Paul Brennan: Hospitality industry must fight malicious reviews

FEEDBACK is often underrated. ­Whatever the situation, ­whatever the circumstance, it helps us all to re-evaluate and evolve. This has never been more important in today's hospitality industry.
Online reviews can be vital for businees  but not if they are posted with ill-will.Online reviews can be vital for businees  but not if they are posted with ill-will.
Online reviews can be vital for businees but not if they are posted with ill-will.

I’ve been in the industry for nearly 25 years, working at the helm of some of the UK’s busiest restaurants, and reviews from our customers have always been crucial.

As co-owner of Edinburgh brasserie Dine, we take all feedback seriously. We actively seek it out through online reservation systems which prompt ­diners for their review and ­welcome public feedback on social media and user-generated online review platforms.

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Online reviews are a powerful marketing tool and today’s consumers are savvy – looking beyond a glossy website or slick advert to find out what a bar, ­restaurant or hotel is really like.

Sadly for the hospitality ­industry, such platforms continue to be misused and abused by a minority of customers. Whilst they are a small minority, they can cause maximum damage – which they know.

This happened to us ­recently with a diner who, while still in our restaurant, drafted what he called a “one-star terrible” ­TripAdvisor review and threatened staff with it, demanding a sizeable discount. The new duty manager felt forced into a sum the customer deemed acceptable in return for what was a minor inconvenience.

Despite stating he was extremely satisfied and ­reassured with how the ­matter was handled, even accepting complimentary cocktails and thanking staff for a wonderful afternoon, he still posted his damning and wholly ­inaccurate review.

It was, in my opinion, a form of blackmail and goes against the spirit of the site and other online review ­platforms. Overall, these ­platforms are a positive thing. Good reviews can boost business while ­others help companies ­evaluate and grow. But the problems that come with it still remain, despite ­measures in place to combat misuse.

I firmly believe more manpower needs to be dedicated to stamping out these ­practices by the minority. Indeed, some businesses are equally guilty, posting false reviews posing as customers to boost their own ratings.

I also believe the hospitality industry needs to make a stand against what is ­malicious behaviour.

But until then, what should we do?

Perhaps it’s time we stop shying away from nasty reviews with bland, apologetic management responses and fight back with a public reply that resells the business, highlights the inaccuracies yet instantly puts them in their place – then work with the websites to get their accounts shut down.

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Perhaps by the hospitality industry fighting back, we can weed out the toxic reviewers who are giving these sites and platforms a bad name.

Paul Brennan is director and co-founder of award-winning brasserie Dine in Edinburgh’s West End.