Licensees have told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser that serial complainers are pushing them to re-evaluate their approach to the site, despite its influence on potential customers.
Pascal Watkins, of the Angel Inn at Hetton, North Yorkshire, has started challenging reviewers directly, saying one “accused me of acting like Basil Fawlty, so I came back with a really Basil Fawlty response”.
He said: “I won’t take it lying down. I respond to the critics.
“I have no idea whether this has affected my rating on TripAdvisor, but I do know that I now have people coming into the restaurant who have booked because of my responses.”
He continued: “TripAdvisor is a scourge on the hospitality industry.
“Leaving a bad review is an attack on the business.”
Anthony Pender, director of Yummy Pubs, said his business has benefited from disengaging with the site.
He said: “We found that, when we replied, the amount of negative reviews went up and the levels of positive feedback went down.
“Now, as a policy, we wouldn’t respond directly to reviews but we encourage customers to get in touch with us directly.
“A good review will do a lot more good than a management response.”
Pender also stressed that the website has gone downhill since its inception: “Seven or eight years ago it was a really balanced blogging community, but now it’s just being used as a whipping boy.”
Management responses to reviews made headlines last summer when Buckinghamshire pub chef, Kiren Puri, posted a strong reaction to a negative review. He wrote: “I have never met a self-professed foodie who starts his meal with a bowl of chips.”
He told the PMA: “I’m opposed to the lack of regulation in our industry, which simply wouldn’t be tolerated in other industries.
“TripAdvisor’s lack of regulation means anyone can write a destructive comment without even having eaten at the establishment.
“I really prefer customers to let us know in person if anything is wrong — that is much more likely to happen in France than in England, for example. Just talk to us, and we’ll do our best to put things right. We’re human, so we’re not perfect, but we do try our best.”
A TripAdvisor spokesman said it was a misconception that the site was full of negative reviews.
He said: ““In reality, people take the full weight of opinion into account. There might be one or two negative reviews, but people will be much more swayed by the positive ones.
“There are 280million visitors to the site. It provides a huge marketing platform for small businesses such as pubs.
“We hear all the time of businesses who have survived because of Trip Advisor.”
Pascal Watkins' responses on TripAdvisor:
To a reviewer who described him as a 'Basil Fawlty' type - “Keep taking the tablets Major, and should you have a period of lucidity, do get in touch with the management team
direct, otherwise how are we to put right what we are not sure actually happened? Oh I forgot! Next time you want to be this cryptic, try The Times crossword. As I’m delighted to say... the papers have arrived Major.”
To a customer who complained about the waiting staff but neglected to mention that Watkins had offered a free bottle of Prosecco - "I am sorry to say that you are a very ungrateful and ungracious so and so for posting a negative review after I went the extra mile."
To someone who said the food lacked wow factor and that the jury was out on whether they would return -"I can't decide whether I want you to come back or not...the jury's out on this one."
To a wedding guest who complained about rude staff - “The staff at the Angel are not rude, it is just that you don’t agree with our booking policy.”
To a guest at a separate wedding who accused him of being 'very rude and very angry' - “There are so many lies in this conceitful account that it’s hard to know where to start."