Hear them out.
Offer a solution.
Solve the problem.
Write this down and make it protocol to your team.
Review sites have had a shot of adrenaline recently where more people are encouraged to give reviews, and it’s the jet fuel of great restaurants marketing while furthering the demise of lackluster restaurants. A 3.5 rating on Yelp means you’re failing. It also means you’re not responding to reviews and not doing what you’re supposed to do in-house. A four-star and above means you’re doing your job correctly, and if it’s over 1,000 total reviews, it means you’re really killing it. The current state of reviews means two things. You need more reviews, and you need more good reviews. Along with that, the negative reviews are opportunities to be turned into positive reviews if you follow the H.O.S.T. Method.
For the HOST Method to work, you need to do all four aspects, or it will fail harder than if you did nothing.
First step: Hear them out. Listen with a deep empathetic understanding that something went wrong, and it is your fault. Assume it’s your fault first, not, “Well, this customer doesn’t get it.” It’s not their job to get it. It’s yours for them to be happy and not worry about getting it. Let’s say their food took a long time: Then…
Clearly, and overly emphasize your remorse for wasting their time and money. Do not try and defend your restaurant. Don’t say, “Well, it was a busy night that night.”
Then, you can initiate the offer. Most level-headed customers are not seeking a freebie. They just want to vent their frustration. Don’t get me wrong, some want their money back, but an offer is you saying that you can’t sleep soundly knowing that you’ve wronged them. Not, “Oh, we ruined your daughter’s graduation by showing up two hours late. Here’s 10 percent off the next time you come in.” The offer must be all-encompassing and not just putting a Band-Aid on a flesh wound. If you half-ass it, you will never get their repeat business. If you comp a $100 order, you’ve paid $25 in food costs to save a customer. That’s cheap and effective marketing in the form of loss retention.
Now, solve the problem. You might think, “Didn’t we just solve it by giving the offer?” No. You solved the offer. You didn’t solve the real problem, the problem that caused this failure. Why were you late? Was it because of a miscommunication? Was it because of inadequate training? How are you addressing this systemic problem, so it doesn’t happen again and so that this customer believes it won’t happen again? Explain that in painstaking detail to the customer so they trust your establishment for a second try.
Last and certainly not least, a genuine thank you. Whether it was this customer being kind enough to e-mail you on the side or blasting you with all sorts of vitriol on Yelp, no matter what it is, thank them for coming into your restaurant and being honest with you because it helps you grow. Don’t match hate with hate, you will lose even when you are right. You can blast the customer, and sure there’s a market for that, but its fleeting at best.
If you do the four appropriately, literally any customer can be saved. If you don’t do all four, then it’s not worth the effort of typing a response. It will fail and land on deaf ears.
The review sites need constant fueling. The restaurants that respond to every review on aggregator sites or individual sites will move to the top of the algorithm and garner more reviews. Good reviews bring in new customers, especially new out-of-town customers, and reaffirm what your good customers already know.
MIKE BAUSCH is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Instagram: @mikeybausch