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Three Tricks for Dealing With Negative Customer Feedback


Ben Goldstein


As business owners — and particularly restaurant-owners — we encounter negative feedback all the time, from our guests, our associates, and sometimes even our family. It’s just the nature of our industry, and we have to accept it, deal with it, and even embrace it.

During a restaurant dining experience, there are so many opportunities where things can go awry and customers can become unhappy. In fact, it seems these days that most folks go to a restaurant and immediately start looking for things to judge. It can be overwhelming and intimidating.

If you’re like me, you vividly remember your first few bad online reviews or survey responses, and it felt like someone had physically harmed you with their words. You laid awake for nights on end, mulling over their comments. You googled them from here to the moon, and maybe you even fired someone or yelled at your staff for what was said.

As time has gone by, my skin has grown thick to this kind of feedback, and slowly but surely I started to see that a negative review didn’t have to be the end of the story. It could actually be the middle. The beginning is already written, but the end is up to you. It’s how you respond and what you learn that really matters, and if you follow these three simple steps you’ll see that sometimes the biggest complaints are really just chunks of coal ready to be turned into diamonds.

  1. Keep it in perspective. Don’t negate the 99 excellent reviews and solely focus on the one bad review. You have to assign equal weight to both kinds of feedback, and realize that a complaint is just a snapshot of your business through the eyes of one guest. Serving thousands of guests a week is bound to produce a few bad snapshots, but if the overall picture is still bright and beautiful, don’t let that one little dark spot get you down.
  2. Focus on the message. You may not care for the delivery of the complaint, but don’t let the delivery distract you from the core of the feedback. If a customer personally attacks one of your staff or calls you out as an owner — my personal favorite is the “You should be ashamed!” comment — just let it slide right off your back and really look at the thing that got them riled up to begin with, and consider if it does need tweaking. Here’s a hint: If more than five or six people have mentioned something about your business that needs changing, it’s likely time to address the issue.
  3. Never EVER respond emotionally. Be gracious, courteous, respectful, and factual. Thank them for their feedback, let them know you’re looking into it, offer to resolve it if you think that needs to be done, and remind them how much you appreciate their feedback and their support of your local, independent family restaurant. Don’t respond to anger with anger. Never lose your cool in front of your other customers.

In the end, you have to remember that you chose to be in this business, and that means accepting the fact that reviews and feedback are part of the industry and they aren’t going away. If you can teach yourself to deal with negative feedback in a diplomatic, caring way, you’ll be happier and so will your guests.