Yelp guide for restaurant owners: responding to reviews

There are good Yelp reviews and then there are bad Yelp reviews. Just when you thought you had the customer service thing down pat, for every glowing 5-star review of your establishment, there’s another one ripping your business to shreds.

But just as a positive review is no reason to get overly confident, a negative review is no reason to panic. Both types of reviews can actually serve you quite well if you know how to respond to them.

Responding to positive Yelp reviews

So you’ve gotten a great Yelp review. Good news! But rather than just sit there basking in the glory of positive feedback, here’s your opportunity to show you’re a humble, hard-working restaurant operator who appreciates customer loyalty.

If you get a positive write-up, take a few minutes out of your day to thank your reviewer for visiting your business and sharing their experience. Invite that person to come back again and encourage them to bring some friends.

Don’t include any verbiage that might be construed as a kickback or bribe, this isn’t the place to incentivize a return visit. When responding to Yelp reviews, you want to come off as grateful and genuine.

Your response might go something like:

Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed our ravioli special; it’s one of my favorites. We hope to see you again soon.

The key is to keep it short, sweet, and simple. By responding to a positive review, you’re thanking your reviewer for taking the time to do something nice for your business. And if other users see that, they may want to do the same.

Responding to negative Yelp reviews

This one’s a little trickier. It’s much easier to craft a heartfelt thank you message than respond to an assault on the business you’ve worked so hard to build. But the way you react to bad Yelp reviews can impact the way others view you and your restaurant.

When you get a negative review, your first move should always be to respond to your reviewer privately, as opposed to publicly. Sure, your reviewer may have opted to air their grievances for the world to see, but that’s their right. If you want to turn that negative review into a more positive one, bite your tongue and take your response offline. Yelp has a nifty little messaging feature you can use to reply directly to your reviewer.

Not so fast though! Before you craft your response, do your research. Read the review carefully and investigate the incident the reviewer alludes to. If your reviewer alleges that Brian the server was rude, talk to Brian and find out what happened. If your reviewer’s primary gripe is tasteless pasta, talk to the kitchen staff and get to the bottom of it.

That said, the last thing you want to do is make excuses or get defensive. Rather, your goals should be to:

  1. Apologize for the customer’s negative experience, and
  2. Ask the customer for a chance to make things right

That’s it. Don’t explain that Brian was having an off night because his girlfriend just dumped him, or that the chef was recovering from a sinus infection that rendered his taste buds useless. None of that matters. You need to make it clear that what your reviewer experienced was an unfortunate exception, not the rule, and that you’re confident you can do better.

If a private response doesn’t yield any results (meaning, your reviewer ignores you, responds rudely, or leaves his review unchanged), then consider responding publicly. And take time with your response, since you only get one shot.

Here’s where you want to be polite and to the point. Refrain from attacking your reviewer, even if they’re way off base. The more level headed and respectful you come off, the more users might start to question the reviewer, as opposed to your restaurant.

Your response to a negative review might go something like:

I’m sorry you felt we overcooked your chicken. Usually our customers rave about that particular dish, so I apologize if our kitchen had an off night. We’d love for you to come back and try some of our other entrees.

What this example shows is that you can defend your restaurant without coming off as defensive or aggressive. In this case, the owner is defending one of its staple dishes, but isn’t doing so in an arrogant fashion.

Also, when responding to a negative review, be sure to address specific feedback.

Understanding The Yelp review filter

Think of the Yelp filter as the site’s policing agent. The filter exists to prevent businesses from creating fake Yelp accounts to post positive reviews about their own establishments or negative reviews about their competition. In other words, if you were planning to post a whole bunch of phony Yelp reviews about your restaurant, don’t.

The filter flags reviews that are short and lacking in detail, as well as those that stem from questionable, incomplete user profiles. Rather than waste your time writing reviews for your own business, focus your efforts on maximizing your Yelp profile.

That said, understand the review filter isn’t perfect. Sometimes Yelp keeps valid reviews, both positive and negative get stuck, hidden, resulting is customers not being able to find out about your restaurant. So remember to check the bottom of your restaurant’s profile regularly for filtered reviews.

Keep in mind, Yelp does not delete filtered reviews; they just put them in a sort of purgatory. The more positive reviews you get out of that filter, the more you can increase your business rating over time.

Message your filtered reviewers and encourage them to complete their profiles and post additional reviews. The more established and active your reviewers, the more likely they are to avoid the dreaded filter.

Food for thought

When it comes to Yelp reviews, it’s more about quality than quantity. It’s better to have three or four detailed, informative reviews than to have 10 one-liners with negligible detail. And don’t forget that it’s against Yelp’s terms of service to solicit reviews.

Resist the urge to beg your happy customers to log on and post on your behalf. Remember, no restaurant is perfect, and having too many suspiciously succinct positive reviews can burn your credibility where it hurts.

Just keep doing what you do best—offering your customers a satisfying dining experience—and with any luck, you’ll be on your way to a five-star rating before you can even yell “order up.”

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