Social Media Gone Sour: 
How to Recover From a Reputation Attack

No doubt social media in our society is a wonderful blessing, but it can also be a deadly curse if you get on the wrong side of an angry guest.

In less than a decade, the ways in which consumers get their information has radically changed. And how they share experiences about restaurants — good and bad — has morphed from private conversations with a handful of friends to very public online reviews with audiences of thousands, and in some cases, millions of people.

The upside of social media is that it can allow even the smallest restaurant operator to gain awareness and brand visibility for a minimal investment.

The downside of social media is that it can also tarnish a reputation with negative reviews quicker than you can say, “HOLY YELP!”

So, how does a restaurant do the social media dance, leverage the good, and manage the challenges — even rebound — from an online attack? It starts with having a solid plan in place and making social media management a priority, just like you do with your food quality.

Here are some help tips to keep you on your toes.

First, monitoring your reputation is key, whether you do this manually, or you have some third-party alert system set up, you’ve got to keep your eyes open and set some time aside to comment daily. Bad reviews will happen. It’s how you deal with them that can make the difference.

1. Read the review and walk away. Chances are your first reaction will be a strong one fueled by emotion, which is natural and understandable. You might want to respond with an equally ugly comment, but don’t. Know that even if you’re the almost-perfect restaurant operator doing a great job, you’ll never please everyone.

Take a deep breath and seek out anyone in your place who might have interacted with or served the customer who posted the comment and get his or her perspective. If the comment focused on bad service, ask your staff for their side of the story. If the focus was on the food, find out if any attempt was made to address concerns while the customers were dining.

Since you didn’t get the chance to hear the complaints firsthand and fix them, think about how you might have addressed them in person and how you would have felt if you were the diner. You can draft a response yourself, or ask someone on your team to help you craft one. Make sure that it addresses the points in the review and doesn’t sound reactive or emotional. This may take time to edit a few versions.

2. Post your response. Your response should have a calm, diplomatic, and empathetic tone. Show the reviewer that you care about his or her experience at your restaurant and offer a solution to fix the problem. In some instances, you can respond publicly or privately — that is up to you. If you respond in a public forum, then it shows others that you care and that you want to remedy a situation.

You may or may not hear back from the person. If you do not, that’s okay. You put forth the effort to apologize and fix the situation, and that is all you can do. If you do hear back from the reviewer, focus any further discussion on the solution.

Once you begin to respond to your reviews (positive and negative), make sure that your response time, tone, and technique are consistent. These actions can help support your brand stay ahead of the conversation.

3. Take stock of all reviews. It may be the case that you had someone in your restaurant who is difficult to please and impossible to satisfy with steps one and two. It happens. Take a look at all of your reviews on various channels, such as Yelp, Urbanspoon, Tripadvisor, and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Are the reviews overwhelmingly positive with one or two bad ones? If so, potential restaurant customers will likely judge you by your overall score.

However, if you see several bad reviews and the same issues being highlighted, it might be time to take a look at those areas and just use the feedback as opportunities to improve. You might then be able to reach out to those reviewers to say, “We’re sorry that you had a bad experience with our restaurant. We’ve taken your comments to heart, we’ve fixed XYZ, and we’d love for you to visit our restaurant again.” It’s possible that people will accept your invitation and if you really have made improvements, you may create some new loyal restaurant customers.

There are tons of channels and opportunities to be online and to interact with potential and established customers. You do not have to be on every single one of them. In fact, if you try to be everywhere, you’ll probably get so overwhelmed with trying to keep up your social media efforts that you’ll give up.

Talk to your customers and find out where they hang out online and which channels they use. The only place you need to be online is where your customers are. Spend time on that channel, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter, and find ways to engage your customers and share information that will be relevant to them, such as your hours, daily specials, closures, delivery options, reservations. or events.

After trying different social media options, decide which channel has helped your business the most and focus on that channel. You can also work with a social media strategist to help you put together a plan and automate many of these tasks so that it’s not a huge time commitment every week.

Here are some free/low-paid cost resources for monitoring your brand on social media:

It can be daunting to get online, but if you communicate with respect and show that you are there to help your restaurant’s past, present, and future customers, you will be in good shape!