A bad review is going to happen to every restaurant, no matter how hard you try.

Of course, the good reviews are the ones to aim for, but it’s the negative feedback restaurants need to pay particular attention to, says Luther Lowe, manager of local business outreach for Yelp!, the online service review site.

Restaurant operators need to carve out time to respond to online reviews. There are two ways to reply to a bad review, he says: publicly (on the site where the comment was posted) or privately (contacting the poster directly).

“I recommend starting with a private response and apologizing,” Lowe says. “It’s also great to start by thanking [the reviewer] for the feedback then go straight into the apology. You want to sound like a human being and be diplomatic.”

Often posters are surprised to actually hear from a human in response, he adds, when they think they’ve posted a comment that likely will not be read by the anyone but a computer program.

Private responses are best to start with to resolve issues without drawing more attention to them.

But publicly can work if there’s an inaccuracy in the review. First, publicly apologize to the review writer then point out that actually, their information is incorrect—that happy hour ends at 6:30, for example, not 7 p.m.

After this, users have the option to alter their review or even remove it, but restaurant operators should not ask for this. At the very least, the restaurant has pointed out the mistake and leaves an overall better perception of its brand.

By posting publicly, Lowe says, “you’re not responding to [the reviewer] any more, but you’re showing you’re in touch with your customers and on top of things, and that you care enough to respond.”

If you are incredibly short of time in your restaurant, you should still try to make time for this, Luther says. Sort reviews by their importance and address the most negative reviews first.

There’s one other thing restaurant operators can do to help their reputation and that’s by visiting biz.yelp.com. Restaurateurs should build out this site by telling their brand story and uploading photos “so it looks professional and authentic,” Lowe says.

Positive reviews are of course every restaurateur’s goal, and can mostly be left untouched.

“It doesn’t hurt to send a short note privately to thank [reviewers],” Lowe explains. “I would do it privately because if you do it publicly it can look like you’re a little too obsessed with your Yelp! page.

But mostly Lowe says he wouldn’t bother. “I think you can invest your time better elsewhere.”

By Amanda Baltazar


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