Customers love to share their dining experiences on social networks and review platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Yelp. The restaurateurs that provide outstanding service are often able to tout five-star ratings across these sites. But when you come across a reviewer who called your food plain and your customer service nonexistent, what do you do?

Don’t panic. Nearly every negative review provides an opportunity to make a positive impression on current and potential customers. When you respond to a negative review and address the upset customer on these review platforms, hundreds of other consumers can see how you conduct business. People understand that mistakes happen, so when they see a restaurant owner or manager trying to do the right thing, it builds trust in the brand.  

Here are some guidelines to help make the most out of a negative review:

1. Respond immediately. When you make a point to address feedback as soon as possible, customers will see that you’re committed to improving customer experiences. When you let bad reviews sit unanswered, they can snowball over time. Recently, for example, a customer was refused service at a New York Restaurant while wearing Google Glass. She responded with a negative review, and what started as a single comment from one disgruntled customer soon snowballed into a community of people weighing in with similar experiences. The sooner you respond, the sooner you can defuse the likelihood that an isolated incident will balloon into a bigger issue.

2. Personalize interactions. Rather than spouting off a boiler-plate response to every negative comment, show the reviewer that you’re really listening. Repeat back specific details of their problem—whether it was the too-salty fettuccine alfredo or the rude waitstaff, acknowledge the specific issue at hand. This shows the customer that you are listening and demonstrates that you are willing to address and ultimately fix the issue.

3. If appropriate, offer a free “second try.” To demonstrate your commitment to providing a great customer experience and the belief in your brand and product, offer customers a free second try. Consider using coupons or gift cards to encourage customers to dine with you again—presumably with better results. Often when customers do have a better second experience, they will update their review—again showing other customers that you are committed to providing an excellent experience.

4. Use an online reputation platform. Managing your reviews across multiple platforms can be challenging. Using an online reputation platform allows you to see and respond to reviews across all platforms from one interface. An online reputation platform aggregates data across all review sites and can give a complete picture of how your restaurant is perceived across the web. Better yet, look for a platform that alerts you when new reviews are posted. This enables you to jump into action if new reviews warrant a response.

5. Don’t focus solely on the negative. While unaddressed, negative reviews are often what stick in customers’ minds. But it is also important to promote customers who share their great experiences. Respond to the positive reviews, engage with your customers and share their comments across your social networks to amplify the reach of those good experiences.

It’s always important to encourage customers to share their feedback—whether good or bad. Consider placing signs, table toppers or window clings for the review sites you’d like to promote. Another option is to add a note on the receipts gently reminding customers to leave their feedback. All these tactics work to increase the likelihood of customers sharing their experience.

The best way to get positive reviews and maintain a strong reputation is to provide exceptional service at all times. But when a customer does have a negative experience and shares it on a review or social platform, use the tips above to turn that review into a positive opportunity for your brand.

Phil Penton is the president of Social Integration, an end-to-end reputation and social media management platform.