You would think, given everything that has transpired regarding restaurant reviews in digital media over the past decade, that restaurant managers/owners would take the hint that the customer’s experience at their restaurant IS their brand. However, I guess there are some hold-outs that simply don’t get it. Especially since Yelp seems more than willing to shield them if they play the old “Mafia protection game.”

On April 18th I was having dinner in Austin, Texas at the Guild (on N. Lamar Boulevard) with over 50 other people. Not seeing any vegan choices on the menu other than a garden salad, I asked to speak to the manager—but had to seek him out (he wouldn’t come to our table).

When I did manage to track him down and ask if there was any way they could accommodate me with vegetables, nuts or seeds to add to the salad—or to cobble something together from items they serve in other dishes—I was given the proverbial cold shoulder.

The manager flatly told me the chef refused to accommodate a vegan. That’s it. What about eliminating the meat from one of the dishes they already serve—or preparing with oil instead of butter, I asked? No. Even though almost every dish they have could have been made vegan with little effort, they outright refused. In the two years I’ve been eating vegan, I have never been treated like this in a restaurant, including chains, and from the simplest to the fanciest. NEVER.

Today, where many people have dietary restrictions, such as gluten intolerance, I couldn’t believe that Zero effort would be made to accommodate me. C’mon…really? I wasn’t asking for the moon, yet I was treated like a second-class citizen. Not a good way to encourage repeat business—but a GREAT way to discourage future business from the thousands of customers who go online regularly to check out restaurant reviews before eating there. Perhaps someone was just having a bad day?

More Than Skin Deep

Bad customer service is one of my biggest pet peeves, so you can bet I posted something about my experience on Facebook that evening—hoping to at least alert the Guild about a situation they need to correct. However, nothing from Guild’s PR department on Facebook for three days, then a weak apology and attempt to divert the conversation:

This goes beyond terrible customer service—it shows that the company isn’t really interested in fixing the problem. You can see from the comments in the Facebook thread that people are not happy about this attitude, and that the weak response makes it even worse.

Even MORE Disturbing…

Something else happened after I posted a negative YELP review about my Guild experience—the review disappeared!

For some reason, although my review was written professionally, factually, and without any inappropriate language, AND two people (at least) marked it as “useful” right after it was posted, it was moved to “unrecommended review” status where no one can see it and it’s not included in Guild’s rating. How the heck does that happen?? YELP has verbiage on its website assuring users that businesses can’t “pay” for good reviews, but is that really the case?

I would love to get a “real” response from YELP to my question about my review being unviewable, but so far, nothing but a cut-and-past response to my Facebook post that took two weeks and a second FB post to get… All I really want is a real public conversation about why my review didn’t “make the cut” (as they say on their website,) and was relegated to be hidden as “not recommended”  and only seen if you go to Ted Rubin recommendations. 

Retailers (Especially Restaurants), Pay Attention!

Ok, so there’s ONE review site (unfortunately the one so may use and rely on) that’s willing to shove a negative review under the rug (for “whatever” reason) but that doesn’t mean you should sit on your laurels and not expect negative experiences to percolate around the web. People talk to each other, whether it’s in person, on Facebook, Instagram, Google, or other social platforms. The bottom line is that you don’t own your reputation—it’s in the hands of your customers—and not just the ones who complain online.

Guild not only lost my business forever, it lost the business of many of the people in my personal sphere as well as those I have influence with on the web. And not just because I had a bad experience one night—but because they couldn’t be bothered to make more than a cursory effort to reach out and correct it… nor follow-up after I responded back. Ignoring the negative experience of your customers reaches further than you think. Not everyone will post a bad review, but lots of people read them and make judgements about whether to eat in your restaurant or buy your goods and services… also do not forget traditional word-of-mouth, which still carries the most powerful one-to-one influence. And you’ll never know that they chose NOT to patronize your establishment (or why).

It’s how you act towards your customers that people remember. People will very often forgive a transgression if they see an honest effort to correct it, which is why I wanted Guild to reply on Facebook where their response would be viewed by potential patrons. It’s sad that they didn’t give the least effort to respond in a public way to show they’re interested in keeping my business (or any other vegan’s (or anyone else wi for that matter)… nor did Yelp have any interest in discussing their actions (removing the review) publically. It’s more than a lost opportunity—it’s a shame.

Your “Brand/Business” is what you do; your “Reputation” is what people Remember and Share.

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