5 Best Responses to 1-Star Reviews

Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, Foursquare, OpenTable… They all house an ever-growing number of restaurant reviews. These, of course, range from the GREAT (“This is the best meal I have ever eaten!”) to the HORRIBLE (“I didn’t know that food could ever taste this bad!”). 

As someone who relies on restaurant reviews to make decisions on new places to dine, I have seen my fair share of the good, the bad, and the ugly that these communities offer. 

I gain enormous value from people’s unvarnished reviews, but I also take many of them with a grain of salt. Reading a scathing restaurant review sometimes makes me feel like the reviewer is running his nails on a chalkboard. I can’t help but imagine the restaurant operator seeing the review for the first time and the overwhelming emotion it must elicit.

While it’s important for a business owner to take a measured approach to review sites, understanding that it’s a two-way conversation which can lead to a peaceful resolution, there are times when reviewers go way too far. In cases where guests make impossible requests, degrade staff members, complain about inane elements of the dining experience, or just rant for the sake of ranting, a restaurant operator is justified in taking a stand against such disrespectful behavior. 

This doesn’t give a restaurant owner carte blanche to say whatever he or she wants, but rather to respond in a manner that protects his staff, his business, and the entire restaurant community. 

"I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it." - George Bernard Shaw 

To champion operators whose intelligence, wit, humor, and unflinching loyalty to their staffs shape their position as great leaders, we’ve have compiled the five best responses to one-star reviews (in no particular order).

1. Hard Rock Manager Delivers Perfect Response to “Freak Show” Review

When a TripAdvisor reviewer attacked the looks of the staff at The Hard Rock Café in Manchester, England, the restaurant’s manager offered a response that championed the casual chain’s “Love All, Serve All” mantra. 

In her review, “Elizabeth” assaulted her waiter’s alternative appearance, which included a septum ring and ear expanders, by commenting that she “wouldn't like to meet him in a dark alley and would have preferred him not to be serving me food either.” 

She went on to write:

I appreciate it’s a destination restaurant and with a name like Hard Rock Cafe I wasn't expecting genteel waitresses in frilly caps, but between him and a female waitress with tattooed sleeves! It was less an experience and more of a freak show!

Rather than jump into the cesspool of ignorance that Elizabeth’s review embodied, the manager defended his staff, strengthened his position as a trusted leader, and became a living example of Hard Rock’s values.

He wrote:

No matter who you are, where you from, what you look like, what your background etc. you are welcome at the Hard Rock Cafe. We can hardly adopt such a value without treating our staff in the same way, can we?

Your server has been with us for almost 15 years… it's sad you couldn't look past his appearance and see him for the genuine nice guy that he is.

There are hundreds of Hard Rockers all over the world with tattoos and piercings, living the same values and delivering a great experience, too, hopefully if you get the chance to meet any of them you might remember that they are human beings, just like you. Take Time to Be Kind.

2. Hell’s Kitchen Responds to ‘Too Many Gay People’ Yelp Review

A guest at Minneapolis restaurant Hell’s Kitchen didn’t have a problem with the establishment’s food or service, but rather its other customers. In his review, which has since been deleted (we’ll get to that later), the patron matter-of-factly stated, “Too many gay people.”

Instead of choosing to fight ignorance with anger, the restaurant’s management and its staff stood up for its customers through an impassioned and thoughtful letter. 

An open letter to ______, who just reviewed us on Yelp with one phrase: “Too many gay people.”

We’re writing in response to a review you posted on Yelp a few minutes ago. It simply said “too many gay people.”

We ask that you not return to Hell’s Kitchen again. All of us who work here, whether straight or gay, view Hell’s Kitchen as our home; we open our doors each morning and do our best to make every person kind enough to dine with us feel as if it is their home, too. We do our best to make every guest feel welcome, we do our best to create an environment that gives them a chance to enjoy the company of their friends, we do our best to create an environment that is blind to any form of prejudice and we do our best to create an environment that is safe. These aren’t “business goals”….they’re just naturally in the DNA of every one of the 166 members of our Hell’s Kitchen family.

While you’re certainly free to post any comment you want about us, we’re equally free to say you cannot enter our home again.

Cyn, Pat and the staff at Hell’s Kitchen

Following the restaurant’s response, a family member of the reviewer, Eric, told a local news outlet that he retracted his comment and had learned the error of his ways. Because of this supposed change of heart, the staff at Hell’s Kitchen took its positive stance one step further. 

In a follow up post on Facebook, the restaurant wrote: 

We've just learned from a member of the media that this young man and his family have taken down his post and he understands how hurtful his words were. Here at Hell's Kitchen, some of us have said things we later wished we had not, and some of us have made mistakes that have hurt others ... we're very big believers in redemption here and always respect people who acknowledge that their words and actions have hurt others. We appreciate the steps this young man took today and would welcome an opportunity to have him meet us so that he can learn a bit more about why we felt strongly about his words.

3. Restaurant Pens Epic Takedown of Entitled Yelper

In what has become a prominent example of how rude and spoiled guests can be, this story proves that the customer isn’t always right. In not breaking its rule that restricts takeout orders, a Kansas City restaurant received nothing but vitriol from an entitled guest.

In her one-star Yelp review of Voltaire, Sonal B. wrote:

Most unfriendly and arrogant restaurant in KC.

Just called Voltaire to try to order some food because we're in a late business meeting across the street. First, they refused to answer our question about what type of broth is used in the risotto. Then they said they won't pack food to go. My husband spoke to the manager and explained that we're in a conference room across the street, and asked if they can pack our dinner (which we would pick up). The hostess flat-out refused to answer our question about the food or to try and work with us so we could get food in our meeting. My husband asked to speak with the manager. The manager, Jamie, said, "our food is plated beautifully, and we can't put it in a 'to go' container." So thanks, Jamie, we'll just starve. (What the manager said is just not true by the way--we've eaten there before, and they did pack our food to go.) When my husband said that he was going to post a Yelp review about the way the restaurant was treating us, the manager questioned, "Are you a grown man and an adult?"

Restaurant operators and their staff are constantly met with guests who think they are kings and queens of the world. While some over-the-top requests can be satisfied for the sake of delivering a great experience, those that threaten long-held rules and an establishment’s standards should be handled accordingly. 

The restaurant’s owner, William G., responded to the negative and callous review in epic fashion

Is this one of the worst/best one-star restaurant reviews of 2016?

4. Dine & Dasher Leavers 1-Star Review. Restaurateur Gets Revenge.

This story belongs in the “How stupid can you be?” category. It’s one thing to leave a negative review of a restaurant. It’s blatantly insane to do so after leaving without paying the bill, which makes the reviewer a criminal.

After TripAdvisor user “L261CBandrewg” wrote a 1-star takedown of Vito’s Italian restaurant in Sheffield, the owner uncovered the anonymous guest’s identity and exacted his justified revenge. 

This dine-and-dasher didn't enjoy the service he got.

As a result of the dining experienced described in the negative review, owner Vito Cioraolo recognized that the reviewer was, in fact, the same guest who had been arrested for dashing on his bill earlier in the year.

In what can only be described as the perfect way to destroy a reviewer’s credibility, Vito Cioraolo offered the followed response to “L261CBandrewg:”

You fail to mention that after eating all of your meal you subsequently did a “runner” and did not pay for the food you ate. Luckily your antics were captured on my CCTV system. I would therefore invite anyone reading this review to take a look on my restaurant page (Facebook) and view the CCTV footage to witness your disgraceful behaviour.

You simply came for a meal at my restaurant when you knew from the word off you had no intentions of paying. After finishing your meal you did not complain about anything, you merely said that you were popping outside for a cigarette (as some customers do). However you then decided along with your delightful “date” (the one hiding behind the skip on the CCTV footage) that you would not pay the bill - what a nice way to impress a woman!

5. Dive Bar Responds to 1-Star Yelp Review with Honesty

Isn’t honesty always the best policy? In the case of writing a review or responding to one on Yelp, shouldn’t all parties be guided by the truth? That means being honest about a person’s expectations, an establishment’s atmosphere, online profile, and overall guest experience. If you go to a dive bar expecting it to be more like a hipster coffee shop or a fine dining restaurant, how can the operator be the one to blame? Restaurant owners should always strive to meet guests’ expectations, but when those expectations are impossible to meet it’s like playing cards against a stacked deck.

In Megan’s case, she visited a dive bar and expected it to be something entirely different. 

Dive bar review

Is it fair for a person to go to a self-proclaimed dive bar and complain when it’s loud? Though, I can’t comment on the quality of the bar’s food, it’s owner offers a very honest take on why people like to visit his establishment.

Dive bar reviews

BONUS: Restaurant Uses 1-Star Review to Drive Business

Sometimes the best way to fight a 1-star review is with HUMOR!

Humorous restaurant review sign