Burnt: PR pros weigh in on what to do when you get a bad restaurant review

Three restaurant employees are having a conversation. One of them is holding a mobile phone and and showing some content to the other employee.

It took you years to make your restaurant dream a reality, but you finally got the doors open. You couldn’t be happier with how your grand opening is going – until you get less-than-flattering review from the biggest restaurant critic in town. Your reaction has the potential to make a bigger impact than the review itself, so your next moves are critical.

For guidance on what to do when you get a bad restaurant review, we sat down for some real talk with a trio of veteran restaurant publicists in Washington, D.C.: Meaghan O’Shea, director of marketing and PR for Farmers Restaurant Group (which owns Founding FarmersFarmers & Distillers, and Farmers Fishers Bakers, Jennie Kuperstein, co-owner of Stand Out Public Relations, which represents Honeysuckle and Woodward Table; and Jennifer Resick Williams, founder of Know PR, which represents Mike Isabella’s restaurants, such as Arroz and Kapnos, and Del Campo.

1. Don’t expect advance notice

You may know it’s coming – but no one except the critic will know what it’s going to say ahead of time. Jennifer Resik Williams says, “We don’t have any heads up in terms of a tone or a rating of a review before it’s published. I tend not to do any expectation setting with our clients when it comes to reviews because they are so out of our hands and individual.”

2. Stay calm

Take a deep breath. “Don’t get stressed about it, because being stressed is not an action step. It’s a waste of time,” counsels Meaghan O’Shea.

3. Don’t take it to social media

Disconnect from the internets. “Stay away from social media all together because you can’t take back whatever you say,” advises Jennie Kuperstein. “Just put your phone away.”

4. Engage privately

Consider reaching out to the source. Williams reveals, “Many critics are open to a phone discussion or a short back and forth by email. There is something to be gained from all types of feedback.”

5. Hold steady

You don’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel. Kuperstein cautions, “One review is not a reason to redo your whole concept or menu. Stay true to who you are.”

6. Reflect

Take a long, hard look in the mirror. “You have to be open to acknowledging your shortcomings,” says O’Shea. “’Here’s where we can grow. Here’s what we can learn.’ And then you push forward, fix the problems, and up your game.” – Meaghan O’Shea

7. Understand it’s not the last word

Most reviews don’t linger in diners’ minds forever. “Peoples’ attention is so short these days,” Kuperstein notes. “People will read it and consider it, but then the next review or story comes out. People will move on, even though you think it’s going to stay in everyone’s minds forever.” – Jennie Kuperstein

8. Accentuate the good

Acknowledge what you’re getting right. “Take a hard look at all the positive things that the chef and the restaurant have to offer and place stories about all those positive things,” states Williams.

Remember that professional critics aren’t the only critics out there.

A critic’s review isn’t the only one that counts. “We have a mantra, ‘Every guest is a critic.’ Everyone has an outlet where they can review you. That’s why I always keep an eye on and respond when necessary to everything from OpenTable and Google to TripAdvisor and Yelp, because they can have more reach and impact, especially to our everyday guests,” adds O’Shea.