Dealing with online reviews is part of your regular marketing and online management strategy. Of course you always want them to be positive and glowing, but a negative review may pop up from time to time. Maybe the kitchen had a bad night, or you had to deal with a picky and unreasonable patron. After a while, too many negative reviews can end up pushing you over the edge of sanity and reason.
Just ask Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, owners of Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The couple’s restaurant was featured on a recent episode of “Kitchen Nightmares”, a reality television show where Chef Gordon Ramsay visits troubled restaurants and helps rehabilitate them with a full restaurant makeover, including new entrées and appliances.
In the Bouzaglo’s case, they just needed a new attitude. Check out the video of the episode (fast-forward to the final confrontation with Ramsay at 32:47) and if you think that’s bad it gets worse.
Once the episode aired, disgruntled diners went to the restaurant’s Facebook, Yelp and Foursquare pages to complain about their behavior and give their opinions, and the owners retaliated. Here are just a few of the all-caps replies they made on their Facebook page:
And these were the nicer replies!
These wall posts eventually spread to Tumblr and Reddit, and the amount of negative reviews and attention snowballed. Buzzfeed called it “the most epic brand meltdown on Facebook ever”.
Now we’ve talked before about how to deal with complaints and also given some easy steps to fix negative online reviews, but in case you need a straightforward reminder, this is precisely how you should NOT handle a bad review online.
The Bouzaglos have since deleted the litany of posts they’ve made from their Facebook page, claimed that their page was hacked, and have even gotten both local law enforcement and the FBI involved. Now they have retained the service of a PR firm for damage control, and released a press release on Facebook announcing their grand re-opening following their “Kitchen Nightmares” appearance.
This type of online outburst is hardly a new phenomenon. Some restaurant owners actually make a reputation from it!
Take for instance Ron Eyester, chef and owner of Rosebud and The Family Dog in Atlanta, GA. Eyester, also known as @theangrychef on Twitter, had a Twitter tussle recently with Eli Zandman, a blogger who covers Atlanta’s retail, restaurant and hotel scene.
Eyester’s known for his caustic alter-ego of the “Angry Chef” as much as he’s known for his creative spin on farm-to-table cuisine, so he’s no stranger to stirring the pot when it comes to responding to patrons. From CNN:
Most of you who decided to comment have no idea who I am. “The Angry Chef” is simply an alter-ego to the guy who volunteers at local schools, serves on the board of a local farmer’s market, donates meals to firemen on Thanksgiving, is extremely active within his community and very much enjoys working in his restaurant, serving his guests and fostering a spirited atmosphere for a great neighborhood.
That being said, I am not denying the fact that I enjoy venting as the “Angry Chef.” I don’t stomp around the dining room, curse at guests, take their plates from them and kick them out the restaurant. But I can’t help that I witness frequent absurdities.
Considering the fact that diners have countless forums to express their opinions regarding their dining experiences (Yelp, Citysearch and OpenTable), why can I not be afforded an opportunity to share my thoughts with an online community?
Other restaurateurs take negative reviews to an extreme place, like Ottawa restaurateur Marisol Simoes. Simoes, owner of Kinki and Mambo Nuevo Latino, took her retaliation to a negative review to a completely obscene level by impersonating the reviewer in a two-and-a-half online smear campaign. From The Huffington Post:
In the 2009 review that drew of the ire of Simoes, the diner, Elayna Katz, criticized the restaurant for slow service and for serving a pasta dish that contained olives after she asked for it without.
“It’s slightly ironic that the one thing [Simoes] was trying to avoid was the one thing that came out of all of this,” Katz told the Ottawa Citizen, referring to how much media attention the trial has attracted, compared to that of the original reviews. Katz added that she would probably rethink her decision to post the reviews if she had to do it again.
“I hope this is used as an example to people so that they recognize how severe the Internet can be,” Katz added. “It can be used as a weapon.”
Simoes later said she felt victimized after the bad reviews were posted. She was sentenced to 90 days in jail for online libel, but only served about a week of her sentence before being released on bail.
Some restaurant owners take their negative feedback and find a way to turn it into a positive thing. Craft & Commerce, a San Diego gastropub, takes their bad reviews and plays them as audio readings in their bathrooms. Longman & Eagle, a revered Chicago institution, took one of their worst Yelp reviews and turned it into a promotional postcard for their restaurant. These two tactics have helped these restaurants own their bad reviews while poking a little fun at themselves in the process.
Managing your online reputation is very important for restaurant owners. One of the best things you can do when confronted with a negative review is to not take it personally. Assess the situation, reply tactfully, and use that information to improve.
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