Yelp has become a quintessential tool for restaurants to grow and market themselves. However, one customer who had an all-around bad day can also make Yelp a restaurant's worst enemy.
As an owner, server, or chef of a restaurant who has worked hard to deliver the most delicious dishes, these negative reviews can kick you in the gut. The first instinct you might have is to defend yourself at all costs, or on the opposite spectrum, maybe you'd like to apologize profusely.
There is no template to properly handling Yelp reviews, but the short answer is that every response will vary with the severity, honesty, and tone of the review.
Show Yelp Users That You are Listening
First and foremost, Yelp reviewers want to be heard. They're leaving their comments so that someone, whether it be the restaurant or just other Yelp users, will listen to what they have to say. No matter your response, make it clear that you've read their review. You don't necessarily have to heed their advice, nor do you need to know their grandmother's dog's middle name to make a solid connection, but a best response is something that responds specifically to their review.
Say, for instance, that Joe B. leaves a 3-star review that says "Pasta was great, felt a little overlooked by servers, though." That 3-star review is a nudge to restaurants, indicating that your response could sway Joe into "having" a better experience. In your response, using Joe's first name and a cordial greeting, mention that you are proud of your [Enter YOUR unique pasta specialty] and that you appreciate his kind words. You're taking his remarks on the service seriously -- it's your restaurant's goal to continuously provide responsive, polite service, so it's disappointing that he left feeling otherwise.
Leave the negatives out of your response
Let's say Joe describes your service as "poor." One simple way to deflect this adjective is to not repeat it in your response. Instead of "It's disappointing that you saw our service as poor," say: "We wish our service had met our incredibly high standards." Turn that negative into a positive -- it'll keep you from sounding more defensive, and it will help readers understand what your positive goals are as a restaurant.
No matter the harsh words, maybe even the false accusations someone accuses your restaurant of, never let it show that you are livid. Remember, other Yelp users don't really know who is right in the situation, so as long as you defend yourself in a level, appropriate tone, they'll know that you're handling it effectively. That isn't to say you shouldn't call out a lie when you see one, but if it comes to that, respectfully decline the falsehood while still respecting the reviewer. You may have lost them as a customer, but you don't want to lose other Yelp viewers who happen to peruse your reviews.
You'll read plenty of Yelp reviews as your restaurant increases in popularity, and most of the time, this is a great thing! Learn how to handle those negative reviewers, and be sure to listen to them if multiple users repeat the same complaint. Yelp can be a tool for improving your restaurant -- it tells you exactly what your costumers would like to be improved.