Have you received your first negative review yet?
Ah, sigh. It’s bound to happen. Like Bill Cosby has said, between bites of Jell-O, "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."
If you haven’t yet, now’s a good time to plan a response strategy for when you do. If you already have, it’s still a good time to get some insight on how others have handled it and, probably, pat yourself on the back for doing such a good job.
I’ve already written about how to handle bad reviews the good and proper way. (To recap: That post was centered around Chef Marc Orfaly’s entertaining, but inappropriate, response to negative comments made on his Boston restaurant, Pigalle’s, Yelp page. Takeaways: practice humility and no f-bombs, please.) Also, no whitewashing. TechDirt tells the cautionary tale of one hapless dentist who tried to 'invoice’ patients for their negative reviews. The ploy led to considerable blowback and the phrase “Streisand Effect” being bandied about.
Then I came across this gem from the recent Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Eater’s Moving Pictures team filmed chefs reading their favorite negative reviews. Talk about funny. Talk about cathartic.
Of course, you absolutely still need to take all the appropriate, politically correct actions, like:
pause to take a deep breath;
call your mom to whine that nobody really understands you;
consider the source: maybe they got turned down that morning or maybe they’re a troll;
investigate the complaint for its veracity: maybe your staff was having an off-day, maybe the souffle did fall, can’t hurt to check;
outline a plan to make amends, if possible and necessary;
and finally, thus oxygenated and introspected, reply calmly and sincerely to the reviewer: apologize, thank them for their time and patronage, share your plan to resolve the problem; and
possibly flag the review as spam, if you truly suspect that, after you’ve completed the steps above.
If you’re still reeling like you’ve been slapped in the face, take a moment to read HuffPo’s list of the top 9 reasons you can’t trust Yelp reviews.
That done, what else can you do? Can you have a little fun with it? Can you spin it and share it in such a way that you, your staff, and your best customers, your loyal following, get a good belly laugh out of it, like they did in Aspen?
The interwebs offer many examples of Main Street marketers putting their bad Yelp reviews front and center, in a tongue-in-cheek, celebratory, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, shrug, “What can ya do?” kinda way.
For example, gastropub Craft Commerce in San Diego runs audio recordings in the restrooms of their favorite nastygrams. This crafty move generated so much buzz that they were mentioned in Chow.com, Foodbeast, San Diego Downtown News, Business Insider, Restaurant Hospitality, Eater, HuffPo, and others. What’s the opposite of the Streisand Effect?
Atlas Purveyors uses the same approach in their Boulder, Colorado, coffee and nosh shop. They posted their favorite negative review on the community bulletin board. Waylon Lewis, over at ElephantJournal, points out why this review is particularly off-point, “[T]he critique of the supposedly hippie-dippy-high-as-a-kite Boulder, Colorado café is highlighted by the charge that ... it’s Feng Shui is Whack.”
San Francisco’s Pizzeria Delfina, way back in the ought’s, was a trendsetter in the Raving Reviews arena. They had staff T-shirts printed up with their favorite flames.
Like I said, those are some fun, funny, and effective ways to deal with harsh reviews. As Ken Mueller at Ragan points out, these approaches show that you’ve got faith in your products and services; they encourage community among your loyal following and draw in new customers. Plus, they solicit positive reviews without having to ask; and they’re cheap! No swanky Madison Avenue budgets for us.
What are some other approaches you’ve done or seen? We’d love to hear about it!