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Restaurant learns online reviews can make or break

Cristina Silva | May 22, 2013
An Arizona restaurateur, fed up after years of negative online reviews and an embarrassing appearance on a reality television show, posted a social media rant laced with salty language quickly went viral last week.

"Kitchen Nightmares" follows Ramsay as he helps rebuild struggling restaurants. After one bite, he quickly deemed Amy's Baking Co. a disaster and chided the Bouzaglos for growing increasingly irate over his constructive feedback. Among his many critiques: The store-bought ravioli smelled "weird," a salmon burger was overcooked, and a fig pizza was too sweet and arrived on raw dough.

"You need thick skin in this business," Ramsay said before walking out. It was the first time he wasn't able to reform a business, according to the show.

Amy's Baking Co. temporarily closed last week after the episode aired. A Bouzaglo spokesman said the couple was not available for an interview Monday. The restaurant's answering machine was full. Emails and Facebook messages were not returned.

A wall post published last week claimed the restaurant's Facebook, Yelp and Twitter accounts had been hacked, but hundreds of commenters expressed doubt. Social media sites show someone posting as a member of the Bouzaglo family had been insulting customers over negative reviews since at least 2010.

The story bounced across the Internet, generating thousands of comments on Facebook, Yelp and Twitter, and prompting nearly 36,000 people to sign a petition on Change.org that asks the Department of Labor to look into the Bouzaglo's practice of pocketing their servers' tips.

While many corporations hire communications experts to respond to every tweet, Facebook message and online review, the wave of digital feedback can be especially challenging for small businesses with small staffs, digital consultants said.

For one thing, there is so much online content to wade through. Roughly 60 percent of all adults get information about local businesses from search engines and entertainment websites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor, according to a 2011 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

"Customer service is a spectator sport now," said Jay Baer, president of Convince & Convert, a social media marketing consultancy in Indiana. "It's not about making that customer happy on Yelp. That's the big misunderstanding of Yelp. It's about the hundreds of thousands of people who are looking on to see how you handle it. It's those ripples that make social media so important."

In their "Kitchen Nightmares" episode, Amy and Samy Bouzaglo are seen yelling and cursing at customers inquiring about undercooked food or long delays. They blame online bullies.

"We stand up to them," Amy Bouzaglo tells the camera at one point. "They come and they try to attack us and say horrible things that are not true."

That's exactly how businesses shouldn't respond, the digital experts said.

"If your policy is to berate the customer online, that doesn't create good public relations," Garrity said.

 

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