Rarely is Yelp uttered in front of a restaurant worker without an accompanying cringe. Whether or not a restaurant is the hottest thing since Indie Rock 'n Roll, there are bound to be some guests that had an awful experience and "Yelp-ed" about it on the most social online review site. Bad reviews not only turn away potential guests but also influence the psyche of the restaurant workers. The staff is invested in providing a great experience and can take it to heart when that doesn't happen. Here are some ideas for damage control and even positive publicity:
If someone loves your restaurant, of course you want them to tell the world in a very public and lasting way. On the contrary, if someone has a bad experience you still want to know, but you want to address the problem, make amends, and hope that it fades into the twilight. Be vocal about your feedback loop, ask for any complaints to be made directly to a manager or to a Twitter account and then encourage positive experiences to be shared on Yelp. Heck, you can even offer a reward for writing a kind review; you are entitled to say "Thank You!"
First impressions make a big impact and as people turn to the web for their restaurant choices, accurate information is crucial. You may have nothing to do with the information posted on Yelp, but that doesn't mean prospective guests won't blame you for it leading them astray. Avoid any misunderstandings and make sure that hours, location, phone number, and website are all correct; guests appreciate you being easy to find and shouldn't you want that? Yes, you should.
People are often far more vicious letting loose from a keyboard at an impersonal entity than they would ever be in real life. Likely they are exaggerating their experience to stand out more to other users. Yelp allows business profiles (they aren't the bad guys!) that enable you to respond to unhappy customers. Don't be defensive, simply accept responsibility that the guest had a bad night, offer your apology, and ask them to come back for a comp'ed meal. Almost without fail, they will retract their scathing comment and just might replace it with one that praises your customer service and hospitality.
People go to Yelp to look for restaurants to try. Posting ads on this site where people are already on the lookout for food will be much more effective than trying your luck on a big search engine or a less specialized social networking site. Give it a try and see if Yelp can make a positive impact on your customer base!