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Why I Don't Hate Yelp

Anthony Bourdain (who I loved and admired) said that he hated Yelpers: “They are the very picture of entitled, negative energy. They're bad for chefs, they're bad for restaurants.” Interestingly, Bourdain didn't hate Twitter or Instagram, seeing them as a “fully democratic bathroom wall that anyone can write on. And they do. It's up to us to translate [and] to winnow out useful information that we might use in a sensible way.”

I get it. Who wants a negative review? Everyone wants to be praised for being awesome. As a restaurateur, people expect me, even want me, to hate restaurant critics, whether elite Yelpers or paid reviewers. They expect me to agree with Bourdain. But I don’t. And I don’t see a difference between some of the Yelp Elite Squad and paid reviewers, other than maybe the paid reviewers are often recognized and known by the restaurants upon arrival.

I think of Yelpers, all of them, as guests. In the hospitality biz, how can you hate a guest? And how can you hate Yelp for being the platform on which the guest stands? It’s like blaming the booth the guest is sitting in.

It’s my job to respond to our guests’ complaints, however they come at us, to try to figure out what has gone wrong and to solve it.

Maybe it’s because I grew up as a restaurant manager and have spent a lot of time standing at, or crouching in front of, tables listening to guests tell me how we have failed, how much I suck, usually very precisely and with a significant degree of animation, or even what they hate about our restaurant.

I learned very early on to take their input first without judging them, process it, and then choose my response, a process that I learned from the teachings sometimes attributed to the famous neurologist and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl: Between stimulus and response lies a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose a response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.

Many people fall into the trap of judging their guests. They often create their own narratives about what they think their complaining guests want. They just want free food. They had a bad day and want to unload on someone, even bully someone. They love their own writing and want to make themselves famous on Yelp. They are seeking likes and a larger following for their own blogs. They’re food snobs showing off. They’re brave when they’re behind a keyboard.

Those types of responses and assumptions, as I see it, are just the wrong place to spend mental energy. When a guest (or a client, customer, patient, or patron; because this doesn’t just happen in the hospitality industry) gives negative feedback:

  • Don’t judge.

  • Don’t seek some made-up ulterior motive.

  • Don’t minimize their complaint.

  • Do take the feedback.

  • Do care about what they are saying.

  • Do say sorry.

  • Do solve the problem.

  • Do go above and beyond to make the guest feel heard, understood, and helped.

In almost every case, the result will be that the person complaining is left with no alternative but to appreciate your efforts. That’s hospitality. That’s service.

In our restaurants we use what I call our Social Media Neutralizer to help all of us walk through the above dos & don’ts to craft our response to a negative review. But whether this is a guest on Yelp, on Instagram, a paid writer on a blog or paper, or a guest in our restaurant, it doesn’t matter. My job and my goals remain the same: Provide awesome hospitality and service.


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