From flat-out lies to "expert" takes, operators sometimes need to stand up for themselves.

The customer always deserves to be heard, but is the customer always right? No, not in reviews at least.

So many times, reviewers exaggerate, misinterpret, or, worst of all, flat-out lie about an issue. While most reviewers are honest, some want to play the victim (“look how badly I was treated”) want to show off their expertise, or try to damage the restaurant. Here are the types of responses that work best when the customer is just wrong. 

Responding to exaggeration:

Reviewers commonly complain they waited an hour for a table, a glass of water, service, etc., when in truth, it was much less than that. Or that the server only came by once when they actually visited the table three times. You don’t want to get into an argument to prove they are wrong, but you also don’t want to confirm a problem that doesn’t exist by apologizing. Get your correction in without explicitly calling the reviewer wrong, and be sure your response does not belittle the reviewer. Use a reply like this: 

“Hi, Sue. We are sorry you felt your wait was longer than you had hoped. While a few larger groups did experience a 10-15-minute wait on the evening you mentioned, most parties were seated immediately. Of course, those with reservations were seated right at their reservation time. But thank you for your patience on any wait you did have. Next time you join us, be sure to introduce yourself so we can make sure everything is perfect for you. We look forward to seeing you back soon.”

The key here is you apologized that “they felt” their wait was longer than they had hoped, not that they had a long wait. When the review is likely exaggerating, make the apology about their feelings. It could be true they felt the wait was 30 minutes to get a glass of water. But it probably, really was only five. 

Responding to an “expert:”

Another review type we often see is from someone who wants to prove their expertise. This is especially true when you have a celebrity chef or an acclaimed wine program. The guest will say something like, “I can’t believe they served my Bordeaux in a glass meant for Malbec!” For this type of review, you need to assert your expertise (again, without plainly saying the person is wrong). 

“Joe, thank you for your input. Please know while the glasses we use for medium-body red wines like Malbecs are similar to the ones we use for full-body reds, the glass we used for your Bordeaux has the largest bowl of any of our three red wine glasses. Next time you are in, we’d love to introduce you to our sommelier to talk wine and show you our complete assortment of stemware, including separate glasses for full, medium, and light-bodied reds.”

Responding to lies:

Be assertive in your response when the reviewer is lying to make the restaurant look like it did something wrong or malicious. Many restaurants receive the occasional review that says something like: (usually in all caps, yelling), “THIS RESTAURANT TRIES TO STEAL FROM YOU! ALWAYS CHECK YOUR BILL!”

Here you have to deny their claim flat-out. 

“Joe, thank you for your visit and feedback. Please know we have been serving customers for over nine years, and never would intentionally misbill anyone. We work hard to ensure accuracy in our billing and rarely experience an issue. However, if you believe there was any discrepancy in your check, please get in touch with us at or call at 415-555-12212 so we can investigate and correct it immediately if there was an error.” 

Also, always make public responses when the customer is wrong. Here’s why:

  • Responses aren’t necessarily for the customer who left the review. They are for the hundreds of others who will read your responses. Only one person sees a private response. Thousands will see the public one. 
  • Public responses give you a chance to correct inaccuracies. So many times, reviews are just factually wrong, saying things like “they don’t have gluten-free items” or “their Bolognese sauce is from a jar.” If you don’t respond publicly, their comments stand as the truth. 
  • Finally, look at review responses as a marketing platform. In a public response, you can show others you are the type of restaurant they want to support.  

It’s one thing to be polite and caring; it’s another thing always to be kissing butt when you did nothing wrong. People respect when you stand up for yourself. Many of your guests probably own businesses and can relate to what you are going through. If the customer is always right, you are always wrong. How can that be true?

Tom James is the founder of San Francisco-based Overall Reviews. His agency exclusively handles review response, guest recovery, and review analytics for restaurants nationwide.

Expert Takes, Feature, Leader Insights