Jon Thomas
Jon Thomas
Communications Director

Restaurant Owners to Negative Yelp Reviewers: Go Get Hit by a Bus

Nobody likes criticism. Adding the word “constructive” doesn’t make it much better either. Heck, just having someone point out that you’ve got a spec of broccoli in your teeth can ruin an entire day. As if the better solution would be to leave it there. Ignorance is bliss!

New websites are popping up every day allowing consumers to rate, review, and criticize any and every experience they’ve had, including hotels, restaurants, products, services, doctors, even car dealerships. An interesting trend has emerged from these online revelations – angry business owners are lashing out at reviewers. Call it “Yelp Rage.”

I recently came across a post highlighting the Yelp profile of Haakon’s Hall, a Scandanavian/American restaurant in the Upper West Side of New York City. Like good restaurant proprietors, James and Haakon Lenzi, a father-son combination, diligently monitor the reviews they receive on Yelp and they follow up with them. However, they take this feedback VERY personally.

Choose one of the 16 reviews of 3-stars or less and you’ll find some real doozies from either James or Haakon. I’ve listed a few below (not edited in any way):

“OK Danny, now your really PISSING me off, we tried to be civil, you just want to crush my business for what reason we don’t know. Stop hiding behind Yelp, the community loves us. Chef”

“Jakey, you can trash me, but YELP censors my rebuttal. You and Yelp can jump on front of theM11″

“STEVIE,Took me a year to find you, checked out your comments on other places in the area, don’t trash me, your an lonely unhappy person who doesn’t have the ????? to confront us face to face. GET A LIFE STEVIE”

“Give me a BREAK. My beer selection is second to none, and yes the dinning room is for diners in a civilized society Sorry, and how can you review my restaurant when you spilt French fries 5 ways. Get a Life. YOU CAN RUN BUT YOU CAN”T HIDE OK…… “

Of course, giving anyone, literally ANYONE, the ability to leave a review doesn’t make that person an expert.  There’s no way to even determine if the reviewer has actually been to the restaurant. One reviewer left a 1-star review for a restaurant simply because it wasn’t open yet and ruined his pleasant walk. Of course the kicker is that those reading the reviews have no way of determining the merit of these reviewers as well. It puts the business owner in a tough spot.

Regardless of a reviews merits or motivations, as a business being criticized you have a choice. Either you address the issue with an open mind, investigating it and doing everything in your power to turn a negative experience into a positive one, or you simply attack the customer.  When you put it down in writing it seems abundantly clear which is the right way to go. Yelp has even gone so far as to outline at length how to handle and respond to negative reviews.

The larger issue at play is that these experiences aren’t private. The internet never forgets. These reviews will live on as long as Yelp is in existence (unless the powers-that-be at Yelp take action for one reason or another).  When the owners of Haakon’s Hall decide to respond in such a manner to a negative review, they aren’t simply gambling with the potential loss of that particular customer.  They’re losing all the potential business that sees these responses and decides to go elsewhere.

Now more than ever, consumers are controlling brands.  No restaurant can hide from public reviews, and being bad to your customers is bad for business. Even if you, as a business owner, lose your cool on just one negative review and hit the “submit” button with reckless disregard, that lapse of judgment can cost you real money.

That said, I wouldn’t be talking about this little known restaurant on the Upper West Side if it weren’t for that reckless disregard…