Negative Online Reviews Are Double-Edged Sword for Businesses

It is a double-edged cybersword: a negative review of a restaurant or other business, posted for the world to see.

Anyone who peruses Yelp!, TripAdvisor, Google and companies' own websites can see complaints about bad food, surly sales associates, late deliveries or defective merchandise. But some business owners, even when they are chagrined or embarrassed, regard a bad review as valuable information that will help them improve.

Jeff Gates, who co-owns eight restaurants in the Boston area, says online reviews give him a steady flow of feedback and likens them to the comment cards few diners fill out. He reads and responds to every post, and consults with staffers to understand what worked and what didn't.

"If multiple people are picking up on the same issue, that's something we really want to focus on," says Gates, whose restaurants include Aquitaine and Gaslight Brasserie.

Some negative reviews may be inevitable, especially with a business that has hundreds of customer interactions each day. Miscommunications can lead to mistakes, restaurants can be short-staffed and businesses do fall down on the job.

Gates also looks at who's leaving the reviews. If there's a pattern of skewering restaurants, it could be a customer who can't be satisfied. Jim Turner, who owns Turner's Seafood restaurants in Melrose and Salem, Massachusetts, says he knows customers who have too much to drink and are asked to lower the volume will post complaints about how they were treated.

"You have to accept that everybody is going to have that, everybody is going to have those customers," says Turner, who responds to each review privately.

Negative reviews can be irritating, Turner says, but because they point out issues like poor service, they spur him to address any problems, which in turn lifts the restaurants' ratings.

Owners who contact reviewers are sometimes able to get a bad review updated...

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