How would you respond if someone called your staff a “freak show?”
Would you be overcome with emotion and respond with venom of your own? Or would you deliver a well-thought and passionate response that champions your staff?
In a world where a guest can write just about anything in a review of your restaurant, it’s difficult not to feel justified in providing an in-kind response. There are times when it makes sense to fight fire with fire, but, equally, there are situations that call on you to take the high road. When someone attacks your staff, it can feel like you’re being baited into a conflict.
Since restaurants often become surrogate families for their staff members, it’s hard to fault a manager who defends his servers in the same manner he would if someone verbally attacked his children. It’s important to remember, however, that when you wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty. In the case of a restaurant manager at a Hard Rock Café in England, he chose to stay out of the mud. Not only did he stay clean, he set a shining example for his staff on how to be a true leader.
‘Tattooed sleeves’ and ‘freak shows’
In her TripAdvisor review, “Elizabeth,” a recent customer of the Hard Rock Café in Manchester, chose to attack the looks of the restaurant’s staff rather than its food or quality of service. Her comments were so ugly and personal that it’s hard to believe that the little voice in her head (you know, the one that keeps us from saying really stupid things) didn’t sound the alarms.
In her review, she 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 its 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!”
Yes, she used the words ”freak show” to describe the restaurant’s staff. Picture Elizabeth sitting in front of her computer and feeling justified writing something so heinous. In some sick and twisted way, she probably thought that she was making a difference. She would be the “positive” influence that would change Hard Rock Café staff appearance at locations around the globe. Pretty crazy, right?
As you can see, I’ve already let her words get under my skin. I don’t even know any of the people targeted in her review. I still feel like I want to fashion the perfect response to put Elizabeth in her place.
Bob G., the restaurant’s manager, opted instead to deliver a response to Elizabeth’s review that embraced Hard Rock Café’s “Love All, Serve All” mantra. In doing so, he succeeded in rising above her intolerance. He defended his staff, strengthened his position as a trusted leader, and perfectly embodied Hard Rock’s values.
“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.”
I hope that Elizabeth is sitting somewhere slack-jawed. I can’t think of a better and more heartfelt response to such an inflammatory guest review. This situation and Bob G.’s reaction should be required reading for all restaurant managers. It typifies the kind of unique situation that can arise when your restaurant is attacked in an online review. Whereas some among us in the industry may have chosen less tempered words, Bob G.’s response was stronger than any expletive or verbal assault he could have levied at the reviewer.
He lifted up his staff, preserved his dignity, and changed the entire tone of the conversation.
Hard Rock sign image by Aero Pixels