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How To Handle A Bad Review

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So your charm offensive, doggedness and/or bribery has paid off and you’ve got your client’s restaurant reviewed. Job well done, you tell yourself.

But what’s this? The review lands, and it’s a stinker. The critic hated the décor, hated the food, and hated the waiter, and he or she’s gone full Colonel Kurtz in the pages of the national press. Within minutes your client is on the phone, screaming for blood. What do you do?

Well, 99 times out of 100, you do absolutely nothing. Nada. Zip. After all, what is there to say? You’ve got your review, the critic’s given their opinion. Too bad it wasn’t one your client shared.

Your job now is to try to calm your client down. Tell them it will be tomorrow’s fish and chip paper, that no one likes that particular critic, that he’s got bad breath, that no one reads him. Tell them what you like, but don’t agree to ring the critic or their editor and complain because it will only end badly.

In my time I’ve had PRs aggressively insist I come and view security footage; I’ve been told point blank that the critic in question never set foot in the restaurant (but bizarrely sent his sister instead); I’ve been sent copies of receipts to prove the fish was bream and not bass, as if it blows the whole review out of the water.

Has it changed anything? Has it led to a correction or retraction? No, it has not. It’s just made me less likely to work with that PR again.

In truth, there’s not much point getting in touch in a more conciliatory way either, whether with apologies, excuses or invitations to give the restaurant another try. No one likes a bad review, clearly, but it’s best just to move on.

Remember, your job is to get critics to review the restaurant, it’s not to dictate what they write. So if your client takes a bad review out on you, it’s them not you who needs to mend their ways.


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