If you run a business, it’s probably happened to you: your first bad Yelp review. “Worst meatball sub of my entire life,” or “Avoid this place like the plague—the food is overpriced.” 

Your first reaction might be to freak out. After all, word-of-mouth advertising is a major factor in the success of any restaurant, and Yelp is all about the recommendations of previous customers. So what do you do if your Yelp reviews aren’t going the direction you’d like? Here are a few ideas.

Don’t Take It Personally

First of all, remember that the internet is an anonymous place, and people tend to behave more boldly when they don’t have to say things right to someone’s face. Customers are reluctant to tell your sever that your $30 steak is overcooked, perhaps for fear of making the staff feel bad or of retaliation from the staff (i.e. the cringe-worthy fear of somebody spitting in their food). But dissatisfied customers are always a lot less inhibited when they’re back home.

Another thing to keep in mind is that their judgments aren’t about you, particularly if you never met them personally. Their judgments are about their experience. Occasionally, an experience can be thrown off by something small that was out of your control. The best way to approach the issue is to first understand what happened. 

Find Out If It’s True

Instead of getting defensive, do some research and check to see if the complaints were actually valid. The fish might’ve been overcooked; the place might really have bugs; the bathroom might actually have a weird smell. Familiarity with a place causes us to adapt to and overlook things that may be pretty obvious to an outsider. So if you have doubts about the validity of a Yelp complaint, invite an objective set of eyes to inspect the issues.

If this objective evaluator finds the same problem as the Yelp complaint, do your best to remedy the issue. Evaluate and retrain your weakest cook; implement more efficient front-of-house operations; axe that dish that gets a ton of negative reviews from the menu. Also, keep in mind that the majority of Yelp reviews are critical of customer service, so spend a bit of time throughout the month going over your service policy with your workers and implementing any necessary changes.

Then, send a message to the negative reviewer that thanks them for bringing the issue to your attention. Tell them the steps you took to alleviate the problem, and invite them back with an exclusive coupon or deal.

If they do return, great. Ask them about their latest experience with your restaurant, and if it was positive, encourage them to write another review praising the changes. If they still refuse to return to your restaurant, at least you solved a noticeable problem and prevented more complaints.

If the Reviewer Was Wrong

If your investigations find a reviewer was wrong, and your attempt to message them privately wasn’t fruitful, you must resist the urge to lash out. No matter how wrong the reviewer is, how poorly he or she treated your staff, or how personal the reviewer’s complaint was, you must keep your cool. A retaliatory response could make you look short-tempered and sway Yelp users to believe the reviewer’s complaint over your defense. 

The best way to respond to a negative review (and come out looking like the more mature party) is to kill them with kindness. Thank them for their review. Assure them it was a one-time incident, or inform them of steps you took to alleviate the problem, then invite them to return. If they accused your business of something outright false that makes you look bad, you can let them know that you are sorry they had a bad experience, politely deny the occurrence of the incident and offer them a chance to return so you can resolve the issue.

If these unfriendly reviewers don’t return, good. That’s one less problem customer to worry about. If they do return, try your best to make their experience as pleasant as possible, and pray they return the favor with a positive review.

Either way, the last thing you want to do is engage in an online war with an anonymous reviewer. No matter how right you feel, you will come off as vindictive to a potential customer browsing your Yelp page. And while it’s okay to drop the occasional disgruntled customer, it’s not okay to lose out on new ones because of it.

Let It Be

Let’s face it: the web is filled with all sorts of people, including the occasional individual who is impossible to please or simply likes to complain. The negative reviews could also be from a competitor who’s trying to sabotage your restaurant and elicit an angry response that’ll scare off new customers. 

So instead of giving the trolls what they want, let someone else take care of it. If the posts are clearly untrue or are supposed to be for another restaurant, they may violate Yelp’s terms of service. You can then flag the review, and Yelp’s support team will evaluate the issue before making a decision on whether or not to delete the comment. If you can actually prove you’ve lost revenue because of the comments (and you really have the courage to do this), you might want to see a lawyer. Business owners have successfully won cases against negative reviewers, but pursuing this angle costs a lot of time and money—and it could do further damage to your reputation.

Conclusion

People will look up your restaurant on Yelp, and it will affect your business whether you like it or not. Sooner or later, you’re going to get a bad review. If you react to them correctly, these bad reviews don’t have to hurt your business or give you an ulcer. As long as your overall Yelp reputation is solid, don’t let the vitriol of a single customer take your attention away from continuing to attract positive ones.