I still remember the naïve shock I experienced when I read that first negative comment about my restaurant that was published out in the open, on the Internet, for the entire world to see. My pulse rate quickened, breathing shortened. It was all I could do to finish the statement, which can be summarized in three words; your place sucks.

If you are in the business of offering a product to the public at large, you will most certainly face the scrutiny of negative criticism. Whether you are a writer, artist, chef, mechanic, politician etc. there is going to be someone out there that you will not please and they will certainly let you know about it. When this happens to you, I offer a few thoughts to consider.

Embrace the sting. When you encounter feedback that puts you in a negative light, don’t immediately try to dismiss it with little sayings like, sticks and stones may break my bones but works can never hurt me. Nonsense. Yes they do hurt. They hurt because you have taken a risk to put something of yourself out on the market. When it gets rejected, it’s personal. It’s going to bug you.

If it doesn’t, I would begin to worry. It means you are on the way toward not caring, and becoming calloused. True craft requires vulnerability. Without it, you lose your edge as a creator. Your art is as much about those who appreciate it as you who create it. Can you imagine a chef who makes great food but never serves it? If you see an angry chef, I will wage a bet that he or she is also a wounded chef.

Learn from it. Maybe the negative comment has an element of truth in it. Was the food cold? The service slow? If so, find out why and solve that problem. Don’t just dismiss the critic as an asshole without first looking to see if he has a point.

It may have nothing to do with you. I remind my service staff that when they encounter a grouchy customer, to remember that this person came in grouchy. We didn’t make them that way. Maybe it was an argument with the boss, or getting a parking ticket, or a chronic headache that won’t go away. I just happened to serve as a target for that person to unload their frustration. If I get a comment written in all caps, I just assume there is more to the story than serving the wrong sandwich.

It happens to the best of them. If I get a series of bad comments, it only takes a minute to look at other popular restaurants on Yelp and see that they get ripped too. This is the nature of the game.

The Internet gives permission to anyone to speak, but it doesn’t judge. That’s your job.

How to deal with negative criticism

One thought on “How to deal with negative criticism

  • December 29, 2010 at 12:46 am

    I just started using Yelp…I was surprised to see some of the comments about B&C. Especially the slow service ones! I brought my in-laws in on Christmas Eve, and they all liked it. My Father-in-law is vegan, and it's hard to find a place that he will like. Veggie sandwich and Black Bean soup…he liked! ;)He even chatted up your wife, who served us faster than any crap fast food place could've.

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