Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What should a restaurant owner do about a bad online review?

From The New York Times:
“We attempted to eat at the restaurant on 12/30/10. We waited a total of two hours and were finally told that they were out of nearly every entree and “would we consider sampling what they had left?” When they couldn’t confirm how long it would take to get “tastings,” we left NEVER TO RETURN TO THIS HORRIBLE PLACE — And the owner came up to us to say it was a “bad night” He was arrogant and didn’t apologize or offer us the opportunity to return comped or discounted. AVOID THIS RESTAURANT.” –Alex C.

This review has now appeared on Yelp, TripAdvisor, 27East.com and will soon be showing at a local Web site near you. If we ever get on Zagat. it will be there too. If the reviewer — who also identifies himself as Alex Cohen — ever uses OpenTable, it will be there too. It will follow us to the cyber cemetery. Mr. Cohen is on an upper-case mission.

How should we play this? Respond on each site? Let it be? Respond with vigor? Kill Mr. Cohen with kindness? Hope that a preponderance of good reviews will bury this one, or at least dilute its impact? Ignore Mr. Cohen completely? (I guess it’s too late for that, showing up here and all.)
As they say, read the whole thing... but he goes on to apologize for Mr. Cohen's experience and relay his side of the story. Assuming you believe the restaurant owner, the harshness (and the internet stalker aspect) of the review is indeed unfair... so should he respond?

Now, of course, publishing this on the NYT website is a significant response...  so the question is probably moot... but in general I think the obvious answer is "hope that a preponderance of good reviews will bury this one." Maybe it's my science background, but I can't imagine looking at a rating based on four Yelp reviews and taking it seriously. If it was thirty reviews dominated by complaints of bad service and long wait times then that's another story... but that's not the case here. Honestly, this kind of thing is why I still rely as much as possible on professional reviewers... and why it's impossible for me to envision "crowd sourcing" ever really replacing it. For neighborhood places that may never warrant a big time reviewer, Yelp can be invaluable, but you have to know how to filter out the "people with an ax to grind" to read it effectively. Anna likes to use Chowhound to find restaurants generating buzz, but even there you have to know how to filter out the "back in the day" foodie/hipsters who think everything popular/not obscure is overrated.

I suppose there are people who would see that one review and not go... but places like Per Se get one star reviews... and if people are that dumb, then do you really want them eating at your restaurant in the first place?

Though this is definitely a good reminder that I never want to be in the restaurant business... one review like that, even from a guy on the internet, and I'd probably sulk for a week.