A new area of concern has arisen for caterers: online reviews. These reviews are a direct result of online postings that have been a benefit to the catering industry in many other ways. Client and guest reviews posted on review sites like Yelp, as well as on event industry ad sites, have proliferated over the past several years.
In general, these review sites can benefit the industry. The ratings posted seem to be overwhelmingly positive, with a quick analysis indicating that many or most ratings are in the four- to five-star range. With so much positive feedback, however, the few negative reviews do stick out.
Even negative reviews have value to the astute operator. Complainers are among the most valuable sources of feedback, particularly for caterers trying to improve their operations. Many of the best caterers are those who are most attuned to the feedback coming from guests.
There are two different categories of reviewers: clients and guests. Review sites generally don't allow completely anonymous posting of complaints; they usually require a first name and last initial for posting. With that information and the description of the event and problems, sometimes you can determine whether the reviewer is a client.
When an unhappy client posts gripes about an event, as disappointing as it might be to hear them, at least it gives you a chance to try to make good on the issue. Clients who have their problems resolved can sometimes become evangelists for the company that was responsive to them.
A guest complaint is less easy to resolve. The guest is less aware of the internal dynamics of an event and may sometimes fault the caterer for decisions made by the client. This puts you in a difficult position, because you don't want to appear to be shifting blame to the client in defending yourself.
Generally, the best approach to any client complaint is to thank the poster for his or her feedback by responding directly to her post. Even the most irate clients will settle down once it is made apparent that their complaints are being taken seriously. Offer to do what is possible and necessary to rectify the problem — although with catered functions, there may not be much that can be done after the event.
Sometimes, the complaints posted on forums are justified. This is a tough lesson to learn, particularly for caterers who put their heart and soul into what they do. But even the best and most talented chefs and captains in the world occasionally have a problem event. When that happens, the best thing to do is acknowledge the problem and fix it as quickly as possible before it has the chance to metastasize and become a public issue through the review forums.
What if the complaint on the forum is truly unreasonable and unjustified? Review forums have different policies on dealing with this. Most allow the principals of the business being critiqued to post a direct rebuttal. Some will take a negative review down if it can be shown that the complaint is factually inaccurate. Information about forum policies can usually be found in the FAQ section of the website. If you respond on the site, do it calmly and based on your company policies; don't let anger dictate your words.
It is recommended that you go through these review sites regularly. At the very least, check the main sites once or twice a month to see what is being posted about you and your competitors. The feedback can provide invaluable insight as to how your company's product is perceived.