Customer reviews can make or break a business.
With more and more people checking out pubs, restaurants, and cafes online before deciding whether to visit them, it’s essential that managers keep a close eye on the things their customers are saying about them.
Responding to negative feedback is an art in and of itself. But there are times when even the most level-headed of business owners seemingly reaches breaking point and decides to give a customer both barrels when replying to their review.
Today, we’ll be looking at five business owners whose responses to customer reviews were so scathing, clever, or downright funny, that they made us glad not to be on the receiving end.
We’re sure we can all learn something from them...
1. “Take your foul mouth somewhere else”
Leeds-based restaurant The Oriental Express made local headlines in August this year after earning a reputation among Just Eat users for their savage replies to negative reviews.
Owner Alice Cheung — who told Leeds Live that she likes to reply to customer reviews personally — certainly doesn’t mince her words, openly calling some customers idiots or telling them to cook their own food if they’re not happy with what they received.
Here’s just a sample of the reviews, and replies, on The Oriental Express’ Just Eat page…
Not even “Philip”, who gave the restaurant a perfectly decent 4 out of 6, made it off the website without a rap on the knuckles...
In fairness to owner Alice, her restaurant currently has a rating of 5 out of 6 on Just Eat, and she’s just as likely to thank her happy customers for their positive reviews as she is to chastise those whose claims she doesn’t agree with.
Even so, we’re not sure we have the guts to take her on if we did have a complaint to make...
2. Diner gets schooled in business
Despite boasting an overall score of 4.5 on TripAdvisor, Isle of Wight restaurant The Terrace received a particularly scathing review in August this year from one dissatisfied patron.
Titling their review “Computer says no”, reviewer “Phil” starts by describing The Terrace as “a very good restaurant” with a “great setting, good food and attentive staff”.
But then things suddenly go downhill.
Presented as a page-long, line-by-line exchange between themselves and their waiter, Phil attacks The Terrace for refusing to serve items that didn’t appear on the menu...
“The place just annoyed me seriously with a ‘computer says no’ service attitude,” Phil writes, before describing how his choice of cocktails wasn’t available.
He then had apparently problems with his food order, being told that he couldn’t receive a smaller portion of mussels — which appear on the menu as a main course — as a starter instead.
Phil ends his review by telling The Terrace that they’d “lost out on ~£100 of good wine I would have ordered”, and advising would-be diners to “be ready to order what they have – not what you want.”
Needless to say, Phil’s review did not sit well with The Terrace’s owner, who posted a reply the next day:
“I’m really sorry but I'm going to explain restaurants a bit to you,” the owner begins.
“I know you’ll hate me, but honestly I think it will help you have more positive dining experiences."
They then go on to systematically break down Phil’s review, explaining in no uncertain terms that restaurants are busy places, and that guests’ individual requests can’t always be catered to.
“On the day of your visit, we served 300 people,” the owner explains. ”I know you think we only served you, but we didn't - there were lots of other guests to consider and we have a whole team of staff to make happy as well.”
From there, things got a little more heated...
“Bloody Marys are not currently on our menu. I'm sorry the bar person couldn't pop to the shop to pick up a tomato juice but it simply wasn't practical at the time as she had 50 other guests to make drinks for.
“Espresso Martinis are not currently on our menu,” they continue. “I'm sorry the bar person couldn't pop to the shop and pick up some Kahlua but she was pretty flat out serving 50 other diners.”
“I know it seems unreasonable of us to expect diners to select from a menu rather than implement a system that allows them to request whatever they want, but having taken a poll of guests at the start of the season 99% opted for the familiar comfort of a written menu.”
They then addressed the “mussel” issue...
“I'm saddened to hear you felt the need to leave half your mussels. This is sad as they are very nice mussels. If we have them on as a starter it creates stock issues. I won’t go into the systems for kitchen organisation that impact our decision making as they are even more complicated than the concept of a menu.”
The Terrace’s owner concludes their response with a “recommendation” for other diners:
“I think I speak for most of the hospitality industry when I say that guests are typically expected to order what’s available. We write a menu, we buy the stock and train the team; diners pick from the options on offer.
“My top tip is to read menus online before visiting restaurants to pick the one that features things you want.”
“Turning up and expecting restaurants to create what you want on the spot is very likely to lead to disappointment, awkwardness and/or reviews that make you look a little bit entitled.”
We think Phil might have got the message!
3. Owners with “no personality" flip review on its head
The owners of The Anglers Rest, a popular pub in Ballyconnell, Northern Ireland, didn’t just take issue with one particular review — they actually turned it into a selling point.
“Well used to this place as [we] live about twenty miles away,” began one TripAdvisor review, which was titled ‘Pathetic service’.
“Booked a table for Sunday evening. All our party hadn’t arrived at 5pm at time table was booked, [but] at 5.10 pressure was put on us to order even though we didn’t know what other people wanted!!!!!!!”
The review really comes into its own, however, when the writer describes their interaction with the owners.
“Service was very mediocre with two young fellas who had absolutely no personality [and] seemed to be brothers,” they wrote.
“Will be a while before we are back due to personality of two male staff and pathetic service,” they concluded.
Perhaps mercifully, neither of the “two young fellas” mentioned in the review opted to write a reply.
They did, however, put their critic’s comments to good use, scribbling a rebuttal on an A-board positioned outside their pub, reading:
“Come in and meet the ‘two young fellas who had absolutely no personality who seemed to be brothers’ - Jane. M. on TripAdvisor.
Note: We are brothers."
A photo of the sign was then shared on the pub’s Facebook page, catching the eye of numerous news outlets, much to the amusement of their readers.
“If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success,” the pub later added, echoing the wise words of Malcolm X.
4. “Entitled toddler” gets a forensic reply
The customer is always right. That is, unless they exaggerate the cost of their bill and leave out important details...
After her visit to The Cowshed at Hucknall ended with her party being asked to leave, one disgruntled patron took to Facebook to leave a heated review.
“Went here yesterday for sister in law’s 50th. Lovely little bar - spent approx £700 between us on drinks and pizza,” reviewer ‘Jo’ began in her comment.
“Served by some members of staff with an awful attitude - told we must drink up and leave [and] can’t come back because one member of our party was too drunk,” she continues.
“I have never been spoken to in such a way. Yes our family member was sick and YES WE CLEANED IT UP - so no members [of] staff were affected by this - maybe a course for your staff in customer service wouldn’t go amiss.“
Unfortunately, Jo picked the wrong business to mess with, with The Cowshed’s owner calmly picking apart pretty much every claim she made.
“Hi Jo, thanks for reaching out! We love feedback, whether it be positive or negative,” The Cowshed’s reply began.
“We especially love feedback like this so others can see the type of people we have to deal with sometimes."
They then went on to address the party’s alleged £700 spend.
“Our most expensive pizza on the menu is £9.00. This means that if you ordered only pizzas, you’d have to order 77 of them to be even close to spending £700.”
“But let’s talk drinks,” the reply continues. “The most expensive drink we sell is a double gin & mixer at £6.10, this means you’d have to order 115 of these to be even close to spending £700.
“Seeing as you are having trouble with your memory & maths, I went over our point of sale system this afternoon for you, along with viewing our footage of your party on CCTV and a copy of your receipts.“
“What you and your party spent, Jo, was a far more realistic £280.”
The lesson didn’t stop there, however. The business owner goes on to review Jo and her party in return.
“You all acted like belligerent, entitled little toddlers from the moment you walked through our gates,” they write.
"At 4:30pm you showed up with the tables you wanted already taken, but not to worry, we shuffled other customers about at your request in order to accommodate you.
“Then you proceeded to pull our light fittings loose off our boundary fence in order to hang your birthday decor,” the rebuke continues.
"We cleaned up all the smashed pint glasses you broke and birthday cake you dropped and smeared all over our tables and benches, and tolerated the many loud family rows you were having with each other."
”Then, for your party's grand finale, the gentleman in the blue shirt headed into our bar from outside and decided to vomit everywhere but the toilet."
Finally, the reply ended with a clear message for the reviewer and her party.
"Consider this your official barring. Don't you or your group ever set foot through our doors again.”
5. Pub owner takes the high road, wins hearts
We end our rowdy review rundown with a visit to The Stanhill Pub and Kitchen in Lancashire, which made headlines in November this year after its owner took one reviewer to task over their negative comments.
The one-star review, which was titled ‘Overpriced and undercooked’, complained not only about the food, but claimed that their meal was repeatedly interrupted by the sound of a “doorbell”.
“If you like to hear a doorbell every 30 seconds and like undercooked food this is the place for you,” begins reviewer Steven on TripAdvisor.
“£12.50 for frozen fish n chips is in no way acceptable. Mum n Dad had beef sunday dinner they couldn't cut the meat so had to request steak knives. Even then Mum couldn't cut it [and it] had to be sent back to cook longer. £60.50 total for 4 mains and drinks totally overpriced.”
Perhaps the most damning indictment came at the end of the review, however.
“I'm really struggling to understand all the good comments on here based on my experience. Don't go - you will be disappointed,” Steven ends.
It was owner Brian Healy’s reply, however, that really set tongues wagging online. Polite, professional, and refreshingly sincere, Brian’s response was swooped in on by a number of news outlets.
“As your assessment of my establishment is so scathing I’ve waited a week to put together a considered response and have answered each of your criticisms below,” Brian begins his response.
“Had you made your dissatisfaction known at the time, I would have done all I could to answer your concerns at the time.”
He then goes on to address the complaint about the “doorbell”.
“The doorbell is a mechanism to alert service staff to attend the kitchen; this is usually to deliver plated dishes to the restaurant. This will not have occurred every 30 seconds. During a Sunday service this will occur approximately every 5 minutes and is set to a discreet tone and an appropriate volume. I’m sorry that you found it intrusive.”
The publican then goes on to defend The Stonehill’s food, proudly naming the local businesses he works with.
“To suggest that my fish and chips are frozen and that the beef used is inferior is an insult to me, my team and our suppliers. All of our fish is provided fresh by Neve Fishmongers of Fleetwood. The batter is made daily. Fish is battered and fried on demand. The potatoes for the chips are provided by Robert Wellock & Son of Preston. They are chipped daily and cooked on demand. The beef used for our Sunday Roasts is 35 day matured Sirloin of beef provided by Whitakers Butchers here in Oswaldtwistle. It is slow cooked and sliced to my exacting standards.”
Brian then explains how the pub arrives at its prices.
“£60.50 for 4 main dishes and 4 drinks equates to just over £15 each for fresh local produce and a premium quality drinks from a tied brewery pub. The price paid covers the cost of raw ingredients for your meal and contributes to the rent paid on the building; the gas, water and electricity; the kitchen staff who prepared and cooked your meals; the service staff who took your order, delivered your meal and served your drinks; the cleaner who ensures that your visit is clean and pleasant; the Covid regulations we are forced to trade under; the license to play music that made the atmosphere; the till system that ensures your orders are managed properly and dozens of other unseen overheads.”
“We’ve worked hard over the last 3 years to transform The Stanhill from a broken boozer on the brink of being lost to the community into a busy and well loved community asset that provides employment for dozens of hardworking and diligent staff,” Brian ends his reply.
“It is my belief that the comments you rudely dismissed are a true reflection of The Stanhill and we take great pride in them.”
If there were ever a masterclass in how to reply to negative TripAdvisor reviews, we think Brian could teach it.
As a business owner, there's a lot that can be learnt from the above responses.
While we'd never suggest following in The Oriental Express' footsteps by intentionally savaging your critics online, it has to be said that Alice's witty retorts have arguably helped put her business on the map.
Similarly, The Anglers Rest's decision to turn a negative comment into a selling point shows that, with a bit of creative thinking, even the harshest customer review can be transformed into an opportunity.
However you choose to deal with criticism of your business online, keep in mind that readers will be paying just as much, if not more, attention to the reply you post as to the review itself. Be sure to choose your words carefully, and try not to let your emotions get the better of you.