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Tackling Bad Restaurant Reviews: What You Need to Know
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Tackling Bad Restaurant Reviews: What You Need to Know

Tackling Bad Restaurant Reviews: What You Need to Know

Jarrad Grigg
April 24, 2023
5 min read

The customer reviews you see online are a double-edged, highly potent sword. Many restaurateurs have used them to cut their way through the thick walls of competition to financial success. However, many other restaurant owners have watched helplessly as their business gets hacked to pieces by these swords.

No matter how simply you run a restaurant, it’s mandatory to allocate time to managing reviews; otherwise, you risk being stampeded, probably to financial crisis, by competitors and customers alike. This is particularly true in the restaurant industry, where some 35% of customers check out reviews before knocking on your restaurant’s door for the first time.

Bad Restaurant Reviews: Laying the Foundation

This guide teaches you everything you should know about dealing with reviews, whether negative or positive. We’re writing this article with one primary goal: providing all the intellectual resources you need to effectively wield the disruptive powers of positive reviews while countering the negative impacts of the one-, two-, three-, or four-star variants.

But before then, let’s remind you to create a wide range of restaurant menus for free with Menuzen. That’s not all; the icing on the cake is that you can easily incorporate customer reviews from Zomato into your restaurant website when you create one for free on

That said, back to our topic.

Understanding negative restaurant reviews.

What are they?

These are those reviews that:

  • Make your heart sink,
  • Spoil your day,
  • Make you sit bolt upright,
  • Make your jaw drop,
  • Make you squint, etc.

Negative online reviews have one purpose, whether intended or not: to send you packing from the market or at least hurt your revenue pretty badly.

Suppose you’re already in the restaurant business. In that case, we don’t need to emphasise how poisonous bad restaurant reviews are because you’ve probably already experienced the feeling of such bombshells on your restaurant.

Why you should never ignore a negative review.

Effectively responding to bad restaurant reviews requires some learning and practice. If you own a restaurant where people eat, you just have to learn how to manage negative reviews because you aren’t going to avoid them 100%.

If you need more of a reason as to why you should spend hours a week fixing review damages, ponder ReviewTracker’s finding that 45% of customers say they’d visit a restaurant whose owner responds to negative reviews — appropriately, of course.

If ReviewTracker’s finding isn’t enough encouragement for you, how about this stat from Tripadvisor’s study? — In the US alone, 94% of diners claim online reviews influence their choice of a dining spot. Now, that’s a pretty amount of influence if you ask us.

The effects of reviews on revenue.

If your restaurant were to get a one-star increase in rating on Yelp, this could boost your revenue by 5–9%, according to a Harvard Business School (HBS) paper. The reverse can also be true.

A 5–9% increase or decrease in revenue is a sizable amount in any industry, especially in the restaurant industry, where profit margins are thin and competition is fierce. That means losing two stars to bad restaurant reviews can throw you into some financial mess.

Calculate your monthly revenue and try deducting 9%, or even 5%, to see the true magnitude of damage a one-star reduction can cause.

How diners might interpret negative reviews.

Consider every negative review a sharp sword striking your business that needs to be blunted. You can’t allow a negative reviewer to have the final say because it’ll leave the reader with one or more of the following impressions:

  • The problem is ongoing.
  • You don’t really care.
  • The review is true.

It follows that bad restaurant reviews are a heavy load on your shoulder that, if not brought down, will contribute to bringing your business down. However, when you give a suitable reply to the review, potential customers would believe that management is concerned with the customers’ concerns/problems and strives to address any issues.

How soon should you reply to negative reviews?

We’d suggest you respond to a bad restaurant review in the shortest time possible. This is because their damage starts from the moment the unhappy customer posts it. Chances are, other people already saw the review before you.

Hurrying to respond to reviewers will limit or even neutralise the damage. Try to say something within three days of a negative review going live. Not only would that defend your business before customers, but it also gives you a chance to recover the angry customer who left that review.

How to Deal With Bad Restaurant Reviews

Anyone who tries to keep an eye on negative reviews quickly discovers that timely awareness about any new reviews is a task on its own. This challenge balloons with more reviews.

To put things into perspective, let’s assume your food joint attracts about a dozen reviews every 24 hours, with these distributed among several platforms. Considering that departing guests are unlikely to let you know where (the platform) they intend to leave their future review, you need to sniff out their online footprint beforehand or after the bombshell drops. Your priority should be to discover these reviews as quickly as possible and reply to them.

To increase the chances of seeing a review before anyone else, it’s important to claim your business wherever you see it listed online and enable email notifications for new reviews or replies to your comments. That way, you’ll know within minutes if someone has commented on your business.

Tackling bad restaurant reviews.

Listed below are the options for steering your business out of the dreadful swamp of negative reviews. However, remember that “prevention” is the ideal way to cater to negative reviews. We’ll discuss more on prevention later on in this guide.

Most of our discussion on countering negative reviews revolves around the following:

  • Use strategic replies tactfully.
  • Prevent negative reviews.
  • Hide negative reviews.
  • Hire a review management service.
  • Drown the negative reviews.

Tip #1: Use Strategic Replies Tactfully

We call it strategic replies because it isn’t a social media chat where you can write anyhow you desire. Replies to bad restaurant reviews can have up to six different points integrated into the messaging. We’ll list and explain these points later on as we proceed.

Before we get on with that, let’s get some basics out of the way about replying to negative reviews.

The basics of a strategic response to negative reviews:

  • Don’t write emotionally charged replies.
  • Use appropriate language and grammar.
  • Don’t make it a personal issue.

1. Don’t write emotionally charged replies.

Ensure you’re physically and emotionally calm before responding to bad restaurant reviews, especially unfair ones. Seeing someone bashing a business you’ve worked so hard to build can be incredibly painful, and the temptation to retaliate can be strong if you feel the reviewer has been mean. To avoid worsening the matter, you need to calm down and possibly sleep over the issue.

2. Use appropriate language and grammar.

The way you word a reply influences people’s perception of your personality, which they’ll instinctively link to that of your restaurant. Extremely informal wording or slang might not be well-received by prospective customers unless it’s your brand’s language and is expected to vibe with the target market.

To be on the safe side, always use formal language and treat all replies as PR (public relations) content. Replies should be grammatically correct, with complete sentences and proper punctuation.

3. Don’t make it a personal issue.

Instead of viewing negative reviews as a personal problem between the reviewer and your restaurant, consider it a misunderstanding between the business and a customer. This will help you develop an objective mindset while replying to it.

An objective mindset is critical to writing a reply that reads professional, responsible, and caring. However, if you interpret bad restaurant reviews as the customer’s attempt to hurl mud at your business, staying focused on neutralising or minimising the damage will be difficult.

A checklist of reply components:

Each of your replies should have the following pieces of information or components to be complete. However, integrating these points depends on the extent and type of information provided by the reviewer.

In your reply, try to do the following:

  • Thank the customer by name.
  • Acknowledge a positive point.
  • Apologise for any inconvenience.
  • Provide an excuse and state any amends being made.
  • Offer further discussions on the issue.
  • Invite the customer back.

Quite a checklist, isn’t it?

As daunting as it may seem, this is how to reply to negative reviews if you really want to dampen their effect. As for those asking how to respond to a 3-star review without comments, it might surprise you that this isn’t the best approach.

Let’s briefly explain the checklist and see a few examples to ensure we’re on the same page. 

1. Thank the customer by name.

Every platform that allows reviews would show the commenter’s name. Mention that name at the beginning of your reply to the customer.

Thank the customer even if the review is terrible. That shows you’re a friendly restaurant that understands that bad reviews are the feedback you can improve by.

2. Acknowledge a positive point.

Not all bad reviews are stacked with negative sentiment. Sometimes the customer underlines a good feature of your service they particularly liked. Show the reviewer that you appreciate them commending one or more aspects of your business.

3. Apologise for the inconvenience.

Let the reviewer know you’re sorry about their negative experiences. Highlight those experiences precisely because you’ll explain them in the next step.

4. Provide an excuse and any improvements.

Try not to leave the impression that a particular pain point isn’t being worked on. Otherwise, those reading it would imagine the problem still exists and might run into the same challenge at your food joint. If it was an isolated incident—such as a mistake by one of your employees—explain that you’re currently working on the matter.

It won’t hurt to be specific about how exactly you’re dealing with the problem. Don’t lie or argue with the customer, as it might put them on the defensive and provoke further bad restaurant reviews. This approach has the added disadvantage of scuttling the slim chance you might have of persuading them to try your restaurant again.

5. Offer further discussion on the issue.

Provide a different communication line if the customer wants to talk more about the issue in private. If their problem was related to staff conduct, they’d likely be willing to contact you about it — perhaps to report or help you identify the employee.

6. Invite the customer back.

If the customer contacts you privately, there’s a higher chance they’d accept your invitation to visit again. You may increase your chances of securing the visit by promising some freebies and stating your willingness to make up for their previous bad experience. However, you should also drop an invitation in your review reply in case they prefer to try again without contacting you privately.

Negative customer feedback examples and replies:

It’s not mandatory to integrate all the above points into your reply. Sometimes, the customer doesn’t provide enough detail to make your response more complete. In that case, just address the specific things mentioned.

Other times, negative customer feedback/reviews will be so loaded that you’d know inviting the customer back for another try would be useless. Discussed below are just a few examples of how to respond to negative Google reviews (with examples). We urge you to study more examples and how the replies could be improved.

Example 1

In the feedback above, the customer complains about the steak being dark, packed, and generally awful. Secondly, the customer says they couldn’t hear each other — perhaps due to noise or music. From this customer’s point of view, there’s nothing positive about their experience at the restaurant.

In their reply, the restaurant thanks/appreciates 563teddy for the feedback, apologises, and promises to make things right (inviting the customer for another test run). The restaurant also offers to discuss the issue further by email.

Overall, this is a good reply, but it could still be improved with some explanation of why the steak was that way and the noisy environment (if possible). The restaurant could also say what they’re doing to improve service quality.

Example 2

This is a fairly good reply too, but it lacks a few vital components. For one, nowhere is the customer’s alias mentioned. Moreover, the customer was neither invited for a second try nor asked to contact the restaurant offline.

Still, one striking component of this review example—lacking in the first example—was that the Valentine’s Day menu had been revised (problem solved).

Example 3

This is a five-star review, which was replied to appropriately by the restaurant management.

The only weakness in this reply is the absence of the customer’s name and an invitation to come by later. However, it’s still good because the customer feels their contribution is valued, which will encourage further positive reviews. Responding to positive reviews is just as important as responding to negative feedback!

Tip #2: Prevent Negative Restaurant Reviews

While there are many ways to deal with negative restaurant reviews, the most effective one is prevention. Do everything necessary to prevent customers from broadcasting any problems they might have with the foods or services at your restaurant. We’re going to look at several ways to do this.

However, before that, here’s a summary list:

  • Provide a great dining experience.
  • Develop casual relationships with customers.
  • Console displeased customers.
  • Send inquisitive follow-up emails.
  • Request positive reviews.

1. Provide a great dining experience.

If you go through bad restaurant reviews online, you’ll notice that most complaints are about food quality, the restaurant staff, or the environment. There are also a few complaints about the menu. This shows that any future negative reviews about your restaurant will likely be on one of these aspects.

This article won’t teach you how to prepare your cuisines, analyse competition, organise seating, or train your staff. Still, you should be careful with these factors because they’re the most likely to iritate your customer online. Our guide on how to design a menu for a restaurant outlines some of these factors and how you can offer an excellent dining experience by creating a digital menu for free on Menuzen.

2. Develop casual relationships with customers.

Establishing a friendly relationship with customers will significantly assist in avoiding negative reviews. Customers that see you as a friend are less likely to bash your business online, even if their experiences weren’t perfect. They’ll be more tolerant of shortcomings, and your invitations to them will likely yield a positive response.

Urge your staff to try and know each customer by name so they can be addressed more personally whenever the customer visits. This could also serve as a means to increase sales for your restaurant. Overall, staff should be friendly, patient, and quick in providing help to any customer.

If you seek how to respond to a 3-star review without comments, we’d say this is pretty straightforward only if you have a cordial relationship with the reviewer beforehand. You can consider sending them an email, apologising for the bad experience, and inviting them to visit your restaurant again, possibly with some discount.

However, you should understand that leaving an online review without a reply may give potential guests the impression that you don’t value your customers’ feedback. An excellent way to avoid this is to persuade the reviewer (in this case, your friend) to update the feedback — after you’ve appeased them, of course.

3. Console displeased customers.

You’d find many online reviews where the customer complains of mistreatment by staff. Understandably, some customers can be too demanding or mean. The slightest discomfort can provoke a disproportionate reaction from them that only a patient staff or restaurateur can put up with.

You need to find a way to handle these edgy customers and ensure the matter ends in your restaurant, not online. As soon as you become aware that a customer isn’t happy with one aspect of your service, try to find out what that is and whether it can be fixed. For example, if they complain about a strand of hair in their steak, replace it for them very apologetically. 

If the customer has a problem with a staff member’s behaviour, apologise and resolve the situation as soon as possible. Try and keep the conversation offline and ensure your customer service is impeccable. Timely interventions like this can turn a potential negative review into a positive one, where the customer forgets about their bad experience and only talks about how you promptly and professionally handled the matter.

4. Send inquiring follow-up emails.

Not everyone would tell you they aren’t happy with your food service. In fact, online reviews show that many customers prefer to take the matter online than talk to management directly. Therefore, you ought to try and reach out to any disgruntled customers before they go online to review your restaurant.

Ensure that most customer reviews are positive. One way to do this is to send follow-up emails.

If you use a digital menu and have a website (here’s how to create one for your restaurant), it’ll be easier to collect customer emails when they book a reservation online. After a customer dines at your hotel, email them the following morning, requesting them to rate their experience at your hotel to help you improve.

While not every customer would bother to do that, many will (up to 70% of customers), especially those with whom you’ve cultivated some relationship. This gives you a chance to preempt any negative review and probably even earn a positive one. We’ve seen in the negative customer feedback examples above that direct communication with customers can help manage negative reviews.

5. Request positive reviews from customers.

You should understand that your restaurant will receive negative online comments no matter the quality of service you provide. Certain people are bound to be irked by even the most ridiculous reasons which would not make sense to others. You need positive reviews to counteract the negative.

Not only can positive reviews neutralise negative ones, but it’s also more powerful marketing content than anything your restaurant writes about itself. Statistics show that 90% of people trust customer reviews more than PR campaigns or advertisements initiated by the business.

6. Hide negative reviews.

Review platforms know that some complaints aren’t serious, but the customer might want to harm your restaurant out of overreaction or pure malice. These platforms know how damaging negative reviews can be for businesses, so they typically have mechanisms for removing unfair or even fair negative reviews. You should exploit these mechanisms to the limit.

If you can find out where most of your customers post reviews, try registering your business on that platform. However, it’s better to invite your customers to a review platform that prospective diners within your market range are more likely to use when deciding where to eat. This is because a five-star review on an isolated website won’t give you the benefits of a three-star review on a popular platform — simply because few or no potential customers will see it.

Google Business Profile, Tripadvisor, Trustpilot, etc., all have ways your business can recover from negative reviews. You can delete old reviews or request the platform to delete new bad reviews. Try to find out the process for the review sites that your customers frequent by reading guides like this (Google Business Profile in this case).

Tip #3: Hire a review management service.

Reputation management companies online can do the heavy lifting on your behalf if review mending proves too much for you, as the business owner, or the restaurant to manage. It’s quite a job, and you’ll discover this when you start replying to every damaging text about your restaurant. Some reputation management services claim 100% response to reviews wherever they appear online.

Tip #4: Drown the negative reviews.

Replies alone can’t detoxify all negative reviews. In your review management toolbox should be a program for generating positive reviews. Reputation-building companies can help you generate positive reviews (both genuine and fake) to dust up a brand that customers dragged on the ground.

However, you’re unlikely to ever need such a service provided you actively request positive reviews from customers. The more positive reviews you accumulate, the less visible and damaging your negative reviews are, especially if you have a good influx of positive feedback.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you write a bad restaurant review?

Several stats show an increasing percentage of consumers consulting online reviews before purchasing a product. Many businesses out there work extremely hard to provide food services to people. Considering that your review can help consumers and restaurants or harm them both, we’d suggest you don’t try to destroy someone else’s business over a trivial issue or something that the restaurant owner cannot control.

The fact that you can see many positive reviews about the business you intend to bash online means certain people enjoy their experience. By unfairly criticising a restaurant, you’d be discouraging some people who might enjoy the food and environment. To be helpful with your review, write it as a correction that urges the restaurant management to make improvements.

How do you give bad comments on food?

Be specific about what you disliked about the food or service. Assume you’re helping a friend improve the quality of their service. This will make it easier for the business to introduce changes and continue to prosper.

How do you deal with bad food reviews?

The best way to deal with bad food reviews is to never provoke them in the first place. Consistently deliver the best quality you can, and follow the steps summarised below:

  • Use strategic replies tactfully.
  • Prevent negative reviews.
  • Hide negative reviews.
  • Hire a review management service.
  • Drown the negative reviews.

What to say to negative reviews?

Depending on how much information the customer provides, we recommend you do the following when responding to a negative review:

  • Thank the customer by name.
  • Acknowledge a positive point.
  • Apologise for any inconvenience.
  • Provide an excuse and state any amends being made.
  • Offer further discussions on the issue.
  • Invite the customer back.


Bad restaurant reviews are inevitable for any restaurateur. While you must take specific preventive steps to limit their frequency, you should also brace for the unexpected.

We’ve discussed, to a great extent, how to prevent and respond to negative reviews about your restaurant. Try to put the lessons in this guide to practise or hire a professional body to take care of your online reputation. Remember that one way to improve customer experience and minimise bad reviews from guests is to adopt a digital menu, and you can design one for free with Menuzen.

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