No small business owner wants to be told that their work is inadequate; entrepreneurs and business owners pour so much of themselves into what they do, that criticism of products or service can feel personal. For restaurant owners, this fact is doubly true. Every one of your recipes is a piece of you, and every dish your restaurant creates says something about who you are.
That being said, tastes of course differ, and sometimes even your most well-loved dishes will strike a customer’s palate the wrong way. Or, maybe a new diner doesn’t quite understand the ambiance you were shooting for, and gets the wrong impression of your restaurant. Twenty years ago, when issues like this came up, your dissatisfied customer might approach you with concerns. Or, maybe they would spread word of their discontent to their friends. In the social media age all of that has changed.
If someone doesn’t enjoy some aspect of your restaurant, they are very likely to air the grievances on the biggest public forum there is, social media. Not everyone will love everything about your restaurant, even if you are doing everything right. With social media, your doubters and naysayers will have a very public place to speak ill of you. As a restaurant owner, you need to understand that these kinds of negative comments WILL happen. And you have to be prepared to respond in the right way.
“Don’t Feed the Trolls” and Internet Culture
Yes, there have always been critics and naysayers of every small business, including your restaurant. The internet gives those naysayers a place to express their dislike more easily, in a way that feels more comfortable and more anonymous than bringing up issues in person. This is all part of internet culture, which has resulted in a lot of people being more open about being negative online then they would in person. When you see a comment about your business on social media that seems so ridiculously negative and hateful that you almost can’t believe anyone would say it, just step back and realize that that’s all part of the internet, and isn’t unique to your business or your restaurant.
That being said, you need to be careful not to “feed the trolls.” That’s a millennial internet phrase that roughly translated means don’t encourage negativity by responding in a provocative manner. Even if you have a very emotional reaction to a negative comment, it’s best not to show your hateful commenter your feelings. If you do, you risk setting them off on further negative comments, and show them that their negativity has gotten to you. If you want to respond at all, make sure that you don’t take a negative tone in response or say anything that could provoke further negativity.
Keep it Professional
Instead of getting negative or responding emotionally to negative comments, try hard to keep it professional and be as polite and courteous as possible. Doing so will show hateful commenters that you aren’t bothered by their negativity, and prove that you are above petty bickering. And it will also help you portray your restaurant well, and let others who see your page that you know how to stay above the fray.
In order to keep things as professional as possible, make sure to say you are sorry that their expectations weren’t met, and that you apologize that they had a negative experience. Then, let negative commenters know that you would be happy to talk further through private messages about how you can make up for their negative experience. Make sure to keep your language upbeat and positive, and remain as polite as you can. The more positively that you return to negative commenters, the more they will look foolish and the more your restaurant will look like it takes the high road.
Learn From Negative Comments, but Don’t Take Them Personally
No matter how hatefully a negative comment is phrased, there can be things to learn from your critics. Try to pick through anything that is overly hateful for any kernels of truth, and see if there are any easy changes you can make to help assure that others won’t have the same issues that your negative commenter did. Again, make sure to remember that hateful negativity is an unfortunate side effect of the internet age, and it manifests itself on social media all the time. You shouldn’t feel like your restaurant has done something particularly egregious: that’s just the way the internet is.
Most importantly, don’t let negative comments get you down. Don’t take them personally. There are a lot of hateful and negative people out there, and the internet and social media just give them a voice. Trust your fans and loyal customers, and try not to let negative commenters get under your skin.
Rafi Cohen, a graduate of Baruch College & Brooklyn native is the Co-Founder @ Orders2me, an online ordering platform that gives restaurant owners all the features they need to grow their business in the digital age.
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