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.

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.

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.