Don't just yelp about poor online reviews

Poor service, low quality food, bad presentation. Ripped off. The worst experience ever. Not worth waiting. Don’t bother. The food was awful. 

These are a sampling of headlines on TripAdvisor customer reviews of six top-rated local restaurants. Yes, you read that correctly — these reviews were of top-rated restaurants, meaning that as terrible as these reviewers thought these restaurants were, many other reviewers — sometimes hundreds, in fact — gave the same establishments enough glowing reviews to push the eateries to the top of the TripAdvisor ratings lists for their locations in New London, Mystic, Groton and Westerly. 

Such is the world of online reviews and commentary. Even as many customers post highly complimentary reviews of a business online at sites such as TripAdvisor, Open Table or Yelp, or on social media sites such as Facebook, inevitably a business also will rack up a few reviews that are derogatory, sometimes bitingly so. Unfortunately for small business owners who often operate with fairly low profit margins and who put their hearts, souls and countless hours of work into their establishments, the inflammatory reviews leave them feeling angry, hurt and betrayed. 

We advocate for more civility from online reviewers and also advise them to speak up about complaints and issues face to face as problems occur, instead of posting invectives online. Still, we know such a plea is not likely to change much digitally. Consumer reviewers have gained a powerful place in contemporary society and feel safe and anonymous enough to be more strident, forceful, negative and sometimes personally insulting online than they ever would be in person. 

The reality for small businesses is that online reviews not only are here to stay, but also that at least a few negative reviews are inevitable for most businesses. The business magazine Forbes has this advice for business owners: embrace online reviews, as they are powerful stuff. 

Here are some statistics to support that claim. Since its founding in 2004, 186 million people have used Yelp, a review site that originally focused on restaurants but has since branched out to encompass many types of businesses.Some 97 percent of consumers use the internet to find local businesses and 90 percent of customers say their purchasing decisions are influenced by online reviews. 

Also, while negative reviews may cause hurt feelings, they probably don’t influence business as much as might be thought. Consumers are likely savvy enough to look at trends in reviews, and comments that are outliers, negative or positive, are likely to be written off as anomalies. Forbes also contends that what counts in terms of negative online reviews is how business owners respond to them. Ignoring them is not smart. But reaching out online, perhaps offering compensation or explanation, builds good will not only with the original reviewer, but also with the whole online community of readers and followers. 

Take one local example. A single negative Facebook review recently was posted about a local restaurant. The one negative review prompted a reply from the restaurant owner, which then elicited 74 positive comments and glowing recommendations for the establishment. 

Despite this, it’s unfortunate that more online reviewers don’t air their complaints in person rather than in public digital space. If people wouldn’t say something in person, we don’t think it should be said online either.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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