Sharing Success

Leveraging Free Feedback

In the last decade, technological advancements in Internet access, especially smartphones, have changed how many consumers communicate with each other and the world in general. This includes how they share opinions about the restaurants they visit. Before smartphones, customers used to share positive and negative word of mouth through personal conversations. Satisfied customers might tell three or four friends, while unhappy ones might tell 20. Because this feedback was shared face to face, most customer word of mouth heard by restaurateurs was positive, but secondhand. For example, owners might conclude that their regulars were spreading positive word of mouth when new visitors mentioned being referred by friends. Back then, most restaurateurs probably didn’t hear much negative word of mouth being shared by unhappy patrons. That is because when unhappy patrons told 20 friends, the restaurateur probably was not privy to thosepersonal conversations.

Today, that previously private word of mouth (good and bad) has moved into public view online, thanks to consumer websites like,,, etc. As a result, restaurateurs in general are now hearing more positive word of mouth and WAY MORE negative word of mouth than they used to.

NO ONE likes hearing negative feedback, especially when they take great personal pride in what they do. So it is no wonder that many small business owners of all types see online reviews as an unsolvable problem. On the one hand, negative feedback can linger, reviews can feel unfair, etc. On the other, many consumers (especially younger ones) increasingly use these tools to decide which restaurant to try next.

As my Uncle Dino is fond of saying, “Opportunities often arrive cleverly disguised as unsolvable problems.”

I am no expert, but after talking with some of our restaurateur customers about online reviews, here are reasons why some owners choose to view them as an opportunity, not a problem:

1) Repair relationships. One upscale restaurateur checks first thing every morning to see whether his four locations have attracted fresh reviews. When he does get new ones, most are positive. But on two occasions, monitoring fresh comments helped him spot dissatisfied customers right after their visits. Promptly contacting them allowed him to discover the exact cause of each problem and gave him opportunities to fix them. Additionally, he was able to salvage the relationships with a warm conversation.

2) Expose hidden weaknesses. Owners can be in only one place at a time. But customers who review restaurants visit at all hours of the day, even when the owner is away from the restaurant. Especially with service quality issues, reviews can reveal service gaps (like servers chatting instead of minding guests during the owner’s mid afternoon break) that would otherwise remain hidden to the owner.

3) Sensitize your team. Some restaurateurs mentioned that constructively sharing the latest reviews (good and bad) with their team gives them a credible reason to regularly meet together to reinforce service excellence and food quality without sounding like a broken record – and provides concrete evidence that patrons pay very close attention to their performance.

4) Improve over time. By embracing this free, albeit imperfect, source of customer feedback, several restaurateurs mentioned that their staffs pay closer attention to guest satisfaction, which in turn causes their average online ratings (and presumably the likelihood of attracting new customers over the competition) to slowly improve over time.

Like I said, none of us likes having negative comments directed at us. However, while some business owners may find it tempting to dismiss or ignore online reviews altogether, I encourage you to view them as a FREE, unfiltered source of valuable, albeit imperfect, feedback from real customer experiences.

In turn, leveraging that free, timely information may help motivate your team, improve service, better satisfy guests, and, eventually, earn higher ratings to help attract more customers.