Navigating online feedback

A restaurateur’s perspective

Alexia Santamaria talks to one of the country’s most awarded hospitality duos about what it’s like to deal with online feedback – in all its forms.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about restaurants dealing with online feedback in all its various forms – Facebook groups, Zomato, TripAdvisor. It’s a brave new world for anyone running a New Zealand eatery, as customers who might have been too shy to say something at the time of their disgruntlement, now brazenly take to their keyboards to express what irked them.

A recent post on popular Facebook group, Lazy Susan, sparked media interest when a customer wasn’t happy with the size versus price ratio of their drink and the restaurant actually replied with a video explaining their pouring process, so customers could understand. In some ways it’s great for restaurant owners to have a platform to deal directly with customer feedback, in other ways it’s just one more thing for them to do in an industry which already runs some pretty long hours.

As food writers, it’s our job to educate our audiences on all sides of the issues that face the culinary industry, and this is definitely one of them. There’s no denying that online platforms can do a world of good for food businesses if the feedback is good. It’s another marketing tool and a way to spread the word about their unique points of difference – in what has become a very competitive industry. Potential customers are always going to prefer listening to other diners, rather than the restaurants themselves, so it’s definitely a way to gain new customers and spark further word of mouth referrals.

The tricky bit is managing the less positive stuff. Chand and Sid Sahrawat have some experience with this after running three of Auckland’s most popular and awarded restaurants for over a decade. Chand, Co-owner and operations manager for Sidart, Cassia & Sid at The French Café says “Everyone has a personal opinion and food is as subjective as art, so we do not expect everyone to love our restaurants; if someone gives us a less than perfect review it’s okay if they didn’t like the style of food.We do not respond to any social media reviews on the platform they are published on.We prefer to respond in person via  phone or email  or by actually meeting with the guest.We all make mistakes at times and so do our staff;  we do monitor review sites and if any feedback is repeated we take it into account or investigate. Sometimes if we notice a pattern in reviews mentioning a particular aspect of a dish or service the team reconsider it.”

In the perfect world Chand and Sid would love to see feedback given at the time. “We prefer people tell the waitperson they didn’t enjoy something so we can fix it then and there. But if they are too shy, an email  to the restaurant the next day is also good – so we can investigate and rectify it.” It’s also the way they like to receive positive feedback, something so many diners forget to do, despite having really enjoyed their experience. “When someone emails us positive feedback it is shared with the team and is a great motivator for our staff. They are less likely to hear about positive social media reviews as there are so many sites to monitor, but a personal email gets shared at the restaurant’s pre-service briefing.”

One of the toughest things for anyone running a restaurant is when guests default to a review platform without giving their team a chance to explain. “For example when a guest has booked for the wrong date and blames the restaurant for not accommodating them, even though the staff offered the first available table on the night they did show up” says Chand. “Or someone who posted a review for clearly the wrong restaurant e.g. ‘I had fish and chips and they were not good at Sidart’. It is time consuming to have to reach out to the website and clarify the inaccuracies to get the review removed and in some cases they won’t.

We prefer Facebook communities like Lazy Susan as they are based on a word of mouth basis not a ranking or reviewing platform. They are open to owners, operators and customers. I would rather hear about your best Yum Char recommendation over negatives about a particular restaurant. It is very easy to destroy the hard work and reputation of a restaurant and in this day and age of negative rants on social media, it is refreshing to read positive posts about businesses by real people.”

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