Nasty (and baseless) Yelp reviews? Every restaurant's had one. But when one Yelp reviewer lashed out at Voltaire last month, the Kansas City, Missouri, establishment that refused to plate her order, she truly got her comeuppance. "The manager, Jamie, said, 'Our food is plated beautifully, and we can't put it in a to-go container,'" wrote Sonal B. in her one-star review. "So thanks, Jamie, we'll just starve."
William G., Voltaire's owner, had a few choice words of his own. "Being a Yelp user, I'm sure you were aware that on our Yelp business page, on the right side of the screen, it lists details about our establishment," he wrote in response a day later. "There is an item listed 'Take-out: No.'" From there, he proceeded to explain his restaurant's fairly pragmatic reasoning for this--"we believe the food we prepare should be presented as we see fit, (usually) on a plate inside the dining room"--then dismissed Sonal's comments for what they were: "threats."
It wasn't long before the posts went viral, appearing on Reddit with commenters spewing all sorts of vitriol about Yelp and Sonal B. As Jon Taffer, host of Spike TV's Bar Rescue, explains, such situations are not uncommon, but few business owners know how to handle them because "social media is not just posting--it can destroy your business" and "the playground of social evaluations is not a fair one."
This doesn't mean entrepreneurs can't fight back, however. Like William, Taffer recommends responding directly to reviewers, and not allowing one or two bad ones to deter your strategy. "If there's a bad incident or two, your sheer volume of comments will protect it," he says.
So, how do you encourage customers to get posting? By encouraging them to post all the time, says Taffer. "You teach your servers to connect with their guests" and tell them to support you. And "if you're doing a good job," the good reviews will come pouring in. It's about being preemptive and "making the balance your way."
As for those pesky anonymous reviews, the Virginia Supreme Court plans to rule on those in January. In 2012, an Alexandria rug-cleaning business filed a defamation lawsuit claiming its reputation was tainted by Yelp reviewers who said he overcharged, and now the owner hopes to unmask the identities of those critics.