Firstly, I have to say I dislike TripAdvisor with a passion, and have done for many years. A little controversial I know, but that's just the way it is. I do, however, agree that restaurants need to engage with it or suffer the consequences.
If a diner likes what you do, what will they do? They will return time and time again. If they have a problem in your restaurant, then it's training that deals with that - there and then; 2-minute check-backs (just enough time for customers to have tried their food in order to rectify issues rather than too long a time where it's too late), table awareness and basic conversation. If you don't deal with issues, you are asking for trouble as people are now prompted to feedback on their experiences through lots of channels. Even if there is a problem as long as it's been dealt with, with a genuine attitude, you will get a balanced review.
Now to the people who sit in their dark bedrooms with the curtain closed, trolling restaurants just because they don't like them. I've previously had negative reviews for music too loud and too quiet, lighting too dark, didn't like the design, the manager didn't speak with them, not enough choice on the menu. This is ridiculous as someone once said "you cannot please all the people all the time"
Reviews can be so demotivating and soul destroying, they are allowed to be so rude and trying to reason with TripAdvisor is impossible. But as I say you HAVE to deal with this head-on.
Below is an excerpt from an email I sent from one of my restaurants to its database. It had a massive response from lovely, regular customers.
"You have probably noticed some of the press regarding TripAdvisor on the TV and radio recently and how restaurant and hotel operators are less than happy with it. We on the other hand, encourage feedback and love the idea of it. The biggest issue we have however, is that every restaurant cannot please all the people all the time (to coin a phrase) i.e. We cannot stand cheap and cheerful, microwaved, box-standard, frozen pub food; but somebody does; somewhere! Equally what we offer does not suit everyone, but it does suit our regular customers of which we have many. We pride ourselves on our fine quality, fresh home cooking, locally sourced, where feasible, but always lovingly prepared and have previously won very prestigious awards for it.
One problem we find is that people who do not like what you do are more likely to post reviews than people who actually do. We totally believe that what we do is good and also realise that this can be construed as a little arrogant. Business is very good in challenging times, so we must be doing something right, no?
We are now testing the system, as you are one of our loyal, lovely customers who have honestly completed our comment cards and if you haven't yet reviewed us on TripAdvisor, then we implore you to do so, and if you had a bad experience for whatever reason, please either leave a constructive review or contact us directly and we will endeavour to rectify this.
TripAdvisor likes to say that it can detect anomalies with the reviews that appear on its website, thanks to a sophisticated computer algorithm that weeds out the fakes, but we doubt that!
Thank you in advance we will of course not offer any incentives, as this would make it a biased exercise and TripAdvisor would slap our wrists and we don't want that! This way we hope (fingers crossed) that a balance will be achieved and that our success can be truly verified and that we can continue to feel good about what we do!
Thanking you in advance"
Many businesses vent their frustrations with the site often, as there can be problems contacting a real person, along with the difficulty in getting a fake review removed and proving to TripAdvisor they are fake, and the tendency of some customers to use the prospect of negative reviews as a bargaining chip - that's extortion.
TripAdvisor restaurant ratings are also floored. The Cheshire town where I spend most of my social time has 70 restaurants listed on TripAdvisor - er 70?, Where are they? In the top 10; 2 are cafes, 1 is a sandwich shop, 2 are not even in the town and one is a wedding venue and not even a restaurant. This says it all.
My advice is to not take it too seriously, engage and respond to all reviews, ask problem ones to get in touch directly and attempt to turn a negative into a positive, you never know they may take that negative review down. TripAdvisor is a necessary evil, don't moan about it just do what you can to manage it.