Saturday, January 3, 2015

How to Write Bad Reviews Without Offending Everyone

One of the most shocking and sad things I have ever written as a food blogger was what I found myself typing to my future contributors about how to write a bad review or negative comment without offending everyone. As is the case with many written policies, my approach to giving something a bad review has evolved out of necessity from actual, unbelievable treatment I've experienced (see below).

That time when a restaurant— famous for filets dripping in roasted garlic herb butter— overcooked my order twice, so I decided not to post about it. (Don't worry, it wasn't in DFW.)

I felt the need to warn and help prevent my contributors from getting into similar situations, but as I was writing, I realized this is a microcosm of what happens to everyone online. A seemingly trivial negative thought posted on your social media profile about a movie, restaurant, band, product, or political candidate can offend a friend or relative so much that your relationship is forever damaged. This is a two-way problem— the reader could take less offense, but the writer could also put more thought into what they're writing. The solution begins with the writer, and we are all opinionated writers in social media.

I hope these tips help you understand what and why I chose to filter certain things out of my Dallas Foodie reviews, but more importantly, I hope it helps you and many other people whenever you have something negative to say online. While this is written from the perspective of restaurant reviews, I think the basics apply to any negative review.

How to Write Bad Restaurant Reviews 

As excerpted from my guide for Dallas Foodie contributors
  1. Your primary goal is to find something positive to say. Negative reviews do not attract as much interactions as positive reviews. Give people a reason to go somewhere, rather than a reason not to go. 
    • Instead of writing your negative opinion, you could write a neutral comment: simply state the facts (the ingredient list and how it was prepared) and leave the reader decide if it looks and sounds good.
  2. Only write negative comments if you know that aspect is consistently not good (over at least three experiences) or it was so extraordinarily bad this one time that it would be a disservice to the readers to pretend everything was okay. 
    • If you ate several things and one thing was not that good, just leave the bad thing out of your description and photo. Focus on the positive.
    • Recognize that most all restaurants have the occasional incident of a hair in food, flies in the air, a bug on the floor, or food that made someone feel sick later (probably not actually food poisoning). Do NOT mention any of these things unless you know for a fact this is a consistent problem for them; and if that is the case, then you should announce your accusation in a full-fledged investigative article with heaps of objective evidence. Do not make these accusations in a social media post.
  3. When you must say something negative:
    • You MUST backup your comments with detailed, objective reasoning. If you do not, you are very likely to have fans, chefs, and/or restaurants owners defend the restaurant, insult you, threaten you, discredit you, make false accusations against you, sabotage your work, and/or unfollow Dallas Foodie. And even if you do backup your negative comments, you must be prepared for all of these things to still happen. I say this because all of the above has already happened to me.
    • Create a “negativity sandwich”: start your post with a positive or neutral comment, then the negative comment, then close with a positive comment. 
    • Remember that anything you post online can never be truly deleted. Make sure your words would make your mother proud and your future employers happy to hire you.
  4. If you truly cannot find at least one nice thing to say about your experience, then do not post anything at all. There have been a few times when I was comped something that I could not find anything I liked about it, so I wrote my negative review to the PR rep and asked if they still wanted to be featured in a post. They always thank me for being honest and decline to have it published.

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