Customer Experience

How to Respond to Negative Customer Reviews

By Dana Krook

Image depicting a review box with 2 stars, sad face emoji, broken heart, and thumbs down

No matter how well-oiled your kitchen line, no matter how attentive your servers, or delicious your product, you can’t please everyone all the time.

Mistakes happen, customers get fired up and all the free-desserts in the world won’t be able to make up for it.

If customers put their bad reviews on social media, it’s not a big deal. Just a passing blip, so quickly forgotten with a quick 140 character response, a gesture of goodwill, and a heartfelt apology.

But other customers may take to Yelp, Trip Advisor, or Google Places, immortalizing their complaint across the Internet for all to see.

Customers want proof that they’ll get the most of their money.

Since online reviews have been shown to impact 67.7% of purchasing decisions, that’s the first place many will go to decide whether to take a chance on your restaurant. If there’s one way to spark fear in wary future customers, it’s a series of negative reviews. And since people are more prone to air frustrations than amazing experiences, it’s more likely that future customers will see bad reviews on these sites versus glowing reviews from all your loyal fans.

Today, restaurants are faced with the fact that reviews are a pivotal part of the buying process and that negative reviews are inevitable. So how do you recover from some bad review site press?

Here are the six things you need to do to deal with negative restaurant reviews, which can be part of your restaurant reputation management strategy.

1) Read the Review and Identify the Real Problem

Sometimes a negative review is the result of a complete anomaly, but other times it can signal a larger underlying issue that you need to address. Take time to read the review and try to discern what the customer is telling you. Was service slow because you’re understaffed? Should you finally switch to that new supplier? Was the customer just having a bad day?

Restaurant manager speaking to a customer

2) Respond Quickly, Coolly, and Briefly

While you don’t want to respond hot-headed and hasty, the faster you can compose a cool response, the better. The last thing you’d want to happen is the dreaded snowball effect where a bandwagon of negative reviewers join forces to leave a giant stain on your Yelp page. 

Here are some things to consider when you’re crafting a response.

A brief apology: “Hi Anna, I hear you and I’m so sorry you had a negative experience.” The customer is never wrong applies here… even if they are. 

Express concern: Be genuine in your response and in your desire to make the dining experience more favorable in the future. Own up to your mistakes if there was one. Honesty is the best policy. 

You’re responding to the customer, but also future customers: The review walls have ears. Don’t make excuses but do give a brief context so that future customers have a fair picture of the situation.

Make it personal: On occasion, as a manager or owner, you may want to provide your business email or connect through a private message where possible, so you can get in touch directly and you can ensure them that their next experience will be a positive one. While this isn’t always possible, it does add a nice personal touch. Everyone wants to be heard, especially by the person in charge. That said…

Invite them back: You’ve heard the adage, “It costs more to gain a new customer than to keep an existing one.” In the age of Yelp, it costs you even more when you lose one. Invite back your disgruntled customer, with an incentive and take special care of their next visit. While there are no assurances they’ll be happy this time around, at least the extra attention will make them feel valued and hopefully repair the experience.

3) Get a Second Pair of Eyes on Your Review

Responding can be emotional and, over the internet, perception is everything. Have a second pair of eyes take a look at the review to check for tone, spelling, and grammar.

4) Think Ahead 

If you know a guest had a great time, ask them for a review! While negative reviews often dominate the web, there’s no harm asking someone you think had an exceptional experience to write a review and provide feedback. A little positivity can go along way. 

5) Don’t Just Respond to Negative Reviews 

Positive and negative, respond to as many reviews as you can. A quick, “Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. We hope to see you again soon!” can let your customers know you’re listening and that you appreciate their review. 

Two men reading negative reviews on a laptop

6) Don’t Get Tongue Tied: What to Say 

Chances are, most of your reviews touch on some similar topics: cost, experience, and restaurant information being some major ones. 

Here are some sample responses you can keep for later – but make sure you customize them to each customer! 

The “we could have done better”

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. We’re sorry your experience was a less than favorable one. We take pride in our dining experience and strive to ensure every guest leaves satisfied. We offer our sincere apologies that your recent visit wasn’t up to our standards. We hope you’ll try us again. (This is a great opportunity to follow up with a personal response as well!) Our general manager will follow up with you personally.

The “it costs what it costs”

We strive to offer the best dining experience and service possible for a fair value. We’re sorry that wasn’t your impression. Our sincere apologies. 

The “dignified response” in the face of “the passionate and angry reviewer”

We’re sorry to hear that this was your experience. We value our customers above all else and are constantly striving to improve. Please accept our apologies. We hope you’ll give us a try again in the future. 

The delicately put “you got the info wrong”

We regret that you were misinformed about our hours/special/promotion. Here is the correct information. We hope you’ll try us again soon!

The Internet can seem like a cruel, cruel world. It’s not always fair and it can expose your smallest flaws. But it’s up to you to always show up looking your best and with your overall customer experience top of mind. 

A kind, professional response always wins.

Photo of Dana Krook
by Dana Krook

Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.

Free Restaurant Cleaning Checklist

Sign up for our free weekly TouchBistro Newsletter

Orange Takeout Box

More Articles

Image of the TouchBistro Product Guide open to the inside POS page.
By Katherine Pendrill
Blue cover of the American Diner Trends Report on a pale blue background.
By Katherine Pendrill

Sign up for our free weekly TouchBistro Newsletter

Join over 35,000 subscribed restaurateurs and unlock

  • Free industry reports, checklists, templates, guides, and more
  • The latest restaurant trends delivered straight to your inbox
  • Tips for running a successful restaurant
A group of happy coworkers drinking wine and enjoying a conversation over a meal at a restaurant.