When Is It OK To Write A Bad Yelp Review of a Restaurant?

[Image via DeliverBliss]

Today someone told me the story of a bad restaurant experience that involved a steakhouse with $30 steaks, a totally oblivious staff, dishes gone missing, and steak knives never proffered. Our storyteller, let’s call him Mr. X, grew so frustrated that he finally jumped out of his seat, stormed past the waiters who were watching a hockey game on the bar TV, into the kitchen where tired-looking line cooks were flipping steaks on a grill, and into the manager’s office “where I really let him have it.”

The manager was immediately apologetic–when he emerged from the kitchen, the staff scattered–and he ultimately comped Mr. X’s meal. “When I got home,” said Mr. X, “I really thought about writing a bad review on Yelp, but decided against it.”

This got me thinking: when is it OK to write a bad Yelp review of a restaurant?

[Note: I’m invoking Yelp here because, if you don’t have a food blog, it’s your most likely outlet.]

Did it matter, for example, that the meal was comped? If the meal hadn’t been comped, would Mr. X have had more license to vent his frustrations on Yelp? Should he have vented his frustrations anyway?

There are several things to consider:

(1) The consequences of writing a bad Yelp review. For many restaurants, the Yelp page is the top result when people do a Google search for that restaurant; and though many of us take individual Yelper’s reviews with a grain of salt, if there’s a specific story like Mr. X’s written there with fire and passion, that’s the kind of story that keeps restaurant-goers away. And it becomes part of the restaurant’s permanent record. Plus: if owners and executives read this story, people may lose their jobs.

(2) Protecting future customers from a similar experience. The counter-argument, of course, is that if people are going to spend $200 – $300 on a steak dinner, they deserve to know about the restaurant’s shortcomings. If your bad experience is up there next to many others like it, you’re protecting future customers from wasting their hard-earned money; if your bad experience is next to a bunch of good ones, you’re just contributing to the conversation about the restaurant overall.

(3) A traditional restaurant critic’s code of ethics. Generally speaking, restaurant critics visit a restaurant several times before rendering a verdict. This helps clarify whether a restaurant is having an off night or whether their sloppy service and poorly-made food are like this all the time. Of course, a restaurant critic isn’t paying with his or her own money, so it’s easy to have a negative experience and chalk it up to work. Whereas for someone who’s been saving up for this big splurge of a meal, a bad experience can hit extra hard… which is why so many turn to Yelp.

Ultimately, I think Mr. X did the right thing by venting to the manager before venting online. This gave the restaurant the opportunity to address Mr. X’s grievances and because they did so in a way that Mr. X found suitable, he didn’t have to drag their name through the virtual mud.

But still, did Mr. X owe it to future customers to let them know what happened? Do you vent on Yelp when you have a bad restaurant experience? I’m curious to know why or why not.

3 thoughts on “When Is It OK To Write A Bad Yelp Review of a Restaurant?”

  1. maremo

    Recently took my family to a nice restaurant where the hostess and staff were actually fighting in front of us. It was very unprofessional and we did not feel real welcomed. Let the general manager know and for paying $200.00 for a dinner that was repeatley in the middle of this fighting was unacceptable. But the manager did NOTHING for us. No comping or to welcome us back. So yeah, they got a bad reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor from me!

  2. May 12, 2013
    On those occasions when Mother Nature’s forecast doesn’t cooperate and barbequing is going to be a disappointing experience due to bad weather, what does one think of next?…How about a nice dinner at a nice restaurant? I’ve wanted to go the Wharf in Port Stanley for quite some time; it’s situated right by the lift bridge and has a very picturesque view over the harbour. I grew up in Port Stanley and have not been there for ages, I was looking forward to having a nice dinner out with my family. I checked out their web site and saw a picture of a mouth-watering steak. Sure The Wharf is a little pricey but I was certain for those prices the food would be excellent and my Mother deserved a nice night out. This was my gift to my Mother for Mother’s day. We were looking forward to it.
    I had booked the reservation for 5:00 pm for 15 people; myself, my husband, my grown daughter and my 16 year old daughter; my sister, her husband, her two grown daughters and their spouses, my other sister her husband and her 17 year old daughter, my 78 year old father and the Guest of Honour my Mother. We arrived a few minutes early and were promptly and with courtesy shown to our table. We were given menus and told our waitress would be with us shortly. The view was every bit as promised even with the random rain shower, we settled in for a nice dinner, our family banter light and fun, as we perused the menus. Shortly after the waitress came, introduced herself as Christine and relayed to us the specials, she then said she’ll be right back with some water. She brought three water pitchers and some little cups with lemon. Then she took our drink order.
    1 Coors Light, 1 Budweiser, 1 Blue Light, 1 Cooler, 1 Rum and Coke, 1 Ice Tea and 1 Hot Tea, the other 8 people drank water. (My father had a chill and asked for Hot Tea)
    Our drinks arrived, except my Father’s hot tea, and we’re ready to order. She took our orders. Four of us order starters.
    1 Escargot, 1 Caesar Salad, 1 Bruschetta, 1 Potato Skins.
    So we’re enjoying our time and waiting, and enjoying our time and waiting and enjoying our time and waiting, and waiting and waiting and waiting. To be honest I did not check the time, I do know that we had all finished our drinks including emptying the pitchers of water. Well, except my father did not finish his tea, because he still didn’t get his tea. This is the turning point from an enjoyable dining experience to a bad dining experience.
    This is when the conversation turns, “How long have we been waiting?” “Those people came after us have been served their appetizers.” “How come they got bread baskets and we didn’t?” “I still haven’t got my glass of wine.” “Look how tiny the Caesar salad is.” “Look at the water stains on the ceiling.” “We’re her only table how can she not keep up?” We’re trying to be patient, but we’re all hungry, we’re wondering why we’re sitting without drinks or appetizers or even bread to tide us over till our meals are ready. Three of us are smokers and decide to step outside. My husband expresses his disappointment and dissatisfaction by saying, “This is wrong, our dinner conversation should not be about the service, it’s not right”. I whole-heartedly agreed with him.
    Back inside, I see the appetizers have been served, except for the potato skins my niece ordered. More drinks are ordered.
    1 Coors Light, 1 Budweiser, 1 Blue Light, 1 Rum and Coke and 1 glass of red wine, my father asks for his tea, again.
    The waitress returns with drinks, not including 1 Blue Light, 1 glass of red wine and my father’s tea. My niece asks for her potato skins, the waitress says, “Oh. Do you still want those?”…My niece says, “Yes, I ordered them”. By this time it is clear that our waitress is in the weeds, she should have asked for help.
    Note: The restaurant was not full; I would say about 60% capacity.
    Approximately an hour has passed since we were seated. So, we’re waiting. She returns with the potato skins. My brother-in-law asks for his Blue Light, my nephew-in-law asks for his red wine, she says, “Oh you want that now?” He replies, “Yes.”…She says,” I thought you wanted it with your meal.” I say, “No I ordered White Zinfandel with my meal.” So, she brings the red wine, the blue light and my wine, which isn’t white zinfandel but I don’t complain. My father still has not been given his tea. So we sit and wait some more. She brings us a bread basket, finally. But the bread is cold and in my opinion stale. I don’t think anyone ate any. I tried to butter mine and it crumbled in my hand. So we just sat and waited.
    Finally, the meals arrive; well some of the meals…this is what we ordered;
    2 Ribs and Perch Specials, 4 Perch Dinners, 3 Prime Rib Specials, 1 Sirloin 12 oz. Well Done, 2 Sirloin 6 oz. Mid-Rare, 1 Bowtie Pasta with Chicken and Blush Sauce, 1 Bowtie Pasta with Chicken and Alfredo Sauce, 1 Veal Cutlet.
    Now this is the point of going from a bad dining experience to the worst dining experience of my life. The waitress gives me my meal, a 6 oz. Sirloin Mid Rare is what I ordered, she puts down my plate and says, “The cook thinks she over did your steak so she put on an extra piece of meat.” I’m almost speechless…”What?”…”Well she overdid your steak so she added an extra piece for you.” She had her hands full and served the rest of the meals she had with her. My niece ordered a 6 oz Sirloin Mid-Rare as well. The waitress said the same thing to her when she put it down. The steak was gray, Mid-Well, and clearly not a sirloin, it honestly looked like wet shoe leather. I asked her to take it back that I wanted what I ordered. She said, “Well ok, but that’ll take a few minutes longer.” I said, “Well I want what I ordered.” My sister said, “We’ve waited this long already.” The waitress said to my sister, “You don’t have to be so snotty.”, and walked away with my plate. We were appalled. We could not believe that the waitress just said that. My sister was aghast. We all just shook our heads in disbelief. I asked what time it was, it was 20 minutes after 6.
    The waitress returned with some more meals, and started to apologize to me. She said, “She’s had a long day, she’s been up since 7 and is tired. “, I told her that I’m not the one you need to apologize to, you need to apologize to my sister for what you said to her. She started to say I’m sorry, but my sister stopped her saying she didn’t want her apology, understandably so. The waitress walked away. At this point my brother-in-law and my niece still have not received their meals. The owner, Gary Scrivens , came up to me and told me there’s a beautiful prime rib ready for me, if I would like that instead. I politely replied, no thank you, I would like what I ordered. My niece motioned him over and told him that her 6 oz. wasn’t cooked properly either and that she didn’t want it. He started to say its cooked fine, (the waitress already admitted that it wasn’t), my niece asked him to take it away and said she didn’t want anything else, just French fries. The finally brings my brother-in-law and niece their meals, perch dinner. Then the owner brought me my replacement steak. I looked at it…it was gray, I cut into it, it looked raw, I put my fork and knife down, told my husband it was raw. I’m not a big complainer, anyone that knows me, knows I wouldn’t say dirt if I had a mouth full. I took a bite and immediately spit it out; it was raw, cold from the fridge raw on the inside. My husband called the owner over and said her steak is raw. The owner said, I personally cooked it for three minutes on both sides. I said it’s cold, it’s raw, I don’t want it. I don’t want anything. If I get a little sporadic here it’s because so many things happened at one time. This is when it hit the fan.
    A woman comes to our table tell us that she is the Assistant Manager and she apologizes and asks what she can do to make it right with us. That nothing like this has ever happened before. My sister tells there is nothing she can do to take back the way the waitress spoke to her. We all just waited, I was thinking that it’s your restaurant, you tell us what you’re going to do to make it right. Someone mentioned maybe comp’ing some drinks or a meal. She said she had to get the owners approval for that. So we all just sat and waited. My sister reiterated the waitress should not be speaking to customers the way she did. Then for reasons none of us can understand the waitress came up and started yelling at my sister saying, “You didn’t have to f___ing swear at me.” My sister said, “I didn’t once swear at you.” It was a verbal attack from the waitress towards my sister. My sister grabbed her coat and stormed out both her and the waitress yelling along the way…my sister just kept saying, “I did not swear at you, I did not swear at you.” My niece followed my sister out and then waited at the door, the waitress told my 17 year old niece to get the f___ out or she would call the police. I heard it from across the restaurant. The rest of my family sat there stunned for several seconds before we got up, we could not believe what was happening. I went to the entrance with everyone, I went outside to check on my sister and niece, my sister was in the car, my niece said she was crying, I have to say her, that I have known my sister for over 45 years and I have never seen so angry before in my life. Her anger was because she was accused of something she did not do. I was sitting two seats away from my sister and I had my hearing aids on that day and I can state with a fact that my sister did not swear at the waitress.
    The rest of the story would be a lot of he said she said. So I will just continue with what I experienced. After I checked on my sister, I went back inside they were trying to settle up the bills, complaints were expressed. I stood back and listened and waited. I then noticed that the owner and the cook were outside the door talking to my 16 year old daughter and my 17 year old niece, so I went outside. When I walked up to them the owners walked away and went back inside. I asked my daughter what they were saying, she said she was just trying to tell them that in customer service you don’t talk to the customers the way that the waitress spoke to my sister, that she works in customer service and that never do you speak to a customer that way. I told my daughter and my niece to go wait by the cars. I went back inside, discussions were still being held about the bills. I stood and waited. I then noticed my father outside talking to the owner and the cook, I went outside. My father was expressing his opinion that the waitress was over- whelmed and should have had some help, but that’s no excuse for the way she spoke to his daughter. They both agreed. My father went back inside.
    The cook said to me, “Your steak was cooked correctly the first time. I gave you the extra piece because I had an extra piece that wasn’t going to be used so I gave it to you.” I said, “So you put a piece of garbage on my plate?” She said, “No, I gave you and the girl extra pieces that we didn’t need that we weren’t going to use.” I said, “In a restaurant when you have an extra pieces of food that you don’t need or aren’t going to use, that’s garbage, so you put a piece of garbage on my plate and you put a piece of garbage on my niece’s plate.” ”And the second steak you served me was raw, cold from the refrigerator raw.” She said, “I put that steak on for 3 minutes each side, it was not raw.” I said, “Oh, well he told me he put it on personally for 3 minutes each side. So what happened, maybe both of you thought each other put it on for 3 minutes each side and that’s how I ended up with a raw steak. They had no answer for this and just walked away from me. (I was not yelling, I was very calm). I went back inside. The bills were being settled up. The Assistant Manager was doing all she could very nicely, unfortunately she was at the mercy of the owners, I found out later, one of the owners is also the cook. She said that nothing like this has every happened in 5 years, no one has ever waited over an hour for their food, no one has complained about the food. Just then another diner came up to the bar and said, “We’ve been waiting an hour for our drinks, when are we going to get them?” We all saw the irony in this. The bills are all settled, we all left, very dissatisfied.
    Comments concerning the food:
    1. Perch Dinner – “The perch was delicious”
    2. Perch Dinner – “The perch was really good”
    3. Perch & Ribs – “The perch was good, I can’t eat the ribs”
    4. Perch & Ribs – “The perch was good, the ribs not the best, but I’m hungry”
    5. 6 oz. Sirloin – “Gray, not mid-rare, not a Sirloin” – Sent back – This diner did not eat, left the restaurant unfed
    6. Veal Cutlet – “Too salty, I don’t like it” – Most of it Left uneaten
    7. Chicken Alfredo – “Taste like Garlic, lots of bowtie pasta, hardly any chicken, does not taste like Alfredo” – Most of it Left uneaten
    8. 12 oz. Sirloin – “Steak was good, can’t go wrong with well done, the veggies were good, couldn’t taste the garlic in the garlic mashed potatoes.
    9. Bowtie Pasta with Blush Sauce – “Big hunks of dry chicken, hardly any pasta, gross.” – Most of it Left uneaten
    10. Prime Rib Special – “ I don’t care if it’s too rare, I’m hungry”
    11. Perch Dinner – “The fries were amazing, perch small and dry, and small portion” – This is one that was forgotten, with the rest of the meals and served later.
    12. Prime Rib – “Too rare, mostly fat” – Left uneaten
    13. Perch Dinner – “Dry and crusty, looks reheated,” – This is the other one that was forgotten and served later
    14. Prime Rib – “I like it rare, this is a little too rare, but I’m paying for it, I’m eating it, the veggies are good, the potatoes look like a pile of something.”
    15. 6 oz. Sirloin – “Asked for mid-rare, served med-well, sent it back. Replacement, looks raw, tastes cold from the refrigerator raw, spit it out, no mushrooms.” This diner did not eat, left the restaurant unfed.
    The restaurant has my phone number, from making the reservation. I waited 2 days before writing this in hopes that they would contact me to offer some sort of apology or explanation or compensation, but they have not.
    This was my experience at this restaurant. Everything I have written is true. I will never patronize this restaurant again. I wish I could be reimbursed our bill. I cannot recommend this restaurant as long as it is owned by the current owners. Poor service, poor quality food, high prices, incompetent wait staff, indifferent management. The perch may be delicious, but I’m pretty sure you can get better perch down the street. I have had the worst dining experience of my life.
    My father never did get his tea.

  3. I went to the ‘Rushley’ on nottingham rd in Mansfield and left this review:I have just experienced complete confrontation in not just facial expression but in words “you’e banned sunshine” from the manager/part time try to be owner of this less than a strip joint- ethically it has the values your children ‘in my perception’ should not witness!

    I had to wait about 37 minutes , after paying, for our meals (I took two of my daughters). When the meals came I had a few words with the lovely and polite waitress who did not interupt my complaint (full credit given here as my complaint had nothing to do with the service she provided)- AND “FULL credit given to the man behind the bar- the young tall and lean man who came to his waitresses needs straight away and tried to concede the points I had brought up with full compensation – foodwise- offerred; he made sure condiments were brought to the table and bread that hadn’t been next to the hot plate, enough butter to soften it and apologised- something which not many males now days know how to do (I see this man not just running a bar but eventually owning one- “GOOD ON YOU SIR”).

    In total contrast to this: after experiencing an understaffed place (owner/management to blame) – I spoke to the very professional bar manager/duty manager/ tall thin responsible gentleman – on my way out I tried to get him to speak with his waitress and assure her it had nothing to do with her own service and my gripe was with the management who could not afford to employ enough staff on a Sunday (of all days) – as I was doing this his superior (I couldn’t find ANYTHING superior about him only that he may have the ear of his ex police colleagues- if my perception is correct that is- as I have only ever found this level of confrontation in this circumstance from ex police (try the dog and duck and you’ll know what i mean) – this piece of utter trash in my opinion gave me facial distortion and the attitude of a criminal- he was no where near the calbre of person i’d pay money to voluntarily. I told him I’d leave a review and his facial expression would cost him – to which he replied “YOU’RE BARRED SUNSHINE”, my own departing comment was “That’s not necessary as I do not wish to return” and in full earshot of half the place I retorted “This is definitely the worst service I’ve ever had”.

    In my own defense I was angered by the height of confrontation this, in my opinion, piece of garbage wanted to escalate events- seeing as he could see I had my two daughters with me and should have been able to voice that this was simply because of the owner/managers lack of professionalism and nothing to do with the bar manager/duty manager or his waitress as they were both professional above any level; this piece of , in my opinion, garbage could achieve.

    It would not be to my surprise to find he is an ex copper or whether there was deliberation that while he served that he had been a bent one- I do wonder how a man like this will retire- in jail? Maybe someone can calm the man down before he reaches total degradation?

    He did say that it was not his fault and that the place had been robbed yesterday- OH- I’m sorry but I thought it was one of his staff or a female customer who had been robbed (maybe I’m badly informed) BUT in my experience- any one who opens for business the day after their staff receive trauma shows their compassion- or should i say the lack of it- he didn’t want to pay wages he could have claimed off his insurance- is he insured?

    Nothing about any of this gives me confidence in the owner manager and having read other reviews I’d be quite open to believe this man shall serve a prison sentence if he does not find a way of going to live in a another country and just reap the efforts of those that can conduct themselves professionally- I will not be returning and give you this as a sincere review after an awful experience.

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