How to Respond to Negative Yelp Reviews and Protect Your Business

Chris Rumpf

Founder and CEO, 15+ Years of Restaurant Technology Innovation

How to Respond to Negative Yelp Reviews and Protect Your Business

If it hasn’t happened yet, it will. Whether you like it or not, a negative Yelp review is somewhat unavoidable in the restaurant industry. You may be surprised to see how much it can hurt – on a personal level – to read someone bashing on the very thing you’ve spent countless hours building and perfecting. Despite all your efforts to keep your restaurant at a 100% positive rating, how you respond to a negative review is just as important.

The thing is, a platform like Yelp is bittersweet; it helps businesses get the recognition they deserve but also opens up the door for negative reviews that can damage a business reputation – and sometimes unrightfully so.

But not all negative reviews should be written off as ones written by picky, impossible-to-please customers who never give 5-stars (although those kinds of reviewers do exist). Oftentimes, a negative review can provide an opportunity to reassess certain aspects of your business that needs some extra attention.

By taking negative reviews seriously and handling them with tact, you can step away from the experience with a retained customer, an improved business, and a restful night’s sleep.

Follow these steps on how to respond to negative Yelp reviews to protect your business – and keep your sanity.

Re-read each negative Yelp review.

It’s important that you read the review and take its claims into consideration. If you read it with the preconceived notion that it is invalid, unwarranted, or unfair, you may miss out on the opportunity to receive some feedback that would be valuable to your restaurant.

Re-read the review to ensure you fully understand the author’s claims, concerns, and intention.

Research the claims in the review.

Speak with the employees who attended to the customer. If no employee is mentioned, try to use the review’s content to figure out when the customer visited the restaurant and who helped them. Get your employee’s side of the story.

Did the customer voice concerns in-person, or did they wait to vent online? Did your employee do anything to try and appease the customer? What happened, and was there anything that could’ve been handled better on your end?

Also, research the review’s author. What are their other reviews like? Do they seem fair and honest? If so, take their review as feedback.

Unfortunately, there are people out there who use Yelp to point out every flaw they can find. This is reflected in Yelpers who, when you visit their profile, have written only 1 or 2-star reviews. If you notice a review from this kind of Yelper, don’t be discouraged.

Respond to negative reviews carefully and thoughtfully.

As the business owner, you are able to respond to Yelp reviews. Many business owners like to respond to all Yelp reviews to maintain a relationship with both their happy and not-so-happy customers.

When you respond to negative Yelp reviews, keep your cool. Do not respond with a negative, argumentative, or condescending tone. Instead, begin with an empathetic tone that communicates that they are heard and you are concerned. Their claims may warrant an apology, but if it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault, consider an apology for the misunderstanding or emotions brought up by the experience.

Explain the issue and the solution.

Clearly explain the issue based upon your research, and let the reviewer know what you are doing to prevent the issue from happening again. This might sound something like, “We had more guests than expected this past holiday weekend, so our wait times were, indeed, longer than usual. We are working with our management and website team to create a smoother reservation system for the future. We’re scheduled to have it up and running in two weeks. We hope you’ll dine with us again – and skip the wait by making a reservation through our new system!”

Sometimes you may need to defend your company, and it’s employees, against a review that holds no merit. A response of this kind may read something like this: “I have spoken with both your server and the manager on duty the evening of your visit, and they both recall giving you a number of options that would’ve suited your dietary restrictions. As explained, our menu has a vegetarian section and, when possible, we can adjust dishes to suit our customer’s dietary needs. Your review states we are unfriendly to vegetarians. Perhaps this was a mistake? We hope so, and hope to see you soon!”

With either of these responses, the business owner is well-informed (they did their research!), kind, and direct.

Remember your audience.

Your audience isn’t just the negative reviewer. Your audience is everyone who uses Yelp. Remember that! Don’t get too personal, and don’t treat the review as a personal attack. If you answer the review openly and with grace, your audience is more likely to consider your side. If you’re lucky, the reviewer may edit their review if they understand your point of view and realize their claims were unjust.

Protect your reputation.

It is important to monitor review sites for negative reviews. Protect your reputation by responding appropriately to these reviews in a speedy and effective manner.

By following these steps, you can swiftly handle negative Yelp reviews without adding unnecessary stress to your plate. By remaining subjective and impersonal, you’ll offer responses that are respectful and clear, and future customers will see that you’re passionate about the business’s reputation and actively working to better their experience.