Handling Negative Yelp Reviews

Last Updated on March 14, 2023 by Allen

The truth is that you can’t please everyone in life. Even great businesses get some negative Yelp reviews  from time to time. It sucks. Sometimes businesses mess up and deserve to be called out. Other times a bad review can feel completely undeserved.

Bad Yelp Reviews

What to do When You Get a Negative Yelp Review


1.  Don’t Respond Immediately: Having a Yelper really bash your business can be painful, and your initial response may involve hair-pulling, obscenities, and some ALL CAPS action. Responding to one rant with another won’t do you any good – in fact, it will only multiply the damage. Instead, take a deep breath, brew a cup of tea, and get your mind off the review. Don’t even think about responding for at least a half a day – taking two or three days to cool down is even better.

2. Analyze the Reviewer’s Mindset: After a few days, the scathing review won’t seem quite as searing. Try to read the negative Yelp review objectively – is there any sense to what the Yelper is saying? Does the review seem worked up and emotional?

3.     Public or Private Response? While public responses are good for correcting discrepancies, consider whether or not a discreet private message could remedy the situation.

4.     Address the Review’s Issues in a Calm and Reasonable Manner

Yelp has a feature that allows business owners to respond to negative reviews. The key is to remain calm and take the high road. Above all, remain polite and respectful. Those who bypass step one end up responding to negative reviews in an angry, emotional state which can lead to name-calling, insults, and emotional language that makes you look as terrible and unstable as the reviewer, or more so.

The Goal

Your goal, in responding to the reviewer, is to discredit their assessment. It might not take much to do this – Yelp readers weren’t born yesterday, and most can spot an unreasonable and baseless rant when they see one. If the negative Yelp review makes claims you can argue against, do so objectively, using facts or other customers’ experiences as a talking point. For example:

“Gretchen, we were very disappointed to hear you didn’t enjoy our cheesecake. Other customers have told us it’s their favorite of our desserts, but maybe you caught us on an off day.”

If you think the reviewer is just in their admonishment, simply apologize. Readers will appreciate your honesty and think better of you for it.

Responding in a cool and collected manner to a senseless rant makes you seem much more reasonable than the emotionally-fueled reviewer, and casts the unfavorable light on them rather than you.

5.     A Touch of Humor

The make-em-laugh technique doesn’t work in every situation, but it can be great at diffusing an overtly flaming review. For example, check out this REAL review of Pigalle (this review was posted on Facebook, but same rules apply!).

Wow. I don’t have a clue as to why you would think that throwing pumpkin chunks into a cold pre-baked pie shell and then covering it with a cream sauce that literally tasted like vomit. { I am very serious!} and topping it off with whipped cream that was runny would in any way be something that can be called pumpkin pie?”

Not something any business owner wants to see. Unfortunately, the owner answered back with an even more venomous reply, demonstrating a perfect example of how NOT to respond to a bad review. Instead, he should have tried something like:

Hi Sandy. Wow! That bad huh? I haven’t had the chance to sample too many varieties of vomit, so I can’t say I can really relate to your experience, but that doesn’t sound too fun. We tend to be very busy during Thanksgiving so it’s possible that one of our chefs made a mistake with that Pumpkin Pie – we’re sorry you found it so truly gag-inducing. Come by again and we’ll see if we can make it up to you with something more to your liking J

6.    Offer an Olive Branch: If you think there’s any saving the situation, try to offer a symbol of peace – send a private message inviting the displeased reviewer back for a tour of the bakery or a free desert. Yelp has an update function that reviewers can use to change their initial review. Everyone likes to feel important – feeding a disgruntled user’s ego can sometimes quell the fury and may lead them to reconsider their opinion of you.

7.  Make Use of Constructive Criticism

Remember – bad reviews aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Negative reviews that are deserved and just serve as real feedback on how you can improve your business. If reviewers bring up legitimate concerns, work to address them and then let the Yelp community know you’ve made efforts to improve. Customers will appreciate this – it shows you care and are listening to their input.

8.  Keep Things in Perspective: Don’t hang up your hat and cry yourself to sleep every time you find a bad review. Even great businesses get a bad review from time to time. As Yelp says:

 “Negative reviews are an unfortunate — but entirely normal — part of doing business… While it’s important to look for patterns in your reviews (the bread is stale, the same employee is repeatedly described as rude), you should take any individual perspective with a grain of salt.”

Don’t stress over every review. People can be particularly nasty online, so be prepared to thicken up your skin a bit and ignore the mindless ranters.

For more information on tricks, techniques, and examples of how to deal with a bad Yelp review, check out this article about Protecting Your Online Reputation from Trolls by John Greathouse. He offers more great tips on dealing with negative reviews and diffusing tense situations.


Haters Are Gonna Hate: Embracing The Negative Yelp Reviews?

Most businesses try to negate the effects of bad Yelp reviews by diffusing anger and answering concerns, but others choose to take the daredevil approach of embracing the haters.

Those who have thrown in the towel simply accept that the majority of patrons despise them. For some, there is an appeal of being the outcast.The “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach really only works with restaurants and businesses that embrace a counter-culture lifestyle and have patrons who might revel in the disapproval of others.

The Craft & Commerce Gastropub is one such establishment, offering very unusual, even bizarre spins on classic drinks. After receiving some vehement one-star reviews, Craft & Commerce decided that, rather than brood over the poor reviews, they’d have some fun with them. The owner had friends read aloud the restaurant’s worst Yelp reviews while recording them. The recordings were then played in the Craft & Commerce Gastropub’s bathroom, amusing visitors and sticking it to the Yelp man.

Despite the unique and clever approach, mocking absurd Yelp reviews has become a bit of a fad, in fact – there’s even a whole YouTube channel dedicated to showing video clips of Yelp reviews read by actors.

There is some logic in going gung-ho with the one-star reviews. Some would even say one star is better than two; a one-star establishment drives curiosity and gets people wondering why are they so incredibly terrible? What’s the story there? There’s a kind of car-crash rubbernecking morbid fascination involved with one-star restaurants. Two stars is just a sub-par joint, no story or excitement there.

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