Public forums and online discussions about restaurants can get out of hand quickly as evidenced by the recent case of Amy’s Bakery in Scottsdale, Ariz. The owners of the bakery got into a bitter online feud with negative commenters after they were featured on Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares.”
Public Relations professional Katie Schoen of Lane Public Relations tells KIRO Radio’s Let’s Eat that getting into it with customers in an online forum is definitely not best practices for a restaurant owner, and sometimes the conversations can get out of line on both sides.
Schoen points out while customers would likely not stand outside the restaurant with a megaphone expressing their grievances publicly, they’re fine to go on a bitter tirade visible to all online.
Let’s Eat hosts Providence Cicero and Terry Jaymes agree it seems online restaurant comments skew toward the negative. “When people are pissed off, they want someone to know it,” says Providence. But the tone the commenter takes can sometimes mean they really won’t get heard, Terry points out.
“I know as a consumer if I read something, I kind of take everything with a grain of salt,” he says.
Schoen points out reviewers on Yelp have a public track record that might lend credibility or blast confidence in their reviews. “You can click on a users name and see what other reviews they’ve written and you get a sense for, does this person just not like going out to eat?” Or if they’re professional cranks, Terry adds.
To really provide feedback that might give other diners a more positive experience, it’s important to be constructive, Schoen says.
“I think it’s really helpful to provide feedback so other people can see it and learn through your experiences, kind of the tips and tricks, what dishes are best, but I think it’s also very obvious to other readers when you’re on a tirade, you had a bad day and this was just kind of the topping on the cake of that one,” says Schoen. “So be very specific and constructive with your concerns when you’re providing that feedback for other people to read because otherwise it’s not useful.”
For owners, the advice she gives to her clients is to respond to the negative feedback publicly with an invitation to resolve the problem with further conversation offline.
“You don’t want to get into a back and forth on your Facebook page or whatever it may be where other people are seeing this,” says Schoen. “We try to take it offline. Comment publicly, ‘We would love to get in touch with you. We’d love to solve this problem, please contact me directly at’ – provide the manager’s information, whether it be phone or email.”
She says obviously chefs and restaurants are sensitive about their work, but it’s valuable to resolve customer concerns offline. And for commenters, the effort they’re putting in will be better received if they communicate constructively, Schoen says.