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Responding to Negative Restaurant Reviews: How to Protect Your Reputation

Tobias Roelen-Blasberg
Tobias Roelen-Blasberg
Co-Founder & Head of Product
Discover the best practices for responding to negative restaurant reviews and mitigating their impact. Learn how to build trust and credibility with customers through thoughtful and personalized responses.
Responding to Negative Restaurant Reviews: How to Protect Your Reputation

Online reviews wield significant power, especially in the restaurant industry. Potential diners heavily rely on online reviews to make informed decisions about where they will dine. Unfortunately, restaurants often receive some of the harshest online reviews, making it extremely difficult for managers and business owners to respond to them properly.

Understanding how to respond effectively to negative reviews is crucial for business owners looking to protect their online reputation and attract new customers. In this blog, we'll explore why restaurants should respond to bad reviews and discover some key strategies for crafting great responses.

Should restaurants respond to bad reviews?

Yes! Business owners, especially in the restaurant food industry, should make it a habit to respond to negative reviews. Recent surveys suggest that 95% of unhappy customers will likely publicize their experiences through online review platforms. While it's impossible to stop people from posting negative reviews on your online platforms, you can lessen their negative effect on your business through well-written and fully-optimized responses.

screenshot sample negative restaurant review tripadvisor
Sample of a negative restaurant review on Tripadvisor.

To learn more about the effects of negative reviews on businesses, read Don’t Let Negative Reviews Ruin Your Business: Examples & Tips


Why should restaurants respond to bad reviews?

There are numerous reasons why restaurant managers should be diligent in responding to negative reviews regardless of their content. Here are the top three benefits of responding to bad feedback online:

Mitigates negative impact

Negative reviews can severely affect a restaurant's online reputation and conversion rates. Surveys suggest that a single negative review can deter 22% of potential customers from visiting a restaurant, and this percentage increases to a staggering 59% after reading three negative reviews. Many businesses fail to respond to these reviews, missing a valuable opportunity to provide context and assure potential clients that such experiences don't happen regularly in their business.

Builds trust within the community

With the rising popularity of online review websites, consumer reviews now hold more weight than traditional food critic reviews. Customers now realize that some popular food website features promotional deals, hindering them from providing unbiased reviews. Aside from this, numerous customers now look towards public listings to see realistic consumer experiences instead of expert ones.

Approximately 25% of diners worldwide rely on consumer reviews on platforms like OpenTable, Yelp, and TripAdvisor. Allocating resources to enhance your online listings and responding to reviews helps build trust and credibility within the community, driving more foot traffic to your restaurant.

Improves local SEO

With 89% of dining research conducted on mobile devices before visiting a restaurant, having a strong online presence is crucial. Reviews and responses to those reviews are considered valuable online content, which can significantly impact local search engine visibility. By responding to reviews, restaurants can boost their online rankings and attract more potential customers.

How do you respond to a negative restaurant review?

Mastering the art of responding to negative reviews is a crucial skill for restaurant managers in today's digital landscape. To help you with this, we've compiled the best practices when responding to negative restaurant reviews:

Maintain a fast response time.

Promptness is crucial when responding to negative reviews. 53.3% of customers who have written reviews expect a response in 7 days or less. Responding to negative reviews beyond this timeline can be more detrimental to your business. On the other hand, having a fast response time allows you to mend your relationship with the dissatisfied customer.

Benjamin steakhouse is one of the top results when you search for "restaurants in Manhattan" in Tripadvisor despite of its negative reviews. As you can see, the restaurant doesn't delay responding to reviews, even the negative ones.

sample screenshot negative review tripadvisor restaurant fast response time
Manhattan steakhouse with a good response time on Tripadvisor.

While this may sound easy, it can be challenging if you're receiving hundreds of reviews weekly across your numerous online platforms. For this reason, restaurant owners must use review management tools to ensure timeliness in their review management process. To learn more, read out the complete article: Optimize Your Online Presence and Save Time With Review Management Tools

Offer apologies and empathize.

Research suggests that 51% of bad restaurant reviews are about customer service, and not food quality, something that can be avoided in the first place. With this note in mind, remember to address customer concerns with genuine apologies and empathetic language. Recognize their disappointment and reassure them that their experience is being taken seriously. Most importantly, avoid being excessively defensive.

screenshot sample tripadvisor apologetic empathetic response to negative review
Sample of an apologetic and empathetic response to a Tripadvisor review.

In this example, the customer service representative apologized for the inconvenience the diner had experienced, apologized, and opened a dialogue with the customer.

Maintain a positive tone.

When crafting responses, maintaining a positive and professional tone is essential. Even in the face of harsh feedback, maintaining a courteous demeanor showcases the restaurant's commitment to customer satisfaction.

screenshot google review positive and confident response to a negative review
Example of a positive and confident response to a negative review on Google.

In this example, the manager showed positivity and professionalism while explaining the customer's concerns. Providing clear context like this builds trust among potential clients, allowing you to increase your conversion rate through a negative review.

Personalize your response and avoid templates.

Each negative review should receive a personalized response as it demonstrates that the restaurant values its customers' feedback. Avoid using generic templates, as they can come across as insincere and impersonal.

screenshot of responses using templates for negative restaurant reviews
Sample of a response template for negative reviews on Google.

Using templates for negative reviews will just be like adding salt to a wound, just like in this example.

Offer a solution.

In addition to expressing remorse, offer a practical solution to rectify the situation. While it may be easy to offer a discount or a complimentary meal to dissatisfied customers, it may even encourage other diners to leave negative reviews. Furthermore, some online listings will see this strategy as a form of compensation for positive reviews, and your listing might be flagged. To know more about this, read Why Buying Google Reviews Hurts Your Business

screenshot google review with a review response offering solution for the customer concern
Example of a review response offering solution for the customer concern.

Instead of discounts or gifts, offer an actual solution to the problem raised by the customer. In this example, the manager said that they would be reviewing their offers due to the concern of the customer. Responses like this are more than enough to appease clients, as they would know that their concerns are recognized.

Encourage a private communication.

While it's essential to respond publicly to the review, encourage the dissatisfied customer to continue the conversation in private. This shows that the restaurant values direct communication and is dedicated to resolving the issue in a more personalized manner.

Google review screenshot restaurant requesting email for a sensitive concern
Opening a private dialogue for a sensitive concern.

This is especially important for sensitive concerns such as health, sanitation, and financial issues. In this example, the restaurant recognized the weight of the concern and immediately escalated the issue to their operations manager.

Don't forget to respond to local listing reviews.

Surveys suggest that 38% of all customer complaints are on social media and review sites. For this reason, businesses must respond not just to reviews on their websites but also to their local listings. Furthermore, these local listings are mostly optimized through their location, so an excellent rating on these platforms, such as Google Reviews, will allow you to reach out to more local customers.

screenshot of a google review with response clarifying dining rules
Clarifying dining rules through a local listing.

In this example, the restaurant owner reached out to a customer and clarified their dining regulations by attending to their local listing reviews.

Easily respond to negative restaurant reviews with MARA

Negative restaurant reviews can be some of the harshest online content to encounter, yet business owners and restaurant managers are obligated to address them to mitigate their impact. Fortunately, MARA AI Review Assistant can ease this burden. This intuitive tool is designed to streamline your Online Reputation Management process, making it more efficient, personalized, and time-saving. It offers the best and most personalized AI for responding to and analyzing your guest reviews.

Review Inbox for all your online listings

A single negative review can significantly damage a restaurant’s online reputation. With this in mind, it’s imperative for brands to streamline an efficient review management process, such as using an integrated Review Inbox for all your listings. Y

our review inbox makes responding to reviews as simple as hitting "Generate reply" and clicking "Send". The Review Inbox connects to multiple review sources, including Google,, and TripAdvisor, giving you a panoramic view of all your reviews. And you can even configure review response automation: Why not allow MARA to automatically respond to simple reviews, like 5-star Google reviews with no text, ensuring you never miss a review? Daily notifications about new reviews keep you updated and in control.

MARA Review Inbox
Powerful Review Inbox for your listings across numerous review and booking platforms.

Review Analytics for customer insights

The restaurant industry is one of the most unpredictable fields. Therefore, it’s essential for companies to continually improve their offerings and services to stay ahead of the market. Customer insights can serve as one of the best bases for such business decisions, and MARA’s Review Analytics can help you extract those from your online reviews.

MARA’s Review Analytics provides actionable, easy-to-understand insights that are tailored exclusively to your business. With MARA, you can quickly get the gist of all your reviews without needing to read each one. The analysis is so detailed that you can find out about specific issues like "the water in the pool is too cold" or "lack of vegan breakfast options”. These insights help optimize the guest experience without requiring you to be a data expert.

MARA Review Analytics
AI-powered Review Analytics at your disposal.

Review Automation for efficient review management

Automation is the future of the restaurant industry. Automating repetitive tasks can help your team focus on improving other areas of your services. After gaining trust in your personal AI Review Assistant, you can even go on autopilot and create automation rules. This way, you can specify which reviews should be replied to by the AI directly with no additional approval. With the configuration below, all Google reviews with no text and a star rating of 4 and above are answered automatically.

MARA Review Automation
Boost the efficiency of your operations with MARA Review Automation.

Personalize your responses to restaurant reviews

MARA's AI isn't just about efficiency; it's about personalization too. The Brand Voice feature allows the AI to adapt to your tone, ensuring your responses sound authentically you. Plus, with Smart Snippets, you can "teach" the AI how to respond to recurring praises or complaints. Your AI then incorporates this information into its responses, but always with different words, providing more personalized, relevant replies.

This review response assistant has quickly become a game-changer for over 2000 customers. Its promising capacity to elevate your overall rating, amplify response rates, glean insights from customer feedback and economize both time and money, is the reason behind its growing popularity.


Final Thought

Restaurant owners and managers shouldn't disregard negative reviews; rather, they should view them as chances to showcase their dedication to customer satisfaction and enhance their online reputation. Thoughtful, prompt, and empathetic responses can mitigate the negative impact, foster trust within the community, and potentially increase foot traffic and positive customer experiences. By implementing these strategies and utilizing innovative tools like AI review reply assistants, restaurant managers can adeptly handle negative reviews, transforming them into opportunities for growth and success.

In conclusion, managing online reviews need not overwhelm; with the right software like our AI Review Assistant, MARA, you can streamline processes, personalize responses, and glean valuable insights—free for testing, without requiring a credit card, and operational in less than five minutes.

This post is part of our hero content series on “How to Use Online Reviews to Your Advantage – The Ultimate Guide".

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Frequently Asked Questions:

How do you apologize for a bad food review?

When responding to bad food reviews, use an apologetic, empathetic, yet positive tone. You can start by saying, “We’re sorry to hear about this. We’ll continue to strive to ensure our diners are satisfied. We hope you’ll trust us again.”

How do you apologize for bad service at a restaurant?

Most negative restaurant reviews are about customer service. When apologizing for faulty restaurant service, you should admit the mistake, apologize, and provide context to what happened. Explaining your situation without sounding defensive will help ensure potential diners that the bad experience is isolated and won’t happen to them.

How do restaurants deal with unhappy customers?

Unsatisfied customers usually post their frustrations on online review websites. When dealing with negative feedback from unhappy customers, you should maintain a fast response time, personalize your response, and notify the customers that your team is already doing something to prevent such an issue from happening again.

How do I respond to a restaurant review on Google?

Google My Business account owners can easily respond to reviews by logging into their GMB account and proceeding to the Reviews section of their listing.

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