Howdy everyone today we are going to be talking about how a restaurant or any business for that matter can turn negative consumer reviews & experiences into positive growth opportunities.

At some point in a business owners hectic life they are going to encounter a situation that will give them a chance to show the world just how they deal with criticism and how far they are willing to go to make their customers happy. Most successful people will tell you that the recognition of those moments and how they are dealt with is the surefire difference between a business growing or continuing to wallow in the status quo. Now lets face it, there isn't a business on the planet that can possibly make every person happy 100% of the time and given the fact that human error is almost a guarantee it is essential that we discuss what restaurant owners and their staff can do to head off potential bad experiences and use any negative reviews that do arise as an opportunity to drive more business through the door.

The truth is the consumer landscape has changed so rapidly over the last 5 years that trying to adapt and keep up is a daunting task for any business.While individual consumers are agile and able to integrate with new technologies and concepts at light speed, businesses are much larger, have more moving parts and frankly move at the speed of a Disney cruise liner captained by Betty White. The Combination of statistical ingredients such as Americans now spending more time on digital devices than watching TV and mobile device usage growing a whopping 81%, restaurant owners have themselves an easy bake recipe for instant amateur reporters armed & ready to tell the world about their dining experiences! The scary fact is that at any moment your establishment can be highlighted within minutes on multiple channels giving hundreds and even thousands of potential customers a perceived notion of your business whether warranted or not. Guess the old saying perception is reality truly holds water!

Now lets take a breather for a second and wipe the sweat from our brows and lets get our science on for a second, have you ever heard of Robin Dunbar? For those of you havent you should definitely take a few minutes and learn about this evolutionary psychologist, its quite a thought provoking read for anyone looking to understand the behaviors of people (or maybe customers). So what is the relevance between this scientist and your business? Well Mr. Dunbar is best known for formulating what is known as Dunbars Number a formula that is regularly referenced in attempts to replicate the face to face world by social and societal giants. This formula measures the number of individuals one person can maintain meaningful relationships with. The measurement tells us that the magic number is 150. This data paints a powerful picture, one that illustrates a bottom line fact that regardless of the merit with which a consumer opinion carries it will ultimately have an opportunity to influence the opinions right, wrong or indifferent of 150 people! Times that by each one of your daily customers and one can begin to see how this Oxford professor and his number are pretty relevant to this topic. Ok now that we are all much smarter than we were 5 minutes ago lets talk about how this applies to a restaurant and what steps its team can take to turn negative experiences into positive fuel for growth?

  1. Care & Prepare

First things first, before anyone worries about how to turn negative reviews into a positive potion they need to take a look in the mirror and then a second look and for some a third glimpse may be needed. Taking a mental inventory of policies & procedures as well as an analysis of all customer service methods and the people who execute them is an essential first step to improving the overall customer experience. Having accountability underlie every aspect of how strategies are developed, implemented and executed will be the foundation for every step taken towards positive perspectives.

Bottom Line: Check yourself before you wreck yourself!

  1. Ask and Your Shall Receive

Now that the processes and persons have been evaluated, its time to start finding non intrusive ways to solicit reviews from consumers. To be successful at this part takes creativity and patience but dont fret Its a part of doing business these days and as long as its done right you will be just fine. One important item to remember is, before starting to gather consumer reviews a commitment must be made to being as candid and open as possible with customers, meaning if the goal is to ask for reviews then make sure that is stated clearly that a review of the customers experience is extremely important and valued immensely.

Asking for reviews is as simple as having the staff work certain phrases and or polite questions into their pitches. For example a restaurant server can easily say, Did you folks enjoy yourselves? You know your opinion matters to us, so wed really appreciative if you reviewed your experience online, or Thanks folks and please dont forget to take a few moments to review your experience on your favorite review site. It helps us grow and provide better experiences for our patrons. The goal should be to make sure every customer touch point is focused on conveying how important their opinions are and how much they are appreciated good or bad.

Example Touch Points:

  • On phone taking reservations / giving directions etc.

  • Upon arrival

  • Seating at table

  • Server / waitstaff exposure

  • Presenting the check

  • Exiting

Bottom Line: Make sure you have a review mention plan for every stage of the customer experience!

  1. Offering Incentives...The Right Way

Offering any kind of incentive for good reviews is extremely frowned upon and can even get a business banned on many prominent review sites. This tactic should be avoided at all costs if and only if the offerings are for good reviews only. What I mean is that there is a right way to offer incentives in exchange for the customers sharing their opinions no matter the perspective.

So how can a restaurant offer incentives for reviews without corrupting the process?

No matter how simple leaving a review may be, it is still time taken by the customer to share and benefit their community. Showing appreciation of the customers time should be a priority for any business and incentives are the way to show that gratitude. It is very important to understand that Incentives should be given to positive and negative reviewers alike. It is completely ok to offer a 10% discount for sharing experiences across the board. Remember while positive reviews may help drive new business, negative reviews help grow a business and should be appreciated equally. So to sum it up, incentives should be offered for the sharing of any and all experiences and leave it up to the restaurants to work hard to make them positive.

When should you offer these incentives?

This point is very critical to follow and that is incentives should be offered post review, meaning after the customer has finished sharing their personal accounts. Offering incentives before the review is complete could sway the consumers decision in your favor inadvertently corrupting the process. Sharing a small token of appreciation for the customers efforts after the review is placed will create a memorable moment in the consumers mind as well ensure the restaurants staff is monitoring review sites as they should be. Now again I cant emphasize enough that any token of appreciation should be given after the review is completed!

Bottom Line: Opinions matter, good or bad your business benefits from them

  1. Creating Brand Advocates

The only thing more valuable than a positive review is the people leaving the reviews. When someone leaves a personal account for all to read it is a very personal action. The reviewer has taken time and put forth effort to describe and share their feelings and opinions. Knowing and caring that there is a real human being at the other end of the review allows a business to keep things in perspective. While the obvious goal is to earn and solicit positive reviews, negative reviews should not be ignored as they present their own set of unique possibilities and in some cases can be even more valuable to a business. Negative reviews are going to happen but they are a businesss chance to turn an unhappy customer into a brand advocate.

Now its very important for a brand to monitor its mentions across the web to hear the conversations that are happening and respond as quickly as possible. I know this sounds like a tall task but there is a simple way to accomplish this and that is to set up a Google Alert for the business name. A best practice when setting up alerts is to setup multiple alerts based on variations of the company name and URL. This alert system will be like having a security team watching a business owners back 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

How should a business deal with negative reviews?

  1. Show empathy and respect - Remember the consumer doesn't understand the daily business life of a restaurant owner nor do they care and quite honestly they shouldn't. When responding to the review first put yourself in their shoes and let them know you understand their issue and are willing to work to resolve it and grow from it.

  1. Be Informative - Most customers aren't aware of every policy and procedure a business can have and as such can end up reacting negatively to a situation that has roots in best practices but cosmetically looks bad. Explain why a certain rule was enforced, why a certain action was taken or why a method was chosen. This will not only give them a sense of relief that a business owner or manager cared enough to take the time to explain themselves but potential customers can learn this information as well and you may not have the same issue in the future.

  1. Ask for another chance - Once you have shown you care and have offered up some information (if applicable) specifically ask the reviewer for another chance at earning their business. Invite them in personally, give them the managers name and let them know to just call whenever they are thinking of coming and your staff will be ready and waiting. Start a TRL or Trust Renew List in your office, add any negative reviewers information and share with managers so when one of these reviewers calls, the staff knows to give that extra special effort with that customer.

Well that's it for now folks I hope this helps a bit when youre dealing with negative reviews. Remember care, prepare, never ignore and ask, ask, ask!