 2 months ago regarding theft and he has made several accounts and slandered us with fake reviews with different names. This is on google, yelp, trip advisor and Facebook. He had told his friends to get in on the action and is utterly sad and disappointing as reporting reviews sometimes doesn’t work. Looking for any kind of advice if anyone’s dealt with this before. If you’re feeling friendly feel free to leave kind words on WOW Family Entertainment Center and comment your business and I’ll return the same. People these days...”


We’ve ALL been there. And there’s lots of other advice in other columns here as well as online. You can find them if you search for “reviews”, “Yelp” or “fake reviews”.

But before asking for more positive reviews for your business, hiring a firm to handle them, paying for more positive reviews or “gaming the system” any number of other ways - first consider the fact that doing so only serves to enable a broken system like Yelp by giving even more weight to the public reviews you don’t deserve.

Remember, whatever weight you give the positive reviews there, you’re also giving to every negative review.

As far as flagging goes, I’m pretty sure they will only take a review down if it: 1.Mentions some member of your staff by name
2.Contains any profanity
3.Incites violence or
4.Contains any derogatory remark against a protected class of people and/or constitutes hate speech (racist / sexist / religion / etc...).

While there are various philosophies on how to handle this type of unjustified slander from: ignoring them completely to outing them and explaining (in detail) who they are and from where their bias originates; you might want to consider employing a more diplomatic / political approach which would entail:

1.Empathizing with the disgruntled guest.

2.Thanking them for bringing the issue to your attention

3.Letting them know how much you value their business

4.Apologizing to them & supporting their feelings

5.Assuring them that the issue has been addressed / problem remedied

6.Offering some timely reparations or extending an offer to PM you directly so that you may try to.

I’m of the opinion that contacting the guest directly and saying/doing as little as possible online to avoid a “back and forth”, at all costs, is the best route.

I am, however, also big fan of publicizing your worst public reviews as a way of taking the weight out of them and making light of them. (e.g., “STOP IN AND TRY THE WORST SANDWICH CARLY FROM WESTBEND HAS EVER EATEN IN HER ENTIRE LIFE!”)

Unfortunately, addressing unwarranted complaints like this is one of the biggest operational obstacles created by public review sites. I’ve been working with a small app production company to provide an alternative evaluation platform by creating a restaurant recommendations app that actually eliminates public reviews altogether.

We believe this new personal restaurant concierge service (TheCourseApp.com) will benefit guests not only by offering the world’s most personalized dining recommendations, but by enabling operators to focus more on delivering great food and exceptional service as well.

After all... running a restaurant is challenging (and costly) enough without the added hassle of spending even more time and money managing one’s online reputation.

If you feel that you have to engage this guest (or any other party giving you a hard time online) ...consider a stock reply like this one I fashioned from a few good ones I’ve come across over the years:

“So sorry to hear you had such a bad experience at (my restaurant). I want you yo know how much we appreciate your business and would be grateful if you would be kind enough to PM me with your contact information so that I might try to make this right.”

And follow up with something like this:

“I understand that you had a bad experience at (my restaurant) a few days ago. I wanted to let you know that we discussed this oversight with our entire staff this morning and have taken steps to ensure that every one of our servers is now aware that every guest should be (given a steak knife before their steak arrives...or whatever) immediately upon ordering it and how important that it to ensuring a seamless dining experience, especially when (entertaining clients as you were...etc...).

If you would like, I can leave you a gift certificate (for a free entree and dessert or amount...or whatever) the next time you come in so that you can see how we have made these changes based on your much appreciated feedback.

If this is satisfactory, I would also ask you to please consider removing your complaint on Yelp and ask for me personally should your next dining experience not go as smoothly as it should.

Please note that Yelp reviews cannot be removed on the mobile app and have to be removed from the www.yelp(dot)com website.

Thank you, again, for being so understanding and for giving us the opportunity to continue serving you”

Good Luck!
Josh Sapienza