Online review sites have changed the way we live. On the one hand, they’ve enabled a new way to discover places you never would have found. And on the other, they allow us to steer clear of bad food, bad products and bad service. For people prone to indecision, it’s given us a few too many options. Should I get these new cabinet knobs? Hmmm, let me read all 243 reviews… (Yes, I did that last week.) But, it’s also bonded us over the latest awards for who won the internet, like the writers of these reviews on Amazon.
If you are the owner of a business or a maker of a product, you may have a different perspective. In fact, you may be slightly terrified of online reviews and how you’ll handle anything negative. Unless you retain a full time legal and PR firm, you should have a plan. The key to executing the plan is to make sure that the point person can react calmly and objectively, no matter how close he or she is to the situation. Respond in a timely manner, address the complaint and make it clear that you are getting more information on your end, would like more information from them or are working to remedy the problem.
What are other options for restaurants to fight back? If you have are booking a party bigger than four at Grill 225 in Charleston, South Carolina, you’ll have to sign a contract agreeing to not post negative reviews! Is this legal? Um, no. The Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 “makes certain clauses of a form contract void if it prohibits, or restricts, an individual from engaging in a review of a seller’s goods, services, or conduct.” But come on Grill 225, did we really think it could be legal to charge someone $50 for posting a negative review after dining??
If the review is a personal attack, retaliation from an ex-employee or you know for a fact that the person didn’t dine in your restaurant, you can contact Yelp! or any review site. Their terms of service can protect you. If that fails, go with the polite response route, but see if you can contact that person offline. Legally, you do have grounds to stand on if the review qualifies as defamation versus a negative review. But the time and money needed to engage a lawyer makes that a prohibitive option.
Use Your POS
The least painful way to address this less-than-ideal situation is preventive methods. Are your servers checking on guests? Do you have a front of house manager eyeballing tables? Even better, POS technology has responded to this need by giving customers a voice to express feedback before they even walk out the door. For example, MobileBytes POS for iPad allows the customer to rate & comment if the pay at the table option is used.
Another forward-looking solution is called Digital Bill Folio by Touchpoint. It’s a pay at the table option that allows the manager to get instant negative feedback via text, so he/she can remedy the situation at that moment. Interestingly, the restaurant has the option to share that feedback externally & the customer is listed on Yelp! as a ‘verified’ eater at that establishment, which helps to combat the fake reviews.
More on Touchpoint’s pay at the table option here: Restaurants & EMV Chip Cards
This recent Restaurant Hospitality article is also good reading on the topic.
If you need a great local PR agency, I can definitely recommend one of those too. Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.