Sunkanmi Ogunniyi: Managing Negative Restaurant Reviews on Social Media

Sunkanmi Ogunniyi is the Founder/ Chief Storyteller at The Lagos Weekender.


You’ve probably noticed the trend of customer complaints gaining viral attention on social media due to bad customer experiences. The hospitality industry, particularly restaurants, is now vulnerable to this scenario- a single disappointing visit to a restaurant initiating a chain reaction of online criticism and negative sentiment.

Businesses need feedback and reviews to improve their services, but some reviews can come across as an attack on the brand’s reputation, especially on social media. These negative reviews can have a significant impact on the business, deterring potential customers from patronizing it and ultimately affecting its revenue. However, it is important to remember that not all online reviews accurately represent the overall customer experience, as social media is not always a true reflection of reality.
Negative reviews should not deter you from providing excellent service but should be taken seriously and addressed promptly. How do you handle negative reviews and leverage them for your business?

Why So Many Bad Reviews?

The rise of social media brought along the phenomenon of ‘camera eats first’ and the ‘foodie’ culture where people feel the need to document and share their dining experiences, mostly as a means of self-expression according to this report. Some have taken it further and labelled themselves food content creators after sharing a series of edited photos or videos on their social media pages sometimes accompanying it with a review.

Unfortunately, the hospitality industry is centred on experiential offerings, which means that customer satisfaction is often subjective and based on individual preferences and experiences. People are more likely to share negative experiences than positive ones, and once a negative restaurant review goes viral, things can quickly spiral out of control. For example, a popular cafe in Lagos recently disabled its social media page after a customer shared that they were overcharged, which only made an already bad situation worse.

What Can you do?
While user-generated content (UGC) are a great way for hospitality businesses to significantly enhance their appeal and increase awareness, it shouldn’t compromise the brand or customer experience. For example, some businesses have chosen to limit the extent of content that can be created within their space, others have limited access to areas within the space while some others have prohibited it entirely. These solutions will only have a temporary effect and have certainly been met with a lot of dissatisfaction by customers and even outright boycotting of some establishments. Here are some helpful tips to consider:

  • Have a plan: Determine the type of experience you want to provide, making sure it reflects your brand’s core values. You can also consider a customer feedback form that allows guests to share their reviews while within the premises. Your hostesses may do the job of asking guests about their experience on their way out. You can also reward guests who fill out the form or share their experience.
  • Resolve Crisis/Issues Effectively: A bad review has gone viral, and you’re unsure what to do. Don’t be tempted to ignore or conceal the issue, this is the stage where you display transparency and empathy. Get the full picture of the situation by talking to relevant stakeholders and addressing the issues promptly. Transparent communication is also vital, apologise openly if necessary and show genuine remorse. You may offer such guests a chance to try your service again for free or issue a public apology. Additionally, openly sharing the steps you’ve taken to address any concerns raised by the guest can help build trust.
  • Explore Collaborations: Collaborations can indeed be a powerful way to turn negative reviews into positive outcomes. By addressing concerns and inviting creators to share their updated experiences, you will not only rectify issues but also build stronger relationships and make them brand advocates. Once you’ve established that they’re interested in collaborating, offer them a free visit and set up a simple verification process, followed by providing them with a pass or code that grants them access to create content upon their visit.
  • Keep Your Staff Informed: Equipping your staff to effectively manage the process is crucial and probably the most important rule. Provide training to explain why these reviews are important, and teach them how to interact with anyone with an intent to create content. If possible have a dedicated staff to deal with such situations. Every interaction with your guest should be reasonable and empathetic to create a positive experience.

As social media and the hospitality sector continue to intersect and change, achieving a balance between guest experience and brand goals demands careful strategy, clear communication, and a dedication to delivering an authentic experience that resonates with the establishment’s core values.


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