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You just left a new restaurant and you are still seething that the waiter took 10 minutes to bring out your to-go box and the delay made you late to your nail appointment. You can hardly wait to get online and tear the restaurant apart. You breathe a sigh of relief after you wrote three of the most cathartic paragraphs of you life. You feel instantly vindicated. You feel self-important. I admit, it feels pretty good.

It wasn’t until a friend sent me a link from South Park titled, “You’re not Yelping,” that I saw things from a different point of view. The episode highlights the smugness of today’s so-called social warriors with their rigid political correctness and self-satisfaction. The show cleverly shines a scathing spotlight on self-centered, amateur food reviewers who over assume their own critical influence in order to skew their dining experience, all while believing that their opinions are important enough to contribute positive change to the world.

Which begs the question, “When we go to leave a negative restaurant review, should we consider the implications that review carries with it?

The first thing you want to ask yourself is if one bad experience calls for an attempt to ruin a business. And, If the business has enough positive reviews, your review is not really going to hurt them and may even engender sympathy . And remember, many smaller businesses only have a few reviews, and one negative review can flip it from being five stars to being two stars. Your one negative review could have so much weight that you actually destroy the reputation of a business online just because you had a bad experience.

Just to be clear, I am not defending poorly run businesses, and I’m not saying that if you have a bad experience you should ignore it. I just think that a lot of people do not think through the implications of their online review and their online griping.

Let’s give an example. Let’s say it’s a restaurant.. Someone will write a review saying, “I’ve been going to this restaurant for two years and I’ve never had a problem until today. I don’t know what was wrong with the server. She was the grumpiest person…” blah blah blah blah. Enter a complaint. So your complaint is legitimate. My question is: if you’ve been going there for such a long time, where are the positive reviews? Does this one or maybe even a couple experiences really justify ruining that business’s reputation when you’ve had two years of great service?

So what you end up with are online review sites that show inaccurate views of what you could expect because a business’s rating is simply an overall average of the good and bad reviews.

Unfortunately, people don’t always leave good reviews when they’ve had a good experience and seem more apt to be reactive and trigger-happy leaving a negative review when they have a bad experience.

To explain, take Amazon as an example: for every negative review a product gets on Amazon, it has to have 10 times a good experience just to have a 50/50 good/negative split on reviews because people do not leave good reviews when they’ve had a good experience. That means that 10 people had to have a good experience to get on average one positive review, whereas almost every bad experience leads to a bad review. If you have 10 good experiences leading to one positive review and one bad experience leading to a bad review, you could be left with a 2.5 star rating. That’s a gross and inaccurate generalization,

If we all left more positive reviews it would outweigh the junk reviews. Even when you have a bad experience, you need to stop and think.

  1. Is this worth potentially ruining a business over?
  2. Was this experience indicative of the business as a whole?
  3. Do I really feel like I need to warn people against coming here? Or, did I just have a bad experience and therefore I’m going to personally choose not to patronize this establishment, but I won’t smear their reputation online?
I remember going to a small Italian style restaurant about 6 years ago and I looked them up recently and they are still in business. I had what was probably the worst service and meal of my life. My friends who were with me agreed. We went and told the manager and she quickly responded that the food was supposed to taste like that and the poor service was because they were busy. There were only about 4 other people dining there and about 8 waiters. She didn’t offer credit or free dessert or anything. Even if we were wrong and our taste buds were all off, there was no customer service concession whatsoever. So I chose not to go back. It was one of the worst restaurant experiences I’ve ever had in my life purely from a quality of food standpoint.

What if I had gone online and left a super negative review? That would have severely hurt how the business looks online. But the business is still there today, which means that more than likely they’re doing okay. They’re making ends meet which means there are probably enough people that actually appreciate their food and like it. That means I was probably just an exception. If not, enough people would just stop going and the business would go under.

I have also started to purposefully leave positive reviews for good experiences. I could definitely be more consistent, but it’s a start. Too many people have good experiences and yet neglect to make the effort to leave positive feedback They may even tell their friends and they come back, but that doesn’t actually combat the negative online reputation that these businesses can get just from a few bad experiences.

So here is my closing thought: iIf you’re a business owner, you understand. You already know how easily a negative review can severely hurt your reputation. If you’re not a business owner and you’re listening to this, or even if you are a business owner, it is important to weigh the decision to leave a negative review before you make it. Don’t leave a negative review and hinder another business’s reputation when instead you can try to handle it internally with a manager or choose to go back. If you don’t like it, let that business fail on its own.

We live in a cancel culture society. Canceling a small business without compassion for the complexities of that business’ situation can amount to bullying. Just calling out a business’ failing without trying to remedy the situation doesn’t result in bringing change, it is just casting stones or a short term relief of cathartic anger. Post pandemic small businesses are doing their best to make ends meet. Addressing their mistakes is important, but if they are lacking in one area we don’t need to treat the mistake as unforgivable. Our constructive feedback can help them grow in that area which is good for the community. We need to think about ways to create positive change rather than fuel negativity.