Everyone’s a Critic: How to Respond to Online Reviews

Online Review

Written by PR Assistant Amanda Rubalcava.

Whether searching through ratings on TripAdvisor or skimming lists on Yelp for the best burger in town, it’s no secret that online reviews often rule real-life decisions. Thoughts from fellow patrons now guide consumers on which restaurant to visit, what hotel to book and which entrées are must-tries. According to the Pew Research Center, “82 percent of U.S. adults say they at least sometimes read online customer ratings or reviews before purchasing items for the first time.” As a result, thoughtfully responding to both positive and negative reviews has become increasingly important for business owners.

In this ocean of online complaints and compliments, anyone with a computer or phone can be a critic. Below are some examples* and tips to help businesses respond to online reviews the right way.

Act Fast

One crucial aspect in maintaining a positive relationship with customers is responding in a timely manner. While it is easy to give unfavorable reviews no attention, replying to unhappy patrons immediately is the best way to address their complaints. Along the same thread, responding to comments in a timely manner shows future customers that the restaurant is attentive to all patrons.

In the below response, the owner skillfully replied to a 1-star rating the same day it was posted. His response addressed the restaurant’s mistakes and listed his apologies, as well as confirmed that the guest’s entire meal was comped. While the timeliness of the owner’s comment is applauded, calling out negative aspects of a competing restaurant should be avoided when posting a public response. Stay positive!

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Respond Publicly to Positive and Negative Reviews

While sites like Yelp allow business owners to privately respond to users, posting public responses is an important method to establish a genuine customer-business relationship. For example, by providing satisfied reviewers with well-deserved appreciation, future patrons can rest assured that the restaurant listens to feedback. In the below response, the marketing manager successfully replied to a 5-star rating with high regard and recognition. Not only did he thank the customer, but he confirmed that the positive remarks will be shared with the restaurant’s team. Building goodwill with vocal customers can encourage others to post their own positive ratings as well.

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Additionally, responding to negative reviewers is just as important as spotlighting happy customers. Businesses can ensure all customer issues are addressed by commenting to negative reviews publicly, bringing awareness to the concern before offering to reach out privately for additional information.

Invite Customers Back

When customers post negative remarks, business owners, or their representatives, should respond with a request to correct their mistakes. In the review below, the restaurant owner apologized to the customer and urged them to come back. In offering to personally take care of the reviewer, the owner is stepping in to ensure she makes up for where the restaurant went wrong. While there is no exact formula that promises every customer will be happy, remaining a gracious host can provide the opportunity to turn negative experiences around and the possibility of an updated review. Choose meal comping carefully, and privately if appropriate, as you don’t want to set a precedent for those looking for freebies.

Invite Customers back


Be Specific

Replying to an unsatisfied customer is not the time to react defensively. Instead, respond to reviews in a concise and mindful manner, addressing complaints without attacking the customer. Below, the owner began on a positive note by first apologizing to the customer, then explaining the exact reason behind a recent policy change. By being clear and specific, the owner will hopefully make the customer – and others – understand the need for the change.

Be Specific


Be Respectful

Above all, it is important to remain respectful and authentic when replying to online reviews. Effective responses should thank guests for their review, then go on to apologize on the business’ behalf, if appropriate. In the hotel review below, the manager personally acknowledged a guest’s complaints by assuring his feedback was received. In 2016, Tourism Management journal shared that using a human voice yielded favorable customer perceptions. By validating all feelings in a calm and polite manner, businesses can maintain their public reputation with poise.

 Be Respectful


Research shows that Americans report being more influenced by negative reviews than positive ones, so it is crucial to respond to dissatisfied individuals with tact. By acting fast, providing the opportunity for corrections, being specific, responding publically and remaining respectful, a business can successfully maintain a positive public reputation and consumer trust. By following the above guidelines, all reviews can transform into opportunities to effectively frame a business in a positive manner.


*Examples found via Yelp and TripAdvisor, and are not JWC clients or responses.