Reviews: 7 Rules of Engagement for Restaurants

When was the last time you read through your Facebook reviews? Or (please don't quit reading already) hopped over to your business page on Yelp? Taking a few minutes to address your guests' feedback on review sites is literally the last thing on the priority list of "things to do" for most businesses, but I will maintain that it's essential.

This kind of sucks for you, I know.

You work your ass off in the restaurant, clocking in hours a paper pushing 9 to 5er could never survive, and now you’ve got to worry about what people are saying on the internet about your business, too. And, because most of these reviewers are sitting at home behind their phone screens and keyboards, they’re holding nothing back, much less taking a moment to consider the implications of their words on something you’ve put your blood, sweat and tears in.

As much as I wish I could tell you reviews aren’t important, I can’t do that.

91% of 18-34 year olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and 86% of people all ages read them before deciding to drive to your place of business.

So instead, I’m going to try and convince you how you can use reviews to your advantage.

First of all, these unicorn people who take the time to leave feedback about your business are the minority. For every one person that leaves a review, there are a million (this is not scientific) others that have their own opinion on their experience, good or bad, that just go on with their day. Don't you think those that let you know their thoughts deserve to be recognized? I do.

Honest hospitality is always rewarded.

The thing is, when you make it a point to respond, even with a simple "thank you", you're doing more than most others do. That makes you look good. More importantly, you are ending that guest’s experience with you on a positive note. You’re taking the “extra” step of extending your hospitality beyond your four walls and that’s still something that surprises most people. You know what happens when a guest has a positive experience and you’ve succeeded at surprising and delighting them? They come again. They tell someone about it. In a place like Charleston where competition is fierce, these are the little things that make the difference in standing out from the rest.

Sh*t happens, but you can change the story.

So what about if something really did go wrong? Now this guest has made your nightmares come true by ranting about it on Facebook with, “if I was allowed to leave 0 stars, I would, but I have to leave 1 to write this…”. That’s tough. It’s no fun. You’ve likely already dealt with this person, thought you’d resolved it, and now they’re back for round two. You’re right to be pissed. But they’ve left you with no choice. To everyone else in the world, this guest had a bad experience. Your job is to do everything you can to end on a good note.

If you’ve received some negative feedback, addressing it changes the story that guest tells their friends and family. The story goes from “something mediocre/negative happened at this restaurant” to “something negative happened, but restaurant reached out to fix it even after I left the building”. Even if it’s something you had absolutely no control over, acknowledging someone’s feelings makes them feel validated and heard. You know this, but those few reviewers that seem to write negative stuff just out of spite? They’re the ones looking for someone to acknowledge their feelings the most. Handling this with empathy, no matter how infuriated they’ve made you, often does so much more than you may know.

It’s about more than just one guest.

Your response to guest reviews aren’t just about the reviewer, by the way. Remember all those people that don’t write reviews? They may not write them, but they’re reading them. When your last interaction with a reviewer is positive, you’re leaving that reader on a positive note as well, building trust with someone you may not even have interacted with yet.

Of course, there are a bunch of other reasons to read and respond to your reviews. Free feedback on products or services, insights to trends within your business you can capitalize on, an opportunity to learn something about a customer that you can hold on to and surprise them with when you see them next, etc.

Whether or not you take advantage of how reviews can actually help drive business and guest loyalty, remember this: The people reading your reviews are human, too. You can pay people to leave good ones or have the worst review ever written associated with your restaurant, but most will see right through the extremes. When you can show these readers that behind that restaurant name are honest people that care about their guests and the service they provide, you’re making a positive emotional connection that people will remember. The reviewers are just teeing it up for you.


  1. Before responding to any concerns you get online, do as much research as you can to inform yourself of what happened when they visited you. Does your server remember them? How many were in their party? Arm yourself with knowledge to write a more informed response.

  2. Have a plan for negative feedback. Try to take the conversation off of the internet as soon as possible. Respond positively and encourage the reviewer to reach out to you directly to discuss further.

  3. Establish guidelines for how your restaurant should respond to online feedback, then make sure you follow them. This shouldn’t be too much of a departure from how you train servers and bartenders to exceed expectations when they first start working for you.

  4. Use a generic email address (we like to login to these review sites and claim your accounts. This way, when employees or marketing partners come and go, you still have control of them without extra headaches.

  5. Look for opportunities to make the reviewer’s (and the readers’) next visit even more enjoyable. Make suggestions for dishes or drinks they may enjoy if they spoke positively about something specific in their review.

  6. Identify someone on your team who'd be the best fit to own the responsibility of monitoring and responding to reviews. Hint: this person is someone whose role is already about customer service, but has time built in for similar tasks, maybe a manager? It doesn't have to be your marketing person just because it's online! 

  7. Lastly, and this is so important, never pay for positive reviews. Actually, don’t even ask for them or incentivize your staff to ask for them on your behalf. You influence your reviews by the service and experience you provide to your guests. This should be your focus. Your business depends on your credibility and reputation for caring about who walks through your doors, and when you pay for reviews, you run the risk of losing all of that by doing something that misleads them for your own sake.

    Ready to start implementing a plan to make online reviews work in your favor? We’re here to help!