My Advice to Restaurant Owners: Don’t Apologize for a Bad Yelp Review | american small business
RDo you remember Anton Ego, the aptly named food critic in the animated film Ratatouille? His scathing review of chef Gusteau’s restaurant arguably contributed to the chef’s death. It was only the delicious cuisine prepared by Remy – he was the rat – that saved the day for the famous Parisian restaurant. Ego represented a cohort of food critics who dominated the restaurant industry for centuries. But where are these food critics today? Of course, there are still a few. But most of them have been outsourced by review sites like Yelp.
Yelp has become where people get their food reviews. And not just food. It’s also retailers and services. The site is said to have had 184 million reviews worldwide and 178 million unique visitors each month. About 45% of people will check a Yelp review before visiting a business. It is a great power.
But with great power comes great responsibility. And media attention. Yelp has become so powerful that fights between business owners and their disgruntled customers have become legendary — and often go viral. I love these fights. And I’m still rooting for the business owner.
I support the owner of the Fresno, Calif. daycare center who filed libel suits against customers who left bad reviews. I cheer for the owner of a Colorado sushi restaurant who regularly applauds disgruntled customers. And the vet, owner of a gun and appliance repair service, who beat the worst of their bad reviews. I’m happy for the construction company in Canada that won a $90,000 defamation lawsuit against a guy who posted negative reviews about his company. Good for them all.
During the pandemic, Yelp saw a 161% spike in negative restaurant user reviews and the platform removed over 15,000 bad user reviews related to Covid restrictions. What kind of person leaves a bad review for a struggling business during one of the worst economic disasters in recent memory? And who complains when a business owner struggles to make their establishment safe for their employees and customers? Idiots, who is it? Lots and lots of idiots who are on Yelp.
Most experts tell small businesses to be nice to these idiots. One, for example, a restaurant consultant, says you have to say “thank you”, swallow your ego and your desire to avoid conflict. “Other readers will see that you are responsive and care about your customers,” he writes.
The Industry Advisor’s opinion is the general consensus among most experts. Be nice, they say. Be professional. Respond politely. Take responsability. Acknowledge the complaint and show the public that you are aware of the problem and will fix it. But is it really good advice? No it is not. My advice: defend yourself and fight.
Fight because the public already knows the truth. A snotty critic like Anton Ego is just a small voice among thousands. And if you manage to rack up thousands — if not hundreds — of Yelp reviews and 98% of them are positive, then you’re fine. You can’t please everyone. We also know that there are plenty of losers with their own personal issues who have no better way to spend their time than to anonymously criticize a food service establishment because the soda they received didn’t have enough. of ice. We know that even Yelp — like Google and Amazon reviews — can be rigged, and some reviews are dodgy at best.
We know that some people leave bad reviews just to extort business owners, and some states like Arizona are actually taking legislative action to stop this practice. We also know that for every customer who takes the time to leave a Yelp review – positive or negative – there are tens of thousands who have better things to do with their lives than praise (or disparage) a small business owner trying to earn a living. Count me as one of them.
So don’t apologize. Don’t whine. Do not take responsibility for inaccurate and unwarranted comments. If you did something wrong, admit it and fix what you can. Otherwise, hold on. Be professional, of course. But fight back and defend your business. The audience needs to see that you’re not going to accept a bad review as fact. To me, that’s even worse than apologizing.
You are proud of your business. You depend on your business for your livelihood. You have thousands of satisfied customers. Tell the customer that you’re both better off if they go somewhere else. You prefer to serve friendly people who appreciate the products and services that you relentlessly provide. And then move on. Because you know this guy is going to want to get into an online war. He has no life. You do.
I like when the owners fight. It shows they care. So stop apologizing when you get a bad Yelp review from the Anton Egos of the world. Show the audience that you care too.