How long is a blog post supposed to be? Probably not this long! I hope you read this to the end and I hope it makes sense. I think I have a bit of a rant. My blog is a response to this SMH article:

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Over the Easter weekend I took credit cards for confirmation of bookings and made it clear to customers what our cancellation policy is: cancellation or notice of change before 5.30pm or $20 no show fee per person.
When I rang one man to confirm and get his credit card number the day before his long weekend booking, he said he would ring back with his number as he was not at that time in a position to provide it. When he rang back and spoke with one of my staff, he informed us that he had changed his mind and would not be coming as he had read “recent reviews” online and was disgusted by the comments about our restaurant.

I keep a fairly close eye on online reviews and comments and I manage our website, Facebook page, emails and other social media and was curious about which reviews he had read. I had not seen any recent negative reviews about service and all the ones that I had seen, I had already responded to. I endeavour to be polite when I respond to reviews – even though sometimes I don’t feel that way, but even my response will be judged by other readers – potential customers – without them even seeing my restaurant or meeting me.

I am all for the on line reviews and I appreciate that Trip advisor provides an option to respond, which I have not found as available on other sites like eatability. In saying this, the response does not show up on the mobile sites unless readers click into further pages so sometimes, readers will not even see my response.

Well, as a business owner, I was curious to know which “recent reviews” the man had seen so I rang him. I rang him as a business owner who wanted to be able to respond to the online reviews and balance the point of view of that reviewer. He ended up coming for dinner after reading my management responses on these sites.

The man told me about the reviews he had seen on Trip advisor, eatability and urban spoon. Well, the two reviews on eatability and Tripadvior and another on urbanspoon from October 2013 are the same party. They got upset and wrote multiple reviews on multiple sites. Unfortunately, the eatability site does enable business responses.

Another instance was when I responded to a review on urbanspoon about a tough steak and the reviewer responded by email that he had mistaken our restaurant and that he had meant another – but as yet he has not removed the review??

One other time we had a negative and very general and non-specific review. It did not mention when they had eaten or what they had. I messaged the reviewer – who was a first time reviewer – and asked for more details about their experience. I had no response. If they had had a bad experience, I would like to know why, when they had eaten (time of day and date) and more specifics. After three weeks and still no response from them, I appealed to Tripadvisor for it to be removed as I was sure it was a disgruntled person who had been left a note on their car windscreen about not parking across my driveway when there are two businesses and a residence that use it. Trip advisor did remove it.

What does get my goat about online reviews?? That most of the bad reviews are from rude customers. They don’t book so they hide behind their anonymity without giving the business the chance to respond and correct any of their criticisms.

Pros of online reviews? I do like to use the reviews to improve our business. If we have consistent negative reviews, then there may indeed be a problem that needs to be addresses. Having been a teacher in my previous life, there are performance evaluations that provide regular feedback. This is common in big business too. But in small businesses, there is little feedback and little operators such as restaurants can just plod along doing what they do year after year. Reviews provide a kind of evaluation upon which small businesses can improve their product and service. (In saying that, a business cannot be all things to all people so sometimes. A business may listen to suggestions/comments/advice/criticism but does not need or cannot take it on and implement it.)

 Suggestions for review sites, reviewers and readers
1. Reviewers should see their opportunity to write as a chance to help a business and that industry as a whole to improve in areas in which they are lacking rather than being spiteful.
2. Review sites ask for specific details: the date of visit, service (breakfast, lunch, dinner), type of visit (family, couple, group, friends, business, solo). When I have submitted reviews, they ask some of these questions but these details should be made available for viewers – or at least to the businesses. With these details a business can made improvements such as to assess if it is an individual staff who may be inadequate, to identify specific problems with product or service or a wider issue which would indicate poor management or training.
3. Readers should take reviews with a “grain of salt” –an idiom which means to view something with skepticism – both positive and negative reviews. The positive ones could be from friends or paid, the negative ones could be people who are being spiteful or vengeful – often as the article states, having not even eaten at a venue. Read the reviews and if they are all bad, don’t visit a place and expect perfection. If they are all good, don’t visit a place and expect perfection. Have your own experience and make your own decision – and then offer your own review.
4. Readers – like any student is taught to assess the validity of a website, readers should click on the reviewer’s details. If they have rated twenty restaurants 5 star, then they probably only review the places they like. If they have only one review and it’s really bad, it may be a case of spite? If they have dozens of reviews and they vary in their ratings and comments, then that reviewer is probably fair and offers a realistic view of the place.
5. Reviewers – get it right! Don’t post photos or comments about a restaurant on the wrong restaurant’s page/listing. Doing this can make a big difference to a business and makes you look silly.

And now I diverge: In the Facebook comments after the SMH posted this article (link above) , a reader posted a comment. “Having worked in the industry for a long time, I noticed that the worst customers were the ones most likely to whinge online, whether or not they had a genuine problem. There is an art to dining out, and Australians are woefully bad at it. Good service is often linked to good customer behaviour. If you consistently get bad service, look within, it is probably you that is creating the conditions of negativity. If you have a food intolerance or allergy and don’t ring at least 48 hours in advance, don’t expect many, or indeed any, culinary options to be available to you, organise yourself and refrain from taking it out on the staff. Restaurants & cafes are not playgrounds, control your kids or leave them at home…it is an opportunity to teach them good social etiquette rather than social boganism.”
Honey – you must have read my mind!! I could not have said it better myself! Especially the part about being a good customer. I am tired of the theory “the customer is always right”! The customer is not always right. Sometimes, the customer is not nice and I would like to send them away. Sometimes the customer is rude and demanding.

If you come to a small country town that has three restaurants and a pub all year round, do not be upset when you cannot get a table at 7.30pm on the Easter long weekend when the town has an influx of more than 4 times the number of tourists and visitors!! Book in advance just like others did and you will be able to get a table. A restaurant, despite the number of seats or floor space, can only serve a certain number of customers at any one point in time. We don’t like having to turn people away. That is a loss of income. But if we have 30 people booked between 7.00 and 8.00pm, and you come in at 645pm for a table of ten people, there is not much chance you will be served. Bookings preferred means just that – we prefer that people book and we will give preferential service to tables that are booked. That does not mean that you will be given bad service, but if there is only one item left and a booked table and a walk in table both want it, then the booked table will have preference. If there are two staff on and two tables booked and you arrive unannounced at the same time, if you are lucky enough to get a table, you will have to wait for service until the booked table has been seated and settled.
Phoning at 6.45 on a Saturday night and asking, “Is it necessary to book for tonight?” I will answer “yes”. Then asking for a table for 6 people at 7.30pm will probably not get the response for which you were looking. Making a reservation is not about having a table waiting for you. It is about providing a restaurant with notice so they can cater accordingly by having an appropriate amount of food prepared and having an appropriate amount of staff on shift. The majority of complaints come from tables who have not booked which can lead to a limited number of meal selections or poor service for everyone in the restaurant. This is not necessarily the fault of the restaurant! So I will finish by agreeing with the comment: Good service is often linked to good customer behaviour.

So, a bit long, but if you have a comment, please post it to this blog. Or drop in to Bistro One46 and discuss it with me over a free coffee!

(Free coffee offer only valid until End May 2014. No take away.)