How to Leave a One Star Restaurant Review

Recently, South Park created a parody of over-the-top amateur food critics that I felt was spot-on! In the episode, Cartman leads the charge, epitomizing the entitled Yelper. “I’m a restaurant critic, I get whatever I want,” he tells his friends. He even goes so far as to tell the owner of a restaurant, “I was thinking of giving this place five stars, but I am kind of teetering on five stars…or one star. I mean, I can probably be persuaded with free desserts.”

Are all Yelp reviewers like Cartman? Absolutely not. Most reviewers provide a mix of objective and subjective feedback. Yet, I regularly come across overly-emotional and antagonistic reviews when doing digital restaurant audits. Because of that, I wanted to discuss on the right way to leave a one star restaurant review.

Let me be clear. The BEST way to provide feedback to a restaurant regarding your visit is to inform your server or request to speak with a manager BEFORE YOU LEAVE.

Complaining to your server or requesting to speak with a manager is seen by many as confrontation. Human nature usually makes people avoid confrontation. It’s much easier to share your experience at the restaurant in your PJ’s, on the couch, anonymously, instead of face to face with a staff member. If you choose to hide behind your cell phone and the anonymity of the Internet can provide, please follow the below steps so your criticism is constructive and helpful to both the restaurant and other potential guests. Alternatively, you could always send an e-mail, call and speak with someone, or send a DM through any social media site, privately.

Before you Start your Restaurant Review

Ask yourself why you’re writing the review. What are you looking to get out of the time you’re investing? A refund? A response from the restaurant? Perhaps you’re hoping to help other people avoid the experience you had. If you’re not sure what you’re looking to accomplish, your review is probably going to lack the details necessary to make it valuable to the business owner or others looking to dine there.

Objectivity

The most useful reviews put the facts first, starting with simple things like the day, time and size of the party. This gives everyone reading the review much-needed context to keep in mind as they continue. Be as specific as possible here and separate facts from opinions. “My friend said the duck was amazing…but I hated it,” is an opinion. “The website says the kitchen closes at 9, but we got there at 8 and they told us the kitchen was closed,” is a fact.

Subjectivity

The bulk of your review may be opinion, which is perfectly appropriate, as long as you acknowledge it. “My food took too long to arrive” is fine to say, but you have to provide more detail as to why you felt that way. Without those extra details, no one can do anything with your opinion. For example, a 30 minute wait for food at an upscale-establishment might be acceptable to most people. If you felt that your food should’ve arrived in 10, that’s fine, but most people would probably disagree. Without the details, they would never have the opportunity to assess your opinion.

Expectations vs. Reality

Online reviews are a great opportunity to provide feedback you’re uncomfortable giving in person. Talk about your perceived expectations based on what you had read or heard before visiting, and let the restaurant know where they missed the mark. Give them everything you possibly can so that they can do better. Unrealistic expectations are fine, particularly when it comes to popular, over-hyped venues, but only if you openly acknowledge that you may have been a bit unrealistic going in.

Cooling Off Period

Once you’ve written your review, wait a day before posting it. Re-read it and decide whether or not everything you said is valid. Ask yourself whether or not your experience still warrants 1-star. And remember, the majority of situations that detract from the customer experience are circumstantial. Any restaurant that consistently underperformed would go out of business in no time or is likely headed that way soon. Are you absolutely sure your experience was as dreadful as you say?

Parting Thoughts

Yelp, and other sites like TripAdvisor, exist for you to say whatever you want, but you have to ask yourself whether or not a public forum is the right way to provide feedback. An emotional review left while you’re still worked up has repercussions beyond the server or chef you’re unhappy with. Your review has the potential to impact the livelihood of everyone that works at the restaurant, from the busboy to the owner. But, if you followed my advice, you should feel good in knowing that you provided quality feedback that is actionable for the venue and valuable to others.

I would love to hear from you if you’ve ever left a one-star restaurant review. Was it a series of missteps throughout your dining experience or one major issue that pushed you over the edge? Send me an email at John@StockiExchange.com or contact me here. I would love to hear from you.

P.S. I used restaurant examples in this entry, but the framework I provided applies to all online reviews — be it hotel reviews on Oyster or product reviews on Amazon.