Inside the Mind of Negative Reviewers
General

Report: Inside the Mind of Negative Reviewers [2020]

Oct 29, 2020

Karen is no longer just a name, it’s a pejorative. It’s a set of characteristics that, among others, includes the penchant for making a scene out of the most insignificant of slights—a mountain out of a molehill, if you will. 

In some cases, it “Karen” may even be used as a verb: “Did you see Mrs. Smith go full Karen on the cashier at CVS?” the kids might ask.

The continued adoption of social media has put Karens on full display, and the ability to shame Karens on the internet may have, by and large, curbed Karen-like behaviors. But there is one domain where Karens continue to wreak havoc with impunity: on restaurant review services, with Yelp being the market leader.

We at Raydiant care deeply about restaurateurs. They already face steep odds of success, with razor thin margins and the fickle nature of the restaurant industry being among the challenges that they must overcome. The recent pandemic has pushed restaurant owners to the brink, and only the strong have survived.

USA Today reports how restaurant closures have accelerated in the months since the pandemic first emerged, and only the most strategic, innovative restaurateurs find themselves still in business.

And yet, customers who should recognize the admirable fight shown by restaurateurs think little of posting negative reviews of restaurants based on the underperformance of third-party delivery services. 

Any person capable of placing an order should have the capacity to understand that restaurants are not responsible for the actions of partnering delivery services.  Yet negative, delivery-related reviews continue to disparage the hard work and good names of restaurants the nation over.

For many, these reviews could very well be the difference between survival and permanent closure. 

This phenomenon led us to wonder: do these (often anonymous) Karens know that they are jeopardizing the livelihood of restaurateurs unjustly, or is something else going on? What could possibly explain the phenomenon of Karens wreaking havoc on forums such as Yelp and Tripadvisor?

To delve deeper into the question in search of answers, we went straight to 600 consumers who confessed to leaving negative reviews about restaurants in the past. 

Here’s what we found: 

Long-Time Eater, First-Time Reviewer

It turns out that the typical consumer who leaves a poor review does not do so frequently. According to our data, more than half (53.3%) of respondents only leave one to five restaurant reviews per year.

How many reviews would you estimate you leave per year

Roughly one-fifth of respondents leave between six and ten reviews per year, while only 4.3% of respondents leave 20 or more reviews in a single year. 

These findings could suggest many things, namely that 4.3% of respondents are bona fide, no-doubt-about-it Karens. We’ll give the benefit of the doubt, perhaps some number of that 4.3% are leaving positive reviews. But let’s be honest: anyone reviewing restaurants that prolifically, strictly for the love of the reviewing game is probably grinding their fair share of axes.

The fact that most respondents rarely leave reviews may suggest that they are only moved to post a review when their experience is either phenomenal or atrocious. In some of these cases, an extra-long wait time for a delivery or a delivery that is missed completely may be the source of a customer’s dismay. 

In fact, we know that 74% of reviewers left a negative review after a single bad experience:

Have you ever left a negative review after a single bad experience at a restaurant or business

Imagine this: you ordered a chicken parm sub from the local Italian joint. The estimated arrival time for your food is about 40 minutes, so you turn on the game and kill some time while you await the arrival of your delicious chicken parm sub.

40 minutes pass, an hour passes, then 90 minutes. The chicken parm you were promised by your Uber Eats or DoorDash app simply does not arrive.

The app says your order was placed. You call the restaurant, but they never received the order. Also, they’re about to close, so you’re S.O.L. You’re outraged, and understandably so. 

So what do you do? Something you never do: leave a review. But whose fault is it that your order did not arrive? Doesn’t matter, you think, there’s only a handful of review sites, and Yelp only presents one target for you to unleash your hunger-fuled fury upon: the restaurant.

You angrily smash the cursor on the red “Write a Review” icon. After clicking on a single star, you vent your frustration in the form of a terse, two-sentence thrashing. You already feel better as you go to click “Post Review” and…

Not. So. Fast, Karen.

Odds are, the restaurant had nothing to do with your missed order. Would they have turned down the chance to provide you a meal (which, by the way, they would receive your money for providing) if they had any inkling that you had placed an order? What sense would that make?

Don’t leave that review. Realize that delivery services are fallible, and make sure you take proper steps to ensure your order goes through next time you order. Heck, request a refund from the offending delivery service if you feel so inclined.

Just don’t leave that once-per-year, rage-induced review on the Yelp or Tripadvisor page of an innocent restaurateur. They genuinely do not deserve it.

Hitting the Wrong Target

There appears to be widespread misinformation about who is responsible for the timely delivery of food. Nearly half of the consumers we polled (47.3%) stated that they have left a negative review because of a service-related issue, such as their order taking to long to arrive, or receiving an order of cold food:

What issues led to leave the bad review

Wait, wait, wait. This isn’t adding up.

Presuming that these reviews were for the restaurant, rather than the delivery service, how could one leave a negative review because they received cold food. Think about it: if the food was cold, that generally means that either:

  1. The delivery driver took an unexpectedly long time in reaching the restaurant, or:
  2. The delivery driver took an unusually long time to reach you, perhaps because they were delivering multiple orders or because they got lost

Sure, there is a chance that the restaurant served cold food to a delivery driver who arrived on time, it’s just extremely unlikely. 

So we ask again: why are Yelpers and Tripadvisors-ers who are unhappy with their cold food Karening all over restaurants’ Yelp pages? 

You Can Lead a Horse to Logic, But…

We are forgiving people. Mistakes happen, and in some instances you simply don’t think things through before acting. Surely if we explain to reviewers that restaurants and third-party delivery services are separate entities, then they will see that restaurants are not responsible for the failures of the delivery service. 

What a naive thought!

Even after explanation about the separation of powers—the powers to deliver and prepare food separately, that is—44.5% of respondents said that the restaurant should still be held responsible for the failures on the delivery side.

If a restaurant partners with a third party delivery app like Postmates, GrubHub, UberEats, Doordash, etc to handle their deliveries, should they be accountable for issues related to the order delivery

“Because, ya know, it’s the restaurants’ choice to partner with such unreliable delivery services! If they don’t want to be held responsible for the actions of a DoorDash delivery driver they have never met or vetted, they should just open their doors and accept dine-in customers only!” – Karen

“What’s that? It’s illegal to have customers dine in? Well, I already left my review, sorry!” – also Karen

No, really. It appears based on our data that customers who blame the restaurant for the delivery service’s mistakes are holding their ground. When asked what the business they negatively reviewed (an innocent restaurant) could have done differently to ensure satisfaction, 43.4% of respondents said they would have liked a refund or credit. 

An additional 28% would have wanted an assurance that the problem would not happen again, while 25.9% would have liked an apology. These expectations vary in their reasonableness, but they all miss one point: it is not the restaurant who is responsible for delivery-related problems, it is the delivery service.

What could the business have done to properly satisfy you

Asking a restaurant to apologize, issue a refund, or ensure that a problem out of their own control will not happen again is asking them to act disingenuously.  It’s like asking you to be responsible for the tax check that your mailman loses, or takes two years to deliver. How’d you like that, Karen?

Breaking It Down

Here’s a reality that you may be aware of: many restaurants have not changed their operations to accommodate delivery service by choice. It has been a decision forced by executive orders and unprecedented legal action, and acquiescing to the needs of  the delivery economy has been little more for restaurateurs than a means of survival.

And yet, for many, deliveries have not been enough to keep the bills paid and the doors open. Travel and Leisure notes that 100,000 restaurants have closed since the initial shutdown, and that figure may only continue to balloon as restaurants that are barely hanging on throw in the towel.

And yet, as countless restaurateurs cling to their livelihoods, many continue to receive unfair criticism on sites such as Yelp and Tripadvisor. And, based on our data, a substantial portion of consumers feel no shame about this misplaced accountability, and have no intention to make their wrongly-placed review right.

We at Raydiant work hand-in-hand with restaurateurs, and understand the sacrifices that they make to feed their communities. We now better understand the problem of unfair reviewing practices, and we also understand more clearly that it will be up to review sites themselves to ensure that restaurants are not affected by poor reviews that they do not deserve.

That’s why we announced in September our media campaign Karen’s Killer Reviews. Our goal is to move sites such as Yelp to defend the restaurants that use their site by ensuring that reviews posted are reviews of the restaurant rather than a third-party delivery service. 

15,000 people and counting have signed our petition in defense of hardworking restaurateurs, and we hope that you will join the fight by signing today.

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