3News are currently doing a story on online restaurant reviews.
Below is our response to the TV3 reporter’s questions emailed to MenuMania.
“Thanks for giving us the opportunity to have a say in your story.
Much appreciated, as we are in fact thoroughly passionate about the restaurant industry in New Zealand, and love to see businesses thriving with successful restaurants and plenty of happy diners.
(Some restaurant owners have the misconception that MenuMania is out there to ‘get them’. But that could not be further from the truth.)
Please see our answers to your questions below.”
Q: How fair is a system which only allows one side of a story?
A: It is not correct to say that the system only allows one side of a story. Over the years, MenuMania has worked with both the Restaurant Association and Hospitality New Zealand to strike a balanced and fair process between restaurant owners and diners who write reviews.
MenuMania offers a suite of FREE tools for restaurant owners to help them manage their reviews.
Step 1: Restaurant owners can send a private message to a reviewer to request further information to help them get to the bottom of the situation.
Step 2: If the owner was unable to resolve the situation privately then the owner can post an Owner Comment which appears directly underneath that review and everyone can read it.
The Owner Comments can be used to tell potential customers what the restaurant has done to address a specific concern raised by a reviewer, provide correct information when a review contains inaccurate or outdated information, or provide the restaurant’s version of a difficult situation. Remember, all that other diners want to see, is that the restaurant owners care about their customers, and that they are passionate about their food and looking after their clientele.
These two tools (direct ‘private messaging’ & public ‘owner comments’) allow for a two-way communication between business owners and customers and is certainly not one sided at all.
Q: Business owners say it is nearly impossible to get Menumania to remove inherently unfair reviews. What do you make of this?
A: What is your definition of ‘inherently unfair’? MenuMania can’t be mediator or judge when it comes to factual disputes in a review, there are always two sides to every story – so the business owner needs to contact the reviewer privately or post a public response to clarify any misunderstandings. If however, the review violates MenuMania’s Content Guidelines (eg, racist content, or a confessed ex-employee), or also if the review is highly extreme in someway (eg, an accusation of food-poisoning – which is treated in an entirely different way and not published), then we strongly urge everyone to bring the review to our attention straight away.
Every time an unfavourable review is posted on a restaurant’s page, the restaurant owner automatically receives an email (assuming they have claimed their business listing). The email provides a link to information on how best to manage their reviews. Those restaurant owners who have become familiar with using MenuMania as a tool for communicating with their customers will take the time to read this information and respond to the review appropriately. Usually, the business owners who you describe as unhappy, are the ones who have ‘yet to learn’ how to deal with social media, and some of these particular owners resort to blaming MenuMania for their frustration with not yet understanding how to use the simple but effective MenuMania tools available to them. They perhaps are not aware how important it is to put just a little bit of time into looking after their customers who have shared about a not-so-good experience at their restaurant in the ever-growing social media space. Some of these restaurant owners feel that their customers are unqualified to comment because they are not professional ‘food critics’, and fall into the trap of simply ignoring the feedback.
We would like to extend as much online help as possible to those restaurant owners who haven’t yet started engaging fully with their diners on MenuMania. It may take a mindset shift for some business owners to realise that MenuMania is actually a really positive forum through which to interact with their customers – both happy and unhappy ones. We have seen really wonderful results with those owners who have written personally to an unhappy customer. Just as in the restaurant setting, so much depends on how complaints are handled. The hard-feelings around the initial cause for the complaint can vanish very quickly when staff are graceful and helpful, and go out of their way to make things right. But when a diner makes a complaint about their food or experience and the staff are rude or neglectful in return, the diner’s experience only gets worse. This same kind of process occurs on MenuMania, and we really encourage restaurant owners to treat this as a positive way to address their customers’ concerns in a safe and non-threatening online space.
Click here to see an example of how Euro Restaurant’s handling of some negative comments in a customer review led to a positive update from the reviewer:
Check out this link if you’d like to see more independent advice on how to turn a negative review into a positive thing for a business.
Q: Do you think reviewers need to be held accountable for the potential damage they are doing to businesses?
A: Of course people need to review responsibly, and in line with the MenuMania’s Review Guidelines, which are displayed on the page where people write reviews. MenuMania is merely a forum, where people share about their good and not-so-good eating out experiences with fellow diners online, just like people share their opinions online on the articles that TV3 publishes on its website.
Also, all eating establishments in NZ are on a level playing field to begin with, as every eating establishment in NZ has a listing on MenuMania. The reality is that most restaurants across MenuMania have a sprinkling of unfavourable reviews, and anecdotal feedback shows us that MenuMania diners know to take reviews and ratings with ‘a grain of salt’, as they know that all opinions are just that – one person’s subjective opinion is a reflection of personal taste.
The other reality is that consumers have the right to talk about what they like (and don’t like) about an eating-out experience. It’s no different than people telling others online what you think about a fridge you just purchased.
When restaurant owners who have become familiar with using MenuMania as a tool for communicating with their customers engage with the process, then they can entirely mitigate the impact of a negative review. It’s also useful to note that having several rave reviews, with the occasional negative one mixed in, is actually beneficial to a business, because the odd negative comment reinforces the credibility of that business’s dominant positive reviews.
Q: Do you think bad reviewers are aware of the consequences of their actions?
A: People do have the right to talk about their experience at a restaurant where they have spent their hard earned dollars. We live in a free country and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Some reviewers choose to not give any feedback to the restaurant while still on the premises, in order to avoid any potential conflict with the owner or the staff. Some people will tell owners at the restaurant and will also then go on to write a review about that experience online. That’s the nature of the world of social media that we live in. Nowadays, people share about anything & everything online.
Q: It is easy to find plenty of reviews on the website which give one star reviews for reasons such as too much garlic in the garlic bread, or a ten minute wait. Statistically, these one star ratings drag down the overall rating for otherwise four and five star restaurants, for no reason other than that there are no repercussions for this behaviour. Is this a problem? If so, does it need to be fixed?
A: 75% of the reviews on MenuMania are positive. The example of ‘too much garlic’ or ‘a ten minute wait’ were probably not the only reasons that contributed to the unfavourable review. Food is such a personal taste and everyone has a different opinion.
Q: The Menumania system is easily corruptible – both by businesses posting their own reviews and by competing businesses posting bad reviews. How does Menumania control this?
A: It’s incorrect to say that the system is easily corruptible. In an effort to maximize trustworthiness of the reviews, MenuMania actively filters out suspicious reviews through a combination of community self-policing and automated filtering. The system is designed to make sure the reviews that consumers rely on are as authentic and useful as possible. More information about MenuMania’s review filter can be found here.
While the system is not perfect (what social media system is perfect), we believe that overall it does a great job.