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Winston Churchill once said, “There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion.” Back then he wasn’t referring to online restaurant reviews, but his words couldn’t be more relevant.
 
The opinions from a handful of people online don’t necessarily represent the unspoken/unshared opinions of hundreds more, but the opinion of one can affect hundreds of potential customers, depending on where it’s posted.
 
Think about how you feel when something positive is said about your restaurant. You probably repost, share, tweet and respond to the poster thanking them for their kind words. The exact opposite may happen when you see a negative comment. Your heart races, your temperature rises, and you feel like firing back. But if you look closely, many online restaurant reviews—good and bad—hold lessons that could ultimately help your business.
 
Learning from the Good 
Before immediately responding to good customer feedback, take a look at what’s really being said. Oftentimes, guests will give you useful business tips along with their comments.

For example, a review like this: “We had a wonderful dinner accompanied by our favorite house wine last night. Our server Nancy made us feel like part of the family and your prime rib special was the best we’ve had in years.”
 
It’s easy to say thank you and move on, but why not use this comment to do the following: First, hold a staff meeting and publicly commend Nancy for being awesome, which will inspire your other servers to do the same. Second, check to see how many other guests ordered and finished the prime rib special; it may be time to add it to the permanent menu. Third, contact the guests who left the comment and invite them back in as a thank you. Make sure they’re in your loyalty program and offer them a bottle or glass of that house wine that they love so much on the house. When a brand responds to a customer on social media, 65% of people are more brand loyal and 25% percent are less likely to go somewhere else or post negative things.[1]
 
Learning from the Bad 
Although the adage ‘the customer is always right’ is, well, not always right, this is the best attitude to take when  responding on social media. Even if you feel that the review is incorrectly depicting your business, being combative in your response will only make you look bad in the minds of the prospective customers reading the reviews. When one of your guests isn’t happy, and they give a reason why not in their comment, use it as an opportunity to improve your systems. For example, a comment such as: “I was in the restaurant the other day and had to wait in line for 20 minutes. By the time I got my food, it was cold; I didn’t have time to send it back since I was on my lunch break.”
 
Since you undoubtedly have a daybook, and perhaps shift scheduling software and other systems in place, you should be able to go back and see what was happening the day this complaint happened. Was the counter and/or kitchen understaffed? Could someone have been taking orders in the line or helping run food in the kitchen? Find out for sure what was happening, and correct it, before inviting the guest back in. Otherwise, the same experience will happen all over again, and possibly to others. When you do invite the guest back, gently let them know about the ways your restaurant can help save them time at lunch, such as online and mobile app ordering for quick pick up. And if you can be there in person to greet them personally, all the better.
 
You can’t control online reviews, but you can learn and grow from them. Treat the feedback that you receive online the same as you would if you were receiving it face-to-face in your restaurant.
 


[1] Most Businesses Miss the Mark When Responding to Consumers on Social Media, New Study Says, May 2016, Sprout, Entrepreneur

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