One of those scathing publican responses to a bad customer review on social media was doing the rounds this weekend and kicked off a bit of a discussion amongst some of us about how far you can go with your reply to a reviewer, what a business should put up with and how right are customers anyway. A lot of these posts have been shared since Trip-Advisor became a thing, situations where some irate and curiously often near-illiterate customer of a restaurant / pub etc has an experience that doesn’t match up to their own particular expectations, so they wait till they get home, then put finger to keyboard in a pithy attempt to destroy somebody’s business. Only to get owned by the person responding for the business who uses strange things like “facts” and “common sense” to pull apart to complaint. We have had a few in our local area over the years that should have been award winning (shout out to Phil at Los Gatos who used to bring philosophy, psychology, and high-brow literature references into his fabulous ripostes).
But this one really struck a chord because it was the first post lockdown one I had read so directly referenced distancing regulations and the current tough trading situation. You can read the review and the response here on the pubs Facebook page and revel in the responders excellent turn of phrase (I did love the use of “entitled toddlers”) and usage of basic mathematics to make a point. Essentially, a bunch of selfish, ignorant idiots had come to the pub for a 50th birthday party, basically treated the place like it was their own home, drank irresponsibly, got argumentative and abusive with staff, and, most pertinently at the moment, ignored simple Covid restrictions, restrictions put in place to protect not just themselves but the other customers of the establishment, and especially the staff! Like I said, selfish and ignorant. They blast the establishment for not letting them initially move tables, for trying to control their boorish behaviour, and having the temerity to ask them to leave when one of the party vomits all over the floor inside. Then, in there “review” perfectly illustrated their own overblown sense of self importance by vastly over-estimating the value of their business to the pub that night (if accidental, a perfect illustration of how hard it is to make a profit in the trade – the customer thinks they have spent £700 but actually it is nearer £250).
Now, in my mind, if a customer as blatantly stupid as this one was to complain in this way I would be inclined to respond in as blunt a manner as the landlord in this example (I have done it before, much to the annoyance of Linda, when, during our first year of trading a chap questioned our prices and stated we wouldn’t last a year. His reasoning was weak and easily challenged, and so I kept his business card and invited him back for a drink on the house for our first anniversary. He did not respond and three years further down the line, we are still here). Of course, if a provided service is substandard a customer has the right to take issue. If, however, the biggest issue is the customers own misguided perception of what they “deserve” then I say go both barrels in response.
The validity of online reviews via sites like Trip Advisor, Google, and Facebook, is something that has often been debated. Whilst it is a good thing for customers to be able to feedback, it is all too easy for somebody to post unbalanced views or purposefully defame a business. I am always an advocate of complaining at the time if you have any issue in a restaurant or pub. This lets the business attempt to rectify it for you. What is the point in getting frothy at the mouth 24 days later when you are at home? If all you need to do is to vent, do not do it on a public forum. Rant at your family or friends instead, or just write it down, save it and then read it back when you feel better and realise you have been a childish idiot and delete it sheepishly. Then, no harm done to anyone other than your fragile ego.
It is hard enough in the hospitality trade at the best of times, without having to deal with the fall out from customers who are so self-centred that they have no concept of life beyond the end of their own nose and are ignorant of the fact they share that hospitality space with other people who are also paying hard earned money to enjoy themselves and have as equal a right to do so in peace without suffering the actions of idiots. Staff also should be able to earn a living without having to deal with the attitude and abuse of these kind of people, let alone clearing up their mess, whether that is human biological waste or just food crushed into the soft furnishings.
Luckily here at The Tuppenny, we do not tend to get that behaviour all that often. We can count the number of ejections each year without taking off our socks, and those that do happen are always pretty tame events (I tried to explain why we have such a nice customer base in a previous blog you can read here). But we have had one or two negative reviews over the years, each of which does not sit well at the time, but in reflection all are petty or pointless. We have had “stars” knocked off because someone did not like the background music. They adored the rest of their experience of course, but our choice of music was not to their taste. Or there was the person who took a strong dislike to the colour we had painted the walls. One early review slated us for our treatment of him as he felt singled out and persecuted because we had made him leave but ignored the fact he had harassed and verbally abused another customer and then the staff who dealt with him. In a much better example of irony than Alanis Morrissette ever thought of, he was later shared round social media in a viral video which showed him verbally abusing people on the London Underground based on their gender and race. He has never been back, funnily.
But these negative reviews can have serious implications for a business, and they can play on the mind even when you know they should not. There are industry stories of staff feeling so singled out that they quit jobs or suffer mental health issues and worse, just based on unfounded customer reviews and there is not much that can be done to stop them, short of taking down the websites that host them (who generally have a pretty poor track record of policing fake and malicious reviews) and we certainly are all for free speech.
There are things we can do to minimise the impacts of these nasty reviews though, and they are especially pertinent in the current trading climate. If we all got in the habit of sharing our positive experiences at hospitality venues, we can bury the more malicious or selfish reviews and help all the great independent places to survive and thrive. Yes, not just us at the Tuppenny, but all those wonderful local venues out there who are struggling to get by but pulled out all the stops over lockdown to keep you guys going. So, shout from the rooftops or Google, Facebook, or Trip Advisor about how great your local spots are and do them a massive favour. They need it.