How Should Business Owners Respond To A Negative Online Review?

We know that the proper response of a business to a bad online review shouldn’t be to post their own fake positive ones, or to fine wedding hosts for the bad reviews by their invited guests. Yet what should the proper response be when someone expresses dissatisfaction with your business…or when you take over a business with a history of bad reviews?

Reader Mark gave a local tavern a bad review on Yelp a few years ago. A few weeks ago, he received this message in his Yelp mailbox:


Hey Mark my name is Joe I own [redacted] I just bought it in April 2014 trying to clean up my yelp any chance you could take your post down
Thank You joe

Mark wasn’t impressed with this attempt. “As a business that had failed customers before, it is important that you try to make amends and not just ask people to take the reviews down,” he wrote back to Joe. “Saying something such as, ‘We have a revamped menu and service staff and I would love to offer you 20% off a meal to come down, give us another shot, and post another review’ would reap you benefits far beyond a bad review or two coming down.”

Joe offered nothing that indicated that things at the restaurant had changed, and didn’t even include punctuation in his very short message. Mark wasn’t impressed.

Here in the Consumerist Cave, this exchange raised a question: what should a business owner do when they’re not pleased with their Yelp reviews? Here are some ideas to start with.

Do be polite and take time to write a real note. Thousands of words aren’t necessary, but at least take time to punctuate. If you’re responding publicly, remember that this review will affect potential customers’ opinions of your business before they even walk in the door.

Do explain what has changed. Did you revamp the menu, fire the surly cashier, get a new chef, renovate your bathrooms, change your inventory? Say so in your private or public response!

Address their legitimate concerns. If the reviewer complains that your store aggravates their allergies and you run a candle store, well, you can’t really do anything about that. However, if you’ve fixed any problems discussed in the review, be sure to bring that up.

Don’t respond online while you’re still angry. Yeah, the human reaction is to react with anger when you or your product gets trashed in a review. This was the very first thing that the now-infamous Amy’s Baking Company received international attention for: posting a response accusing a reviewer of being a lying liar with a terrible palate. I never returned to a now-closed restaurant that I liked after the owner began berating Yelp posters in public responses to their reviews. Reacting in anger has consequences that you may not foresee.

Don’t ask people to take the review down. Encourage people to come back in and give you another try, with or without a discount, but don’t just ask people to take down reviews unless they were obviously fabricated.

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  1. PsiCopB5 says:

    On a related note … almost 2 years ago I posted a negative review of a business on Yelp. Just a short time ago, I was contacted (via a Yelp message) by a manager who wished to ask me about my experience and give me a voucher; this person asked me to reply to an email address (with a domain that appears to be from the business, it’s not some AOL or Yahoo address).

    I’m wondering: 1) Should I even bother to reply? It’s been a very long time so it seems suspicious I’m being contacted now; and 2) Why is this person even trying to get hold of me? Is it to ask me to modify/remove my review? If so, I won’t do it, since then I’ve seen other similar reviews, including one mentioning the same problem just a few months ago, so the business clearly hasn’t cleaned up its act.

    • SingleMaltGeek says:

      They probably are under new management, like in the post, but so far they haven’t asked you to take down your review, and they have offered to try to make it up to you (by offering a voucher). Why wouldn’t you contact them? If for some reason you have decided that you would not update your review even if you took their voucher, went back, and really liked it, then yes, I agree you shouldn’t contact them, because that’s kind of taking advantage. Nothing says you *have* to review them after using the voucher, but IMO you should be open to being so impressed that you *want* to update your review. (IANAPE*)

      BTW, love the username….but then, you knew that already, didn’t you?

      *I am not a (professional) ethicist

      • PsiCopB5 says:

        The guy who contacted me didn’t say the place was under new management or that he’s a new manager the existing owner(s) hired to take over the place. I might have contacted the guy if he’d said something like that.

        Having thought about it, I wonder if they’re trying to figure out who I am, and by getting me to reply via an email rather than through Yelp’s own messaging system, they presume a chance to do that.

        As for taking a voucher under false premises … no, I would never do that. I hadn’t even considered it. If I had contacted the guy and was not satisfied with his explanation for what happened which caused me to write the review, I would have refused even to take the voucher at all.

        And yes, I did know you loved my username. The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father. Trust the Corps! ;)

  2. Snarkapus says:

    Is everyone missing the fact that it’s a NEW owner asking the poster to remove a presumably irrelevant years-old post?

    • No. New ownership doesn’t automatically mean that everything about the business has changed. Could be a former partial owner bought the other owner out. Could be that the former manager bought the business.

      Either way, it’s not reasonable for someone to ask that you take down an old, outdated bad review without saying that anything has changed.

    • Xenotaku says:

      I agree with Laura. Furthermore, instead of asking to remove the review, it would be BETTER for the business to invite them back. At this point, the review is old enough that the people who would see it and have their opinion of the restaurant swayed have already seen it. The better PR is to have someone who left a negative review come back, review again, and point out how it’s improved.

      I mean, which would sway you more? “Person A didn’t like this place, but years later took down their review.” or “Person A didn’t like this place, but went back after they changed owner/management, and it was a lot better”?

  3. Liberal says:

    As a owner/manager of 40 years I always encouraged my manager to pay attention and nip dissatisfaction in the bud right then. You can catch most of it if everyone is pulling in the same direction. If someone is unhappy fix it then, right then. I quit using yelp after my 5th review was hidden. Whatever they do to it. Before I would do business under the name of an existing business name of a previous owner I would have cleaned a lot of that up before the purchase. I never had that type stuff to content with.

  4. SingleMaltGeek says:

    Wow, Laura, that owner (of that place you liked) really is nasty, vindictive, and racist, but apparently makes good food.

    He needs a reality show restaurant makeover or something. Maybe Gordon Ramsay could yell at him enough to get through to him.

  5. careycat says:

    There is a company here called ‘Consumer Depot’ in Nashville. They respond to complaints by trolling customer’s facebook pages and using personal pictures to characterize customers negatively. They consider negative reviews ‘bashing’. Truly sad.