Earlier this month, food critic, Tom Sietsema, gave the popular Founding Farmers restaurant a mind-blowing zero-star review. Sietsema gave the restaurant only half a star back in 2012 and returned in 2016 to readjust his rating to no star at all.
In his review, he bashed everything from the size of the portions, and small chicken wings, to the texture of the pasta, and the blissful ignorance of the waiters who didn’t ask why he hadn’t touched his food.
Shortly after the review went live, the company posted a video and a statement discussing “what it means to be farmer-owned”. Though the restaurant claims that neither the video nor the statement was a formal response to Sietsema’s criticism, the timing says it all.
The owner, Dan Simon, then responded to the review by saying that though Sietsema had some “legitimate criticisms,” there were also “unfair personal attacks.” Sietsema icily replied he did not know the owner personally to make personal attacks, and he did his due diligence for the review.
A Better Approach
Few can fault Founding Farmers for feeling slighted in the review, where Sietsema seems to go out of his way to deliver a particularly harsh blow. Even so, there are better ways to handle criticism.
PR specialists often advise restaurants to accept the review as is and apologize to the unsatisfied customer. Restaurants are also encouraged not to make excuses, especially if they know some of the criticism might be true, or if they are at fault.
This could seem a hard thing to do in the face of bad criticisms that hurt an owner’s pride. However, providing excuses and attempting to invalidate the customers’ experience tends to make them angrier, and encourages them to take their bad review to other platforms for affirmation from their peers.
Some customers – like most food critics – are picky about their food. However, if one customer complains about a particular thing, maybe many other customers feel the same as well, even if they haven’t voiced the opinion openly.
People often visit an establishment because of the location, the ambiance, or the price. Making sure everything else is on point, keeps them coming back for the real reason the business was established: to enjoy great food and great service. It also increases the likelihood of great reviews.
Integrate into Marketing and PR Campaign
One company that successfully revamped its image by embracing the bad reviews was Dominos. After decades of business, the company willfully aired some of the most embarrassing complaints about the establishment in their campaigns and showed customers how they were doing better.
The campaign was a success. After the initial shock, many customers became sufficiently curious to see how Domino’s had improved. It boosted their reputation as a company that took action.
Negative reviews for any business can be damaging. However, in the super-competitive restaurant business, especially in big cities, the damage can mean losing customers to other competitors for the long run.
If restaurants and their PR teams properly manage bad reviews and work with customers for a better outcome, a bad review can quickly become lost in a sea of praises.