While foodservice establishments have long weathered monumental challenges, the onset of the pandemic–and the lockdowns that followed–was unexpected for even those most prepared for something to come out of left field.
Now that dine-in service is available, and back to the “norm” across the country, businesses must consider all their customers’ comforts more than ever before. Even though the days of shelter-in-place are in our rearview mirrors, the reality is that the pandemic brought about many customer satisfaction issues.
During the pandemic, social distancing and enhanced cleaning protocols often meant fewer seats were available for service, establishments started requiring reservations, time limits were instituted–or all of the above. Changes in employee shifts mean risk assessment, temperature checks, and changes to staff PPE. All of these adjustments mean that the experience of dining out WAS and still IS different.
We’ve heard from businesses in the Trust20 network that customers have generally been understanding and supportive–however, that may not always be the case.
Not too long ago, we stumbled across Chicago restaurant Hopleaf’s post on Facebook addressing one such unhappy customer. We applaud the owners for responding in such a thorough and measured manner. They first remind their customers that the mask requirement is a legal mandate from the City of Chicago that is strictly enforced with stiff penalties.
It is particularly admirable that this business acknowledged the crazy times we were living in. The business actively took measures to create a clean, socially distanced environment–but also made a point of clearly communicating about their efforts with their customers.
When the City of Chicago first allowed restaurants to re-open to 40% capacity, Hopleaf updated their social media to keep their community informed of the specific actions the business took to protect them.
Owners, operators, and staff should remain confident in their decisions to ensure customer and staff safety–regardless of the customer opinions you may encounter.
The reality is that no business is ever going to have 100% positive, satisfied reviews all the time. Bad reviews are inevitable–but there are steps you can take to minimize them and to ensure the bad ones don’t spiral and lead to a serious downturn in business.
This is important because research has shown that the more negative reviews people find, the more likely they are not to become your customer–all it takes is four negative reviews to drive away up to 70% of potential customers.1
In this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about how to prevent, manage, and respond to bad reviews.
Why Do Customers Leave Bad Reviews?
As a business owner, there's nothing quite like the sinking feeling that comes with reading a bad review.
We've all been there–scrolling through our reviews with bated breath, hoping for glowing feedback and five stars all around. Unfortunately, life (and business) don't always work that way. So, why do customers leave bad reviews, anyway? The reasons may surprise you.
First and foremost, it's important to know that not all bad reviews are created equal. Some customers write bad reviews because they genuinely want to help your business improve.
They may have had a less-than-stellar experience, but they believe in your business and want to see it succeed. These customers are providing constructive criticism in the hopes that you'll take their feedback to heart, make changes, and ultimately provide a better experience for all customers.
On the flip side, some customers only leave bad reviews as a last resort. These are the customers who have tried every other option to resolve their issue and haven't received a satisfactory resolution.
Often, they feel that they've been ignored or mistreated in some way, and they're venting their frustration through a bad review. These customers can be tough to please, but it's important to take their feedback seriously and do what you can to make it right.
Of course, there are also the customers who are simply malicious. These customers may have never had any intention of giving your business a fair chance and are leaving bad reviews just for the heck of it. They may be trolls looking to stir up trouble or competitors trying to damage your reputation.
Unfortunately, there's not much you can do about these customers except to respond professionally to their reviews and move on.
How Do I Protect My Business from Bad Reviews?
With social media and online platforms giving everyone a voice, a single negative feedback can ruin a company's reputation in an instant. However, there are ways to protect your business from bad reviews from happening in the first place.
1. Understand That Every Aspect of Your Business Will Be Judged During the Customer Interaction
First things first, you need to understand that every customer interaction is a chance to make or break your business. From how you greet customers to the speed and quality of your service, every aspect of your business will be judged and evaluated by your customers.
To avoid getting bad reviews, you must pay attention to every detail of the customer experience and ensure that your team members are trained to handle any situation.
2. Provide Your Team Members WIth Proper Training
Training is crucial to safeguarding your business from bad reviews. Your team is a representative of your brand, and how they interact with customers can impact your reputation.
Therefore, it's essential to provide your team members with proper training on handling customer complaints and diffusing a situation by listening, acknowledging, and taking appropriate steps. Empower your staff to resolve issues quickly without letting them escalate.
3. Be Proactive and Ask for Customer Feedback
One way to avoid getting bad reviews is to be proactive in asking for customer feedback. Give your customers a platform to voice their opinions and concerns. You can do this by sending out surveys after a purchase, creating a feedback form on your website, or encouraging customers to leave a review on your social media pages.
By listening to your customers' feedback, you can identify areas for improvement and take action before issues escalate.
4. Use Customer Referrals to Your Advantage
Satisfied customers are a business's best marketing tool. Encourage your customers to refer their friends and family to your business. Word-of-mouth recommendations can drive sales and improve your reputation. Give your loyal customers an incentive, like a discount or free service, to refer new business to you.
5. Make Sure Contact Methods Are Accurate and Updated
One common mistake many businesses make is not staying updated with their contact information.
Customers often leave negative reviews if they cannot reach the business to lodge a complaint. You can avoid this issue by ensuring their contact methods are accurate and up-to-date across all platforms, including social media profiles, directories, and the business website.
6. Focus on Providing the Best Quality Food and Service
The best way to avoid bad reviews is by focusing on providing excellent quality food and service. Customers naturally expect the best, and if they don't receive it, they will leave negative reviews.
If you receive a complaint about poor service or, worse, food that made someone sick, it’s important to take these criticisms very seriously.
By training staff to deliver exceptional customer service and ensuring that the quality of food served is top-notch, customers are less likely to be disappointed and more likely to leave positive reviews.
7. Strive For Consistency at an Operational Level
Consistency is key in the foodservice industry. Customers expect similar experiences each time they visit, and if the quality of food and service fluctuates, it can lead to negative reviews. To maintain consistency, businesses should ensure that their operations, from service protocols to menu items, are consistent across locations.
8. Complete Regular Audits
Conducting regular audits of the business can help identify potential issues that could lead to negative reviews. Businesses can use these audits to improve operations and service delivery, ensuring that customers receive the best possible experience.
9. Be Mindful of Allergens and Other Risks
Customers with food allergies are at risk when dining out. Take these risks seriously by properly training team members to handle food allergens and ensuring that all food allergens are properly labeled on menus. By being mindful of these risks, businesses can significantly reduce their chances of receiving negative reviews related to allergic reactions.
10. Work on Getting More Positive Reviews
You can encourage customers to leave reviews by providing incentives such as discounts or loyalty points. By responding positively to negative reviews, businesses can also show potential customers that they care about providing the best experience.
And by working consistently to get more positive reviews, businesses can quickly build a positive online presence.
How to Respond to Negative Reviews
We’ve all been there, right? The sinking feeling in your stomach when you read a scathing review of your business. The urge to defend yourself, to hit back. But how should you actually respond to negative feedback? Here are some tips to handle criticism with grace and professionalism.
1. Wait to Respond
The first step is always the hardest: resist the urge to reply immediately. Take a deep breath, step away from your computer, and give yourself time to cool off. It’s important to respond thoughtfully and strategically rather than reactively.
Remember, a heated response can escalate the situation, and it’s hard to undo unkind words once they’re out there.
2. Change Your Perspective
It may be hard to accept negative feedback, but it’s also an opportunity to learn and grow.
Consider each review as feedback from a customer who wants you to improve. Try to look at the situation from their perspective – maybe there was a misunderstanding, a miscommunication, or an error on your end. Use the criticism as an opportunity to identify areas of your business that could use improvement.
3. Dive Deep Into What’s Behind the Complaint–and Apologize
Sometimes, a complaint can reveal a deeper issue.
For example, if a customer complains about slow service, it might actually be because of understaffing or poor training. Take the time to drill down into the root cause of the complaint rather than just addressing the surface-level issue. This will help you make lasting changes that improve the customer experience.
And when you do respond, make sure you apologize in a sincere and genuine way. Acknowledge the issue, and assure the customer that you’re taking steps to fix it.
4. Write a Clear, Calm Response
Now that you’ve had some time to reflect, it’s time to respond to the review. Keep your tone professional and empathetic, and avoid being defensive or confrontational.
Start by thanking the customer for their feedback, and let them know that you take their concerns seriously.
Then, address the specific issues they raised, and let them know what you’re doing to fix them. If possible, offer them a refund, a gift card, or another gesture of goodwill. Finally, invite them to come back and give your business another chance.
5. Reflect on the Feedback
Negative reviews can be hard to read, but it's essential to take the time to reflect on the feedback. Ask yourself: Is there any truth to this criticism? What can we do better? Negative reviews can actually be a valuable tool for improvement if you're willing to learn from them.
6. Limit the Urge to Flag the Review for Removal
It may be tempting to flag a negative review for removal, especially if it's particularly harsh or unfair. However, flagging reviews for removal should only be used under specific circumstances, such as when the review contains hate speech or explicit content. If you flag reviews without a legitimate reason, it can damage your business's reputation even further.
7. Don’t Take it Personally–But Be Personal in Your Response
It's important not to take negative reviews personally, as it can cloud your judgment and worsen the situation. Instead, approach negative feedback as an opportunity to connect with your customers and address their concerns. Provide a personalized response that shows you care about their experience.
8. Offer to Follow Up
After reading a negative review, consider following up with the customer directly. Offering an apology and a solution shows the customer that you take their feedback seriously and want to make things right. Remember to keep the conversation positive and solution-focused.
9. Invite Them Back or Offer to Move the Conversation Offline
One way to turn a negative review into a positive experience is to invite the customer back or offer to move the conversation offline. Sometimes, a face-to-face conversation or complimentary meal can be enough to turn a disappointed customer into a loyal fan. Be genuine in your invitation and ensure they know their experience is important to you.
10. Do Your Best to Uplift Other Businesses
Finally, remember that the foodservice industry is a community. Leaving positive reviews for other businesses and recommending them to others can help create a positive environment for everyone. Even when a negative review hurts, focus on uplifting other businesses in your community rather than tearing them down.
Push That Fear Aside and Regain Confidence in Your Business!
Responding to negative reviews can be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to make meaningful improvements to your business. If you’re looking for ways to improve your operations, you may want to consider Trust20’s programs.
We offer training in everything you need to know to support a successful foodservice establishment, including allergen awareness, food safety, food handler protocols, and more.
Remember, every customer interaction is a chance to build your reputation and strengthen your relationship with your community. Take a deep breath, rise above the negativity, and keep moving forward. Reframe how you view the feedback you’ve been given and see how you can use it as a tool to grow your business–rather than something that’s holding you back.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in October 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and to provide further resources to foodservice professionals.
1. Hospitality Tech: 4 Negative Reviews Equals to a 70% Loss of Potential Customers