How to deal with angry online mobs like a pro

By Sarah Stowe | 19 Jan 2016 View comments

If you’re franchising in the hospitality industry, the odd negative review is known to be an occupational hazard. But when the comments are made on TripAdvisor or on your Facebook page, be aware that the online community has become the beast that never sleeps, and your reaction is crucial.

Last month, as Smart Company reports, a not-so-happy customer with the username Hannah in the UK took to TripAdvisor to post a negative review for Bennett’s Caf_ & Bistro in York. According to The Telegraph, the user described her experience as “absolutely awful” for having to pay £2 for hot water and a slice of lemon. She labelled the eatery a “dreadful place” which she “would definitely not recommend”. The tirade continued to highlight her view that “The rude waiter that served me should be sacked. I will not be returning and will be advising friends and family not to go there.”

A week later, the restaurant owner hit back with a brief lecture about why a glass of water with a slice of lemon is more costly at a restaurant.

“You entered the cafe and the waiter showed you to your seat, gave you a menu, waited for a time and then took your order,” the manager wrote.

“He entered it into the till, collected a cup, saucer and spoon and took them into the kitchen. There, he selected a knife, chopping board, got a lemon from the fridge, cut off a slice and put it in the cup. Then, he returned to the dining room, drew off the necessary hot water and carried the cup to your table.”

“That’s at least two to three minutes of work for the waiter,” the manager wrote. After explaining the time needed for the waiter to process the order, payment, and cleaning up after her, the manager then detailed each and every cost of business overheads as well as paying staff a reasonable wage.

The manager continued, saying that it’s a “cruel fact of life” that the facilities are costly, not the ingredients.

“Perhaps, the rudeness that you perceived in me was triggered by the disrespect that I perceived in you by your presumption that you could use our facilities and be waited on for free,” the manager concluded.

The review went viral after being reviewed by celebrity food critic Jay Rayner, although the original review has been taken down. Instead, screenshots were re-shared on social media. Since then, Bennett’s Cafe & Bistro has been inundated with positive five-star reviews, with customers stating the restaurant had a “really nice ambience” and “to charge for lemon and hot water is fair enough”.

Sure, the manager in this case handled the reviewer well, and was praised by the online community. However, your best defence against these reviewers are case-by-case.

The first thing you need to do is identify the kind of reviewer to determine whether the review needs to be addressed.

There are generally three bands of reviewers:

1. The online troll who is simply out for blood

2. The paid “reviewer” slamming your business to support your competitors

3. The honest critic, who is calling out on genuinely poor facilities or service.

If the reviewer ticks box number one, it may be best to ignore. If you suspect the second, flag this with the site administrator. However, a legitimate review will require a response.

5 steps to responding to bad reviews

  1. Recognise the reviewer’s complaint and apologise for their experience.
  2. Acknowledge the criticism if it reflects the reality of your facilities, service, and quality.
  3. Reply swiftly, with a calm and friendly tone. There is no need to match their choice of words, specifically if they are particularly “colourful”.
  4. Assure the reviewer that their feedback is important and appreciated. This is a good time to engage in some positive messaging about what your business cares about.
  5. If possible, offer a means to continue the conversation (if required) privately. This will remove the thread from public viewing.