My advice to restaurant owners: don’t apologize for a bad Yelp review | Gene Marks

Gene Marks
4 min readOct 23, 2022


(This column originally appeared in The Guardian)

Remember Anton Ego — the aptly-named villainous restaurant critic in the animated film Ratatouille? His scathing review of Chef Gusteau’s restaurant debatably contributed to the chef’s death. It was only the delicious food prepared by Remy — he was the rat — which saved the day for the celebrated Parisian eatery. Ego represented a cohort of food critics that dominated the restaurant industry for centuries. But where are those food critics today? Sure, there are still a few around. But most of them have been crowdsourced by review sites like Yelp.

Yelp has become the place where people get their food reviews. And not just food. It’s retailers and services too. The site reportedly has logged 184m reviews worldwide and 178m unique visitor each month. Some 45% of people will check a Yelp review before visiting a business. That is great power.

But with great power comes great responsibility. And media attention. Yelp has become so powerful that fights between business owners and their unhappy patrons become legendary — and oftentimes go viral. I like these fights. And I’m always rooting for the business owner.

I’m rooting for the owner of the daycare center in Fresno California who filed defamation lawsuits against customers who left bad reviews. I’m cheering for the owner of a Colorado sushi restaurant who routinely claps back at unhappy customers. And the veterinarian, the owner of a gun range and appliance repair service who bested the worst of their bad reviews. I’m happy for the construction business in Canada that won a $90,000 defamation lawsuit against a guy who posted negative reviews about his company. Good for all of them.

During the pandemic, Yelp saw a 161% spike in negative restaurant reviews from users and the platform removed over 15,000 bad user reviews related to Covid restrictions. What kind of person is leaving a bad review for a struggling business at perhaps one of the worst economic catastrophes in recent memory? And who complains when a business owner is struggling to make their establishment safe for their workers and customers? Idiots, that’s who. Lots and lots of idiots that are on Yelp.

Most experts tell small businesses to be kind to these idiots. One of them, for example, a restaurant industry adviser, says that you should say “thank you”, swallow your ego and your desire to avoid conflict. “The other readers will see that you are responsive and caring for your customers,” he writes.

The industry adviser’s advice is the general consensus among most experts. Be nice, they say. Be professional. Respond courteously. Take responsibility. Acknowledge the complaint and show the public that you’re aware of the problem and will address it. But is this really good advice? No, it’s not. My advice: stand up for yourself and fight.

Fight because the public already knows the truth. A snotty reviewer like Anton Ego is now only one puny voice among thousands. And if you manage to accumulate thousands — or even hundreds — of Yelp reviews and 98% of them are positive then you’re fine. You can’t please everyone. We also know that there are plenty of losers with their own personal issues that have no better way to spend their time than to anonymously criticize a food establishment because the soda they received didn’t have enough ice. We know that even Yelp — like Google and Amazon reviews — can be rigged and that some reviews are dubious at best.

We know that some people leave bad reviews just to extort business owners, and some states like Arizona are actually taking legislative action to put a stop to that practice. We also know that for every one customer who takes the time to leave a Yelp review — positive or negative — there are tens of thousands who have better things to do with their lives than praising (or disparaging) a small business owner trying to earn a living. Count me as one of them.

So don’t apologize. Don’t snivel. Don’t take responsibility for inaccurate, unwarranted comments. If you have done something wrong, admit it and fix what you can. Otherwise stand your ground. Be professional, of course. But fight back and defend your business. The public needs to see that you’re not going to accept a bad review like it’s a fact. To me, that’s even worse than apologizing.

You’re proud of your business. You depend on your business for your livelihood. You have thousands of happy customers. Tell the customer you’re both better if he goes somewhere else. You’d rather serve nice people who appreciate the products and services you work hard to provide. And then move on. Because you know that guy is going to want to get into an online war. He has no life. You do.

I like it when owners fight back. It shows they care. So stop apologizing when you get a bad Yelp review from the Anton Egos of the world. Show the public that you care too.

Originally published at on October 23, 2022.



Gene Marks

Columnist on smallbiz, economy, public policy, tech for The Guardian, The Hill, Philly Inquirer, Wash Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur. Small Business owner and CPA