Friday, November 21, 2008

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They Might Bring Hanging Back...

Recently I mentioned how some restaurant review sites, like Yelp in particular, have been used to bludgeon the unsuspecting restaurateur.The way this allegedly works is if (and when) a restaurant gets a negative review there is very little s/he can do about it…unless they respond (positively) to a sales rep who coincidentally contacts the restaurateur, shortly after that negative review appears on the site. (I won’t even go into the idea of “who” is writing such reviews….and “why”…but you can figure that one out when you check the two sites I mention below…)This is a quote from the forum I’ll tell you about in a few moments….” Yelp's sales reps use negative postings as a "lead source" to call the owner and attempt to sell Business Owner Accounts. I received a phone call from a sales rep named ‘Summer’ who stated that negative reviews could be moved to the bottom of the page and possibly removed in the future if I purchased a Business Owner Account. The hypocrisy is legendary, and is further amplified by their removal of my negative "review" of Yelp on their own website. So much for, "The voice of the people" or "Real People. Real Reviews" Yelp hires paid "Yelpers" $15 / dollars an hour to write reviews because their business model is not succeeding. The ads for paid Yelpers can be found on Craigslist in every metro area in the U.S. You could call this, “Paid People . Fake Reviews". (End quote).This post and many more like it from angry restaurant operators are to be found at a site called: www.Yelp-sucks.com .There are so many irate food service owners vis-à-vis Yelp that now there is a class action suit being formed. You can learn more about this by going to: http://yelplawsuit.com/Personally, I would rather see my restaurant posted for review on a site like www.we8there.com for example. I would rather be on a review site that is honest, upfront, straight forward, with a positive track record; one who has been telling it like it is for a few years in this business. I’d even pay for that.The inability to face and answer your accuser is not a fair situation. With some of these sites, it is almost impossible to obtain a fair opportunity or forum to address or explain the complaint….assuming it is a legitimate one. Stories abound about disgruntled employees or spouses who have deliberately placed negative reviews on such sites to try and do the restaurant harm.Then there’s the restaurateur who tries to fool the review site by having a friend or relative put a glowing review on the site to enhance the image of the outlet. This might work for a while; but the owners of the review sites are not stupid. They have their ‘ways’ of determining the authenticity of a review…and they will throw you off the site if they find you cheating.Let’s face it: this is one damn tough business; we have to face the public every day with a smile…and at least look like we mean it. Our customers have huge problems, so folks hope to escape some of them when they come to your restaurant. It’s like going to a movie….to escape the reality of negativity….even just for an hour or two.We have many problems too (food costs, labor shortages, battered economy and so on). But that is what we have to deal with in our business. It comes with our territory. We must separate what we face in our business from why our customers come to us. Our job is to make them feel much better….to head off any problems up front.The best way to protect yourself from a negative review is to make sure you do all you can to please the guest and ask if s/he really did have a nice visit.I know what you’re thinking. We know that most often a customer will not want to unload on you ‘publicly’, right there in the restaurant; but will tell you what s/he thinks you want to hear. That’s human nature.But now they can go home, switch on the computer and dump all over you and your business. You can do everything possible to make sure they are happy; but you can’t please everyone. The unscrupulous or mismanaged review sites make your lives harder; but they can also really help you out too.Take that negative comment…that lemon…and turn it into your own lemonade!Try to get your guests’ email address so you can communicate with them via your blog or newsletters. This way, if you get a negative review on one of those nasty sites like you-know-who, use your blog and/or email lists to address the complaint right up front. Tell your readers ‘your side of the story’. Tell them what really happened, what you’re doing about it and how you hope it won’t happen again.People know you are trying to do your best…especially when you apologize in public and explain what happened. It will make your guests want to give you another try in the future; they will really respect you for your honesty and ability to admit that you were not quite 100% that evening.As for Yelp…don’t concern yourself with that outfit. You all know the old adage about giving an offender enough rope... In my judgment, it’s just a matter of time.© Roy W. MacNaughton, 2008

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