It’s time to talk about that four-letter word that’s sure to elicit snickers and groans from professionals in the restaurant industry. Yes, we mean Yelp.
While the pros might hate Yelp, the fact is that many consumers rely on it when choosing their next date-night spot or while scouting brunch on vacation. But restaurants are coming out of an intense and difficult time, and Yelp reviews can dramatically affect a business — for better or worse.
Desiree Maldonado is the floor manager of Old Skool Cafe, a restaurant run by at-risk youth in San Francisco. Maldonado understands how people end up leaving bad reviews: People want to be heard and affirmed. But there’s a better, more constructive way than just firing your hot take into the ether.
“It can be a sort of catharsis for the reviewer, but unfortunately, there are real-life consequences to this. Especially in a restaurant like ours, where the staff is made up of a lot of young, impressionable minds, many of whom come from tough life circumstances to begin with ― a negative review that is fueled by anger without consideration for the complicated realities of running a restaurant can be quite damaging,” Maldonado said.
If you want to help restaurants as they come out of the pandemic, here’s what to know about leaving (and reading) Yelp reviews, according to industry professionals.
Step back and try talking to someone first
“Before you write [a negative] review, talk to somebody at the restaurant, or at the business, right then and there. And if you can’t because management is busy, sometimes it’s just better to cool off before you have a conversation that might be very negative. Call the next day before the restaurant opens, when the prep is happening. That’s probably the best time to get somebody before the craziness of the day, before all this stress piles up, and have a conversation then before you write a post. Because you might get information about the previous day that might [change your perspective].” ― Neomi Negron, owner of Buggy Pops in Asheville, North Carolina
“What is helpful is if someone emails me and says, ‘Hey, this has been my experience and it wasn’t great,’ and then I can go back and really critically look at it and fix it, whether it’s a staffing issue or a flavor issue, which it rarely is. So if someone emails me, then I take it more seriously. If someone’s just complaining on Yelp, I tend to not take it that seriously.” ― Erika Thomas, owner of High Point Creamery in Denver
“I think we have to all give one another some grace ― the restaurant and hospitality world was so negatively impacted by the pandemic, and so many decades-old restaurants shuttered, and thousands of people lost their jobs. Many people got sick or had loved ones that got sick. Everyone is trying to return to whatever the next normal is despite all this hardship, and we really should treat one another with more kindness and forgiveness.” ― Maldonado
Be specific — even when you’re leaving a positive review
“One of the biggest compliments right now is when people make name mentions. At any point in your meal, you could have four different people touching your table. So for somebody that comes in and dines with us to remember your name, it’s pretty awesome. It speaks a lot to our passion and our caliber of service. So when a guest says, ‘This person took care of me, and they were great,’ it shows that we’re doing our job well.” ― Alexa Delgado, a bartender at an Orlando, Florida, resort
Remember that the people working in the restaurant want to help you
“I just implore that people just are kind and understanding, and if we’re telling you no, there’s probably a reason for it. It’s not just because we want to be nasty. There’s a reason we are servers and bartenders and wait staff. We want to take care of you. That is our calling. That is what we’re good at. I take a lot of pride when I have a guest leave saying this is the best experience. We’re going to come back. That’s a huge compliment. Of all the places you can eat right now, you’re coming here again. When a guest says we’re not accommodating, it’s like we want to. We can’t. We physically cannot.” ― Delgado
Recognize that restaurants are still hurting from the pandemic and it isn’t over yet
“The industry is still reeling. We haven’t survived the pandemic and the pandemic isn’t over. Sales are down but our rent, bills and supplies continue to increase in cost. The money we spent on COVID pivots, new infrastructure and safety protocols hasn’t been recuperated. Most restaurants will take years to get out from under the debt they acquired this year. Diners’ habits have changed, maybe forever. The demographics of our neighborhoods have changed; lots of restaurants are having to start building new regulars from scratch. And staffing is extremely difficult because so many people left the industry. Some of our workers died in the pandemic. More line cooks died from COVID than any other profession. Restaurants will continue to fail for the next two years due to all these hardships.” ― Will Emery, co-owner and chef of Tannat in Manhattan.
Not everything is in a restaurant’s control and writing it in a review can cause damage
“Our cost of goods and most other uncontrollable food items have increased 30-50%. I can’t help it that wings were in short supply, thus very expensive, or out of stock because the supplier’s plants shut down because of COVID several times. I’m doing the best I can, just like every other restaurant, and it’s unfair to write a negative review for something completely out of our control.” ― Matt Coggin, owner of D.B.A. Barbecue in Atlanta
Be a critical Yelp review reader
“I think taking a big picture approach to Yelp reviews is helpful. Rather than focusing on just the negative reviews, pay attention to what things pop up most frequently. Do the reviews mention a specific dish over and over again, which you absolutely must try? Is there a special happy hour day or an entertainment program that gets mentioned often that might be up your alley (or too loud for your preference) that helps you decide when, or even if, you would enjoy visiting that establishment? Do the reviews give you insight on what type of indoor/outdoor setup the restaurant has, and does it align with your personal comfort level? I think Yelp reviews, when taken as a whole, can be super useful to find exactly the type of restaurant you want to go to and where you would have the best time based on your own unique preferences. Everyone can have an off day, so one or two negative reviews (or even a few suspiciously raving reviews!) shouldn’t sway you one way or the other.” ― Maldonado