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  • Writer's picturePinky

Avoiding Restaurant Horror Stories: How to Manage Bad PR

Updated: Apr 24, 2019

What could be worse for a chicken restaurant chain than running out of chicken? Quite possibly nothing. But that’s exactly what happened to KFC in the UK earlier this year, forcing more than 600 stores across the country to close.

Sounds like an absolute disaster (Can we just say it certainly ruffled the feathers of many?), but kudos to the marketing team for not only salvaging the situation, but also turning it into an absolute marketing win:

“A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal.”

If they could make good even out of a situation like this, it really proves that there’s no PR crisis that you can’t avert.

A customer leaves a bad review on your Facebook page

Always, always respond to your customers. Accept the blame and apologize if you’re at fault, and show that you’re sincere in righting your wrongs. If, for instance, customers are complaining about your salad greens gone bad, stop serving the dish for a while to thoroughly investigate where things went wrong. Perhaps even take the chance to reinvent the dish into something even better before putting it back on the menu. Don’t just say you’re sorry – prove that you’ve bounced back better.

Hack: If you’re replying to the negative review publicly, try to minimize the number of times you mention your restaurant’s name in your response to avoid clocking SEO points. You don’t want this showing up in the search results when someone Googles for your restaurant!

The next step: Improve your reputation. Deleting negative reviews is a huge no-no – you could potentially fuel the flame if you get called out for it. Take some tips from Japanese soba restaurant Nadai Fujisoba Na-Hachi, which encourages diners to check in to their restaurant on Facebook with a photo of their food, in exchange for complimentary dessert. Similarly, you can offer incentives for your customers to leave you a review (Just make sure to make them like you!). More positive mentions will eventually drown out the complaints over time, making negative experiences seem more like a one-off rather than the norm.

Spot the promotion sign?

A customer leaves a bad review on your Facebook page… that doesn’t even make sense

That said, customers aren’t always right. Once in a while, someone walks in expecting something your restaurant isn’t, and leaves dissatisfied because their expectations weren’t met. Negative (and unfounded, but keep that to yourself) review ensues.

Even when there’s truly nothing you should be apologizing for, you should still offer them empathy. Say, someone rails against your “overpriced” $20 cocktails (because hey, you’re a bespoke rooftop bar in the CBD with rent to pay). You might respond, “We’re bummed we weren’t what you expected, but if you loved our drinks, check out our happy hour promos!” If nothing else, at least you just promoted a feature of your business.

In a recent case of “You’ve Got to be Kidding Me”, a Singapore Airlines customer lodged a complaint on their Facebook page after his special request for a specific dish turned down. “Very disappointing for an airline with so many international cooks on board”, he ranted.

No prizes for pointing out why Singapore Airlines clearly weren’t the ones at fault (International cooks on board? Say what?), but they still responded graciously, earning thumbs up from the online audience:

A customer complains about you publicly on social media – and it goes viral

A negative review on your Facebook page is visible to people searching for your business. But one that’s posted publicly on a customer’s profile and gone viral will make its rounds to people who might not even know of your business beforehand.

It doesn’t help that it’s often the most blistering and even emotionally charged of outcrys that go viral. Definitely not the kind of viral you want to be.

PR agency Ruder Finn’s Charles Lankasker has what is probably an unpopular opinion: A little controversy is good for business. Cyber warriors love watching drama unfold, and for younger brands in particular, it’s a golden ticket to insane brand exposure.

Provided you assuage the situation skillfully, of course.

Since the complaint in question is a public post, it’s equally appropriate to respond with a public statement. While a personal reply to address the complaint is also necessary, it’s also your chance to reach out to the entire audience. That’s exactly what US-based The Supper Truck responded to a negative review by not saying, but singing sorry.

Even if they might have gravely messed up, how could this not put a smile on your face?

The bottom line: Don’t forget to be human. Customers pay for your food and service expecting to feel good from it – and when this falls short, they sometimes just need a reminder that nobody opens an F&B business aiming to infuriate their customers, and that we’re all just human.

Even KFC’s Colonel Sanders.

The Art of PR

You can’t please everyone, and criticism is unavoidable. Whether the negative review is fair or just downright fake, it’s your chance to turn it around by showing publicly – not just to the reviewer but also to all of your potential customers – that you take their feedback to heart, and that you’re a brand worth supporting.

Of course, the very first rule of avoiding bad PR: Always make sure your customers walk away happy!

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