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“This article is a gentle public service announcement to all the people who love to write unfavorable restaurant reviews,” Kim says in her latest food column.

Now that restaurants are beginning to re-open, this article may be more important than ever. Because businesses have been closed for so long, positive support is vital.

This article is a gentle public service announcement to all the people who love to write unfavorable restaurant reviews on the many online sites such as Yelp, Facebook, Foursquare, TripAdvisor or others.

In the old days, when a customer had either an incredible, or less than incredible meal, the owner or the manager was the first to hear about it. Now, with the advent of these sites, a customer with a negative experience may not even wait until they get to their car before they type out a strongly worded one-star review.

Restaurant owners have a love-hate relationship with the social media sites. For better or worse, they are now the norm for attracting and keeping customers. Anthony Bourdain always voiced disdain for sites such as Yelp. He said they were bad for chefs, bad for restaurants and showcase the epitome of entitled losers.

If someone writes a really bad review, you will find it sandwiched among the others, and it is virtually impossible for the owner to make it go away. For the unsure diner, this review could be their deciding factor, and all this happens in the faceless secret cyber world.

Sometimes the deciding factor takes place off-line, but still in a secret world. I recently heard someone talking about eating at a restaurant, and they said that they had the worst meal ever, and not only didn’t eat their entree, but got up from the table, left money for the bill, and exited the establishment without saying a word to anyone. By anyone, I mean anyone at the restaurant, because they mentioned many, many things about their meal to many, many other people afterward.

They said they would never go back and the food was horrible. I was not too surprised to hear this, as having spent years in the restaurant/catering world, it always seems that the same kind of patron who would leave a place without expressing their displeasure to the management, is the same person who feels a need to let the world know how many stars the place does not deserve. All this, and the owner is unaware that his hands are tied.

Studies say that people in general are far more likely to write a bad review than ever take the time to write a complimentary one. It’s the same as when you are driving in your car behind a big truck. Have you ever called the 1-800-How Am I Driving number and said, “That truck driver’s motoring abilities were so amazing, and it was my pleasure to be on the road with such a conscientious and courteous 18-wheeler”? No, most likely not.

Most people also do not call big companies to tell the corporate presidents how great their customer service workers are. Even Yelp itself says that their studies indicate that “Self-motivated reviewers are more likely to be dissatisfied, which leaves businesses’ Yelp pages with a misrepresentative collection of poor reviews.” And let me tell you, these reviews stay with a business.

Of course, Yelp and other sites have a goal of providing quality reviews of businesses by people who have used these businesses, but there is no real way to police that. It is possible for people to give bad and good reviews of places just to troll the place or pump up the business.

When it comes to online reviews of restaurants that you read, the strangely glowing ones are most likely staff or management, while the particularly nasty ones could be competitors or just mean-spirited people who like to hear themselves complain. The most useful reviews usually fall somewhere in between.

Consumer surveys indicate that 91% of people read online reviews for local businesses at least occasionally. In big cities, it’s the norm to check reviews before trying out any new restaurant. In smaller cities, it goes hand in hand with word of mouth. Restaurant owners know that word of mouth is king. This is why it is so important to give business owners a fighting chance.

On any given night, a restaurant can have a off-situation in the kitchen or dining room. Perhaps it is a busy night and someone didn’t show up, or a slow one and people were sent home, or orders were forgotten, or waitstaff were forgetful. These things can happen in even the most finely tuned businesses.

What is crucial in the equation is that things cannot be made right if the things are not known. I can tell you from experience, that an owner or manager would much prefer to hear of your disappointment while they still have a chance to correct it. They never want you to leave with a (no pun intended) bad taste in your mouth.

The top five online restaurant complaints are categorized into: Service Complaints (staff forgot my order, too slow, or too rushed), Food Complaints (too cold, too hot — I think this was from Goldilocks — overcooked, and undercooked), Operational Complaints (too long of a wait, not taking reservations), Life Style (doesn’t cater to my food allergies, not vegetarian friendly), and Food Poisoning (well this one is clearly a legitimate complaint).

With the exception of poisoning, all of these issues should be addressed while you are still seated. You will be amazed how accommodating a business can be when trying to remedy a bad situation. It is often hard for people to complain about a meal and it can be easier to just say that everything is fine, when the waitstaff asks, “How is everything?”

We know if the issue is food related, it’s not necessarily the server’s fault and some people feel bad complaining to them. It is perfectly acceptable to say that a dish was not to your liking, just so you relay this information before you have eaten ¾ of the dish.

When it comes to our locally owned restaurants, I can attest that I have never eaten at one that didn’t have at least one or two things that they have perfected. Sure, I have had less than perfect meals at places, but I always give them a second or third or fourth try.

I think it is important to learn what each establishment does the best and stick with ordering what you know is tried and true. Frequent diners-out will know which place has the best burgers, which has the best steaks, which has the best lunches, etc.

There is something special about almost every place, that is, unless they give you “on-line complaint number 5.” And, for the record, you are just as likely to get food poisoning from contaminated sprouts or chicken in your own kitchen, but I digress.

So, let’s make a pact. Eat out often and always patronize locally owned businesses, but be mindful of your words, especially typed ones. As we are more than aware, in these turbulent times, words matter. The cloud loves to store our secrets, stories and tales, and it rarely lets them go.

Perhaps for the people who leave bad restaurant reviews, they consider them to be helpful reminders of deficiencies, or problems that future customers need to be aware of; however, they can seriously wreak havoc with a small business.

Before you rush to judgment and express bitterness toward a business, take a step back and consider solving things the old-fashioned way. Call the owner. I’m sure he or she would love to hear from you.

Kimberly Domick is a chef, private caterer and writes for The Monroe News and Monroe magazine. She can be contacted at kbdomick@yahoo.com.

Cooking with Kim: Restaurant reviews and word of mouth – News – Monroe News – Monroe, Michigan
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