Staying Afloat In A Sea Full Of Critics: How To Respond To Negative Yelp Reviews

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Your business is like your baby, right? You’re protective of it. You work extremely hard to support it and make it better each and every day. You have literally poured your blood, sweat, and tears into it. Hence, you see red as perfect strangers publicly lambaste it on platforms like Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Facebook.


Over the past several weeks, I spoke to several small business owners who share an aversion for Yelp in particular. Some of the common feedback they divulged: 1.) Yelp frequently hounds them about advertising (which, btw, they find to be very pricey). 2.) They question Yelp’s integrity and business practices. 3.) 1-star reviews are oftentimes extremely harsh and lack actual constructive feedback for improvements.


The point of this blog post is not to give my personal opinions on Yelp. (If you wish to hear them, however, comment below and I’ll write a separate blog post.) The point is to give you sound advice for professionally handling negative customer reviews. Because let’s face it, guys. Customer reviews WILL impact your business.


Before getting started, I want to point out that I believe restaurants take the WORST beating from Yelpers. If you own a restaurant or are thinking about opening one, KNOW THIS: You will get 1-star reviews. You will be told your food and/or service sucks. You will instinctually want to beat the living s#!t out of the people who post said remarks.


The restaurant business, in general, is excruciating. Now top that with public platforms that encourage everyone to release their inner food critic. You don’t have to be Mario Batali to understand that equates to a recipe for disaster.


I’m here to tell you that negative reviews can actually lead to positive outcomes. I’m sure you’ve heard this before but nobody is perfect. And yes, that includes you and your business. Mistakes will happen. People will call them out on social media. And it’s up to you to address them in the moment. 


The beauty of a review site like YeIp is that it can shine light on areas you may need to take a closer look at. For example, if you own a restaurant and 90% of your Yelp reviews suggest that your service is lacking, then guess what? Your service probably needs improvement. It’s the whole “outsider looking in” philosophy. When you’re in the thick of it, day in and day out, sometimes it’s not so easy to see the obvious.


Ok, so now let’s talk about addressing those 1-star ratings. 


1. Create a Yelp business account and claim your business. 

In order to respond to Yelp reviews, you’ll first need to open a Yelp account and claim your business. Note: This will be a different account than your personal Yelp account (if you have one). You can open an account and claim your business using the link below.


Yelp For Business:


Not only will your Yelp business account allow you to respond to reviews, but it also gives you the ability to update information about your business (location, hours, parking, etc.), direct message people who have reviewed you, and manage ads if you so desire.


A good rule of thumb is to monitor your Yelp reviews daily. I would highly recommend responding to negative reviews within 24 hours and posting your comments publicly. It will show that you are indeed listening to your customers. Posting public comments can also help enlighten fellow Yelp users on your side of a story.


(For positive reviews, Yelp encourages you to respond with a direct message to the customer rather than a public comment. A simple “thank you” is a nice touch!)


2. Take a breather.

Get your emotions in check before posting a response to a negative review. This is critical! You do NOT want to come off as defensive or as a hot head. Read the review, take a breath, and then revisit it after you’ve cooled down. 

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Especially in circumstances where debasing remarks have been made, you’ll need to take the high road. Do NOT get into a pissing match with the customer. You will lose.


3. Assess the situation.

After you’ve performed yoga, squeezed your stress ball, or puffed into your paper bag a few times, read the review again … this time, from a more objective place. Was there any merit to what was said? Or was the review simply a rant? If the customer has legitimate points, make sure you address them and try to make the situation right.


For example, if someone complains their server was rude or not attentive, your response might be:


“I’m very sorry to hear you did not enjoy your recent experience. Customer service is a top priority for us and I would like to find out more about what happened during your visit. Please email me or direct message me if you wish to discuss this further.”


Now, if the customer is ranting or being just plain obnoxious, I think it’s ok to be a little more direct with them (without being unprofessional, of course). Below is a real-life example of a 1-star rating we recently responded to on behalf of a client:


“Small and tasteless portions. They try to act like a trendy west coast style place. But food and service is horrible. Not sure how they stay open between food and the prices. If they want to run a west coast style restaurant go to west coast. East coasters won't eat this trash.”
As you can probably tell, this would be classified as a rant. Vague comments. No substantive details.


Here was our response:


“[CUSTOMER NAME], you're clearly dissatisfied with your experience with us but your review lacks specific details on what needs to be addressed. You claim that our "food and service is horrible" ... what exactly did you try on the menu? Were you sitting at a table or at the bar? Your comment that "East Coasters won't eat this trash" is simply a rant; not constructive criticism that we could potentially utilize to make improvements. If you wish to provide actual substance to back your 1-star review, please reach out to me directly at [BUSINESS OWNER EMAIL].”


If you’re wondering, the angry patron has still yet to reply back.


The main takeaways here: 1.) Always come across as professional. 2.) Try to make right on legitimate wrongs. 3.) Keep your responses short and sweet and take the more in-depth discussions offline. 


Lastly, Yelp does let you report certain types of reviews. I’ve listed them out below. Unfortunately, if your 1- or 2-stars don’t fall into any of these categories, there’s really nothing you can do except politely comment on them publicly.

  • It was posted by a competitor or ex-employee.

  • It contains threats, lewdness, or hate speech.

  • It doesn’t describe a personal consumer experience.

  • It violates Yelp’s privacy standards.

  • It contains promotional material.

  • It’s for the wrong business.


4. Ease your suffering.

The occasional 1- or 2-star review is not going to take your business down. Trust me! In fact, your competitors are receiving them, too. Don’t believe me? Go scroll through their Yelp reviews and sort them by Lowest Rated to see for yourself. 


Think of Yelp as a tool that you can use to your advantage. Don’t focus so much on individual reviews … instead, assess what the community is saying as a whole. If you read all of your reviews taking a more objective approach, the common denominators (in both positive and negative comments) will be very obvious.