February 2, 2016

How Thomas Keller Handles Bad Reviews

Having someone say something negative about your business is one of the negative parts of being an entrepreneur.  And perhaps because we produce food for other people to eat, when someone comments that our food isn’t that great, it can feel like someone stuck a knife through your heart.  Unfortunately, though, bad reviews – be they word of mouth reviews or something more public like Yelp – are going to happen.  

It’s tempting, when you hear of a negative review, to put up your defenses and blame it on one of a million things.  The reviewer doesn’t like you, the reviewer doesn’t like the type of food you make in general, the reviewer smokes and therefore has dulled taste buds…there’s 100 things you can say against the reviewer.  By the same tactic, there are a 100 excuses you can make for why you underperformed that day.  You had a cold, your internet connection had gone down, your kitchen recently caught fire, your dog had a cold….

There will be times when the reviewer has a bias against you for some reason or another and there will be times when things outside of your control have led to a poor customer experience – but what if your first instinct was to listen to what the negative review said and really ask yourself how much of that was true.  Put down your defenses for a minute and use it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and build your business into something even stronger.

What got me thinking about this was a post on Thomas Keller’s Facebook page last week.  If you know you’ve heard of the name but can’t think why you know it, he’s the chef behind The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon Bakery, Bouchon Bistro, and Ad Hoc.   He strives for perfection in everything he does and the attention to detail he and his staff pay to the food, the customers, and the experience they have in his restaurants, have won him accolades around the world.

Until recently that is.  The New York Times restaurant reviewer recently wrote a scathing review of Per Se.  It was ugly and tore the restaurant apart.  It was so bad that friends of mine who aren’t even food-fiends were texting me to ask if I’d read it.

How did Thomas Keller respond?  Did he blame the reviewer?  Did he blame the wait staff?  Did he blame the planets’ alignments?  Nope, he issued what has to be one of the best public apologies ever in the food world:


per se review

Talk about class.  Instead of blaming someone else for the review, Thomas Keller apologized for letting their customers down and strived to work even harder to re-earn their trust and loyalty.

So next time someone talks badly about your business, before you get your hackles up, ask yourself whether any of what they’re saying may have some truth to it and then, if so, like Thomas Keller suggests, work to ‘improve and evolve.’

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