There's never been a shortage of restaurants making social media criticism worse by responding ineffectively or badly. Sometimes the problem starts with employees behaving badly and setting a company up for criticism.
And then there are the times that business owners shoot themselves in the foot, either by something they did or, which can be just as bad, by their reaction to criticism from customers. For the Imagine Vegan Café in Memphis, Tennessee, the PR results have been a disaster.
A customer left a review via Google. The person claimed to be a regular customer but complained that on a visit a naked toddler was running around, got up on her table with dirty feet, and presented a backside. Because you have to scroll for a while to get to the review, here's a screenshot.
That's one tough review and when you're in business, you realize that sometimes people are going to slam what you do or point out problems. Maybe they're real and you should learn to pay attention, maybe someone's exaggerating something, or perhaps we have a Rashomon moment and the real version lies somewhere between the individual views.
What you don't do, if you're smart, is to lash out at the critic, which is what the owners did on Facebook. The original posting isn't up, as they had taken down their page and only put it back up shortly before this post with the note: "Down for a short amount of time due to unfair media coverage but now we are back!" However, there is a cached version that reads as follows:
I am about to start calling out names and pictures of people who leave us bad reviews, especially when it deals with our children. You will no longer be allowed to come and dine at Imagine. We do not need or want your business. Be our guest to go and eat at the other vegan restaurants down the street. This is going to be fun!!!! You've throughly irritated mama bear!!!!!!!!!!!! We're starting with Chelsea Bartley! For anyone who reads this and instantly is scared this might affect our business, I cannot begin to tell you how much we do not care. Haters are not welcome at Imagine!!!!
As the blog Wonkette notes, "a normal restaurateur who knows how to run a business would see this, apologize profusely, and promise it will never happen again." The customer might get a gift certificate or something else to make amends.
The internet went nuts, as it is wont to do. Press coverage, and blowback at review sites like Yelp, was ugly. In fact, so many responses came in that Yelp currently has a note on the page to explain it "is being monitored by Yelp's Support team for content related to media reports" and, as another note , "both positive and negative posts that appear to be motivated more by the news coverage itself than the reviewer's personal consumer experience with the business" are being removed.
In an interview with WMC-TV, co-owner Kristie Jeffrey was quoted as saying, "It has been a very family oriented restaurant from day one." Besides having "crayons, kid menus, toys," she told the station that her four children are often at the restaurant when it's open.
Jeffrey said some of what the reviewer said happened is true, but she believes much of the post was exaggerated. "It was summer and it's hot. She does what a baby does, and she ripped it and she ran," Jeffrey said about her 22-month-old daughter.
Jeffrey would have preferred a personal word from the customer rather than an online complaint -- wouldn't any business owner? But there are times that won't happen and if you're going to be in business, you must learn how to deal with those moments. Saying that you'd rather not have the business and banning a person from returning isn't the best way to handle business relations. You never can tell when you'll end up in a, uh, poop storm.