If you own a restaurant, somehow are involved in the restaurant industry, or even watch TV, you have no doubt heard about what recently happened to the owner of Boners BBQ, when a diner gave the restaurant a two star review on Yelp!.
The intent of this post is not to rehash what happened in that particular situation. Let’s face it, “criminal poor judgement” is pretty much the only way you can describe that situation. This unfortunate situation did get me thinking though, about other restaurants that have faced such challenges, and how they were able to rise to the occasion and turn negativity into positivity and come out on top.
One such restaurant that immediately came to mind, was our client, Wicked Chicken Wings. Wicked Chicken is a relatively new (opened in September 2011) restaurant that specializes in Hot Wings, Cold Beer and TONS of Sports Programming. The owner of the restaurant, Matthew McClean has years of experience running such establishments, having successfully ran a Cluck University Chicken franchise, and two University Chicken locations.
While running restaurants was something Matthew enjoyed, having a restaurant of his own was always his dream. Familiar with what it takes to run a successful restaurant, and understanding that a good location is one of the most important factors, when starting a new restaurant, to start his own restaurant, it would have to be “the perfect” location. The problem though was that after an exhaustive search throughout the South Bay Area, an acceptable location could not be found.
As fate would have it, one day, the perfect location presented itself. It not only was perfect, but it was a location he had actually worked at, during his tenure with University Chicken Company. For a myriad of reasons that aren’t pertinent to this article, the landlord of the location was not going to be renewing the lease to the existing tenant, and offered the space to Matthew. Without giving it a second thought, Matthew immediately jumped on the opportunity, and signed a long term lease.
With that, Wicked Chicken Wings was born. We had six months to prepare with Matthew, for the launch of the restaurant. We were thorough in approach to the launch of this restaurant, taking account of every single need and potential pitfall, along the way.
About 60 days away from opening day though, we realized that there was a major factor that none of us had anticipated. This major factor was possibly going to be the difference form Wicked Chicken staying in business, or going out of business. This major factor was the prior tenant.
The first problem became apparent when Matthew got a call from the Alcohol Beverage Control. Apparently “someone” had filed a written complaint against Wicked Chicken, demanding that they not be issued a beer and wine license. This would obviously be catastrophic for a “wings and beer” joint. Luckily, the officials at the ABC stated that by law, they were obligated to inform Matthew of the complaint. They went on to say though that the objection was obviously slanted, mean spirited and had nothing to do with the normal processes they follow when approving or denying liquor licenses. So in short, problem solved.
Then there was the next problem. The prior tenant, though not allowed to strip the building of the attached fixtures (i.e. counters, hood, walk-in, etc.), as per their lease agreement, stripped the building down to the floors. Not the best luck, considering this was going to push back the opening date, however it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Quickly it was found that the restaurant was filthy. Tile floors in the kitchen were so filthy that the grout had layers of grease on them that couldn’t be removed. The bathrooms were similar to what you might find at a gas station, and some of the kitchen wasn’t up to code, needing extra drains installed, and the electric fixed. Matthew dealt with all these things, one by one, and also got the additional opportunity to design his own restaurant floor plan and have all new fixtures and appliances installed. All in all, this set back the opening about 2 months from the original open date.
Matthew muscled through all the set backs, and it was finally opening day. Ecstatic that “the other guys couldn’t get him down”, he did what all restaurant owners do: He practically lived in his restaurant, working long hours, to make sure his grand opening was a success. As with all new restaurants, there were opening day nightmares. The fryer for instance, which had been tested and run for a few days, during “soft opening”, that functioned just fine, decided to break on the Grand Opening Day. Not good. Timing of the food got off, and the staff, all capable, but all new, had some problems recovering from this.
Part of what we do for Wicked Chicken is manage their social media. We were at the restaurant for the grand opening and immediately went into disaster mode, working with Matthew to give comps to those that were most affected by the opening day bugs. We also started closely monitoring their Yelp! and Facebook Fan pages, to ensure that any bad reviews would be quickly responded to.
Even though there were clearly some poor reviews, as a direct response to the opening day bugs, what we also discovered, was that the prior tenant was having their diners give poor reviews of Wicked Chicken, even though by reading the posts, it was obvious they hadn’t ever actually stepped foot in the restaurant. What to do now?
We met with Matthew right away to discuss this with him and our fear that if he responded incorrectly, it could light an uncontrollable fire. Right out of the gate though, he “just got it”. He was of course upset, but he wasn’t going to “sink down to the other guy’s level”, or “sling mud”. Even though we handle all his social media for him, he also wanted to handle these initial reviews and comments himself, as he thought it was very important to the successful launch of his restaurant. This guy is a gamer. He used our social media monitoring system to track every review or comment, good or bad, and respond to them PERSONALLY.
For bad reviews, he offered to buy the patron’s next meal for them, if they would consider giving Wicked Chicken a second try. For the bad reviews that were clearly mud slinging from the “other guys”, he offered the same. For the reviews that had constructive criticism (e.g. the lighting in the restaurant is too bright), he not only responded to them, but actually instituted many of the suggestions the customers made. All in all, when all was said and done, Yelp! figured out that the “mud slingers” were just simply slinging mud, and deleted those reviews. The others remained, and many of the bad reviews were actually amended by the diners, noting how pleased they were with all the steps that were made to fix the problem, and how happy it made them that Matthew was so willing to listen to them.
The restaurant is doing VERY well now and Matthew couldn’t be happier. The “other guys” have gotten tired of trying to sling mud, and we are hopeful that from here on out, it will be business as usual.
It’s unfortunate that the guys at Boners BBQ didn’t have a company like ours to help them out. For anybody wondering where the line should be drawn, our rules of thumb are generally these:
• Do not be defensive- Everybody is entitled to their opinion. Being defensive discounts someone’s opinion, and will likely only make them more angry.
• Play Fair- If you are in a situation, such as the one Matthew was in, don’t sink to the other guy’s level. Be the bigger person.
• Consider constructive criticism- Just because you don’t see a problem, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Sometime third parties can offer the best advice that you might never have thought of.
• Know your limits- If you are “hot headed” and think you can’t deal with criticism, or if you are simply too busy to keep tabs on your reviews and comments, DO NOT just ignore it. Hire somebody (an outside firm, or even an employee) to handle it. It is not going to go away and it needs addressed.