The milk crate is an iconic symbol of the working class hospitality stiff. These durable, utilitarian boxes are used as walk-in cooler shelving as often as they are transformed into make-shift chairs, stools or tables. Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant — front of house or back — has found themselves sitting on one for a moment of respite. They are ‘the great back-alley equalizer’, and because of this, they are a venue for some of the most authentic conversations and honest human connections happening in the industry.
One of the most frustrating aspects of crowd-sourced review websites like Yelp is that they allow unfounded, anonymous, and sometimes straight-up nasty comments to be made easily – but then make it difficult for a business to challenge them or have them removed. Sure, the worst thing you can do is take one of these negative comments personally. But let’s be honest: even if you can ‘rise above’ reacting, the mean comments still sting.
Have you ever been personally hurt by a harsh, malicious or flat-out untruth published on Yelp/Google? Have you developed any enlightened strategy for dealing with anonymous review culture? Any advice for your peers?
We understand that online reviews encompass outliers – extremely positive or negative. While outliers can give us a false high or low, it does not (and should not) account for the team’s average. Instead, we stand by our team and either: 1) reflect on comments that require a deeper dive; or: 2) share a quick second of empathy with the reviewer and carry on!
Doug Stephen | Owner, The DownLow Chicken Shack
Years ago I had a review posted about my former restaurant, Merchant’s. This review was full of inaccuracies (pricing that had never happened and details of a dish we had never served). Coincidentally, it was right around the time a Yelp representative was calling me to see if we would like to advertise. I brought up the review and was informed that if I started advertising the review would be removed. Realizing that no checks and balances were in place for the platform, we immediately changed all of our business information to being incorrect, and when a guest would bring it to our attention we’d simply say, “You know Yelp: can’t trust a single thing on that platform.” I simply don’t look at or use the platform whatsoever anymore.
Antonio Cayonne | Collective Hospitality
To answer the first part: yes, I’ve been bothered by a review or two. It mainly gets my goat when people lie to try to prove their displeasure. The petty part of me always wants to reply, but my partner’s cooler head prevails, and I’m grateful for that. Reviews are tricky – I was told early on that if you believe the good, you have to believe the bad. And the bad can sting, especially if you’re reading reviews seeking validation. I try to use them to understand how our experience makes people feel, and what that can teach us about our own system. “Hurt people, hurt people.” So how did we hurt them (if unintentionally), and what can we address within our system to create a better guest experience?
It wasn’t until the first negative reviews on Yelp and Google that we accepted we can’t be perfect. The problem isn’t about the real dissatisfactory reviews, but the fake ones. There is a culture in (so-called) Halal-serving restaurants who would create fake accounts to write reviews for other establishments, and ‘like’ their negative reviews, which I find disgusting. We’ve been attacked a few times through that situation. I called it out on social media, and it’s since stopped. Other than that, some people just show up at the door angry, and they walk out only to leave a nasty review without even having dined with us – they are just angry because there was a wait at the door. The review culture, while superfluous at times, is also important for us to better our service (if the review is genuine and points to an error or mishap on which we can improve). It’s also a good boost for our staff’s morale when the reviews are raves of our service and food.
Nico Papanikolaou | General Manager, Loula’s Taverna
Shitty reviews hurt! I check Loula’s reviews constantly. When you know your team is working tirelessly to provide guests with a great experience and it turns out a guest didn’t feel the same, it’s disappointing. I guess the right answer is to not let it bother you and know that the number of positive reviews will outweigh the negative (hopefully). It’s important to take it all as constructive criticism, even the ones that seem malicious, and to grow from each one. Be consistent and remind your team how hard they work. It’s a chance to turn that one negative review into 20 amazing ones! Make it your M.O.
There was a while when guests used to use Yelp to solicit VIP treatment at the restaurant. The only thing more nauseating than someone saying, “I’m a really BIG Yelper”, at the table with their phones loaded and ready to go, is getting a one-star review from guests who don’t even set foot in the door. Every negative review is hurtful, but Yelp seems to attract a particularly “special” user. I just have to remind myself that, more often than not, the negative reviews on platforms like this say more about the reviewer than the restaurant. As long as we’re doing everything we can to offer the best experience to our guests, the rest isn’t up to us!
Review culture in today’s restaurant scene feels like it is at a new height. In my decade (plus) of professional cooking I have never seen it so prevalent. Social media has influence on everything these days. Everyone is using IG, Facebook, Twitter and Google Reviews like Yelp – as a way of building presence in the food consumer category! I recently overheard two ‘food bloggers’ say to one another: “If you didn’t review a restaurant, did you even go to one?” But it isn’t a game: one bad review, one hate-filled comment or a single underserved ‘one-star’ review could mean ten less customers. It could also cost someone their job. Constructive criticism is good, it helps restaurants to improve. But the mean comments? Everyone can do without those.
Dylan Gray Jones | Bar Manager and Owner, Pizza Coming Soon
One time this dude (who works at restaurants and was generally rude to our staff every time he visited) came in with a very drunk fellow. I said, “Whoa there, big fellow… I can’t serve you because you can barely walk.” Within five minutes of them sitting down, the fellow got up, went to the washroom and spewed everywhere! I said, “Hey guys you gotta beat it…and also, rude guy, please don’t ever come back because of the rudeness and the vomit – you understand.” He got like ten of his friends to give us a single star on Google Reviews.
Another time, someone said we were white guys cooking Japanese food, and then we responded to him and said: “Hey pal, the owner/chef is Japanese. Can you take down this review in light of this new information?” He said, “No. I stand by my review!” And one time someone said that Japanese pickles could only be cucumbers. They said they had a friend who was Japanese, and that friend told them Japanese pickles are pickled cucumbers, period. The bartender said: “Hey, pickles can be anything. If it’s pickled, it’s a pickle!” We got a one-star review for that!
I think sometimes Yelp/Google Reviews are a great way of leaving positive/constructive feedback. But for the most part, it’s usually unhappy people that come to the restaurant, give us one-star reviews about the nature of pickles, for example, leave unhappy and then make us unhappy. We have a hardline “never respond to reviews” policy because responding has never resolved anyone’s complaint (and it also kills us inside). If you want to know about great restaurants, go explore, eat, drink and tell your friends about all the cool shit you find. Order the number 24, have a bad experience, have a good experience! Don’t scroll through Yelp reviews looking for horrible pictures of dimly lit food because you will be disappointed!
This feature was developed by:
RHYS AMBER | Rhys may have started his career in the restaurant industry as a line cook, but these days he’s using that experience to engage fellow chefs in discussions about what motivates them, what frustrates them, and how the industry can improve.
MICHELLE SPROULE | Michelle is Scout’s owner, operator, and from-the-hip picture-taker, who is very particular in her appreciation for margaritas, honey glazed donuts, and the thickness and grain of the paper she writes on. An experienced road-tripper, she’s got equal amounts of love for both roadside dives and hotel lounges.
GOT SOMETHING TO SAY? Do you want to contribute to this topic? Got another topic that you think would be a good fit for this series? Please send your suggestions to michelle [at] scoutmagazine.ca.