Dealing with criticism – the bad review!

These days there are blogs and review sites popping up everywhere and the chances that your establishment will get a glowing review 100% of the time, is slim to none. However, in the unfortunate circumstance of an unfavourable review, how you deal with it says more about your business than the review itself.

Firstly, is it true?

Read the review carefully, consider the comments that have been made. Is this a genuine review or a malicious attack? Most of the time, the reviewer does not have something against your business or enterprise – they are simply being honest about their experience. Does some of what they are saying ring true?

Secondly, reach out to the reviewer

This obviously all comes down to your PR guidelines, but we would suggest contacting the reviewer – not in a public forum (i.e. send direct messages not Facebook posts or tweets). Thank them for their review. Ask them if they would be willing to set up a call or a meeting to discuss the review.

Listen to what they have said

This is valuable information on your client / customer’s experience. Put away any anger or embarrassment you may feel and address the concerns raised. Often the issues are very easy and simple to fix and improve the overall experience.

What to do when you've received a bad review!

What to do when you’ve received a bad review!

Fix the problem

Remember that although it might seem like a PR nightmare, the problem is actually not the poor review. The problem is the poor experience one of your client’s had at your establishment, and the likelihood that others feel the same but are just not voicing  their concerns, but they will talk with their feet…

Once you have reached out to the reviewer in question, consider a public response. Something along of the lines of an apology to the reviewer for the awful experience, thanking them for bringing this to your attention and followed by an undertaking to rectify the issues.

Invite the reviewer again

Once you have addressed the concerns raised, invite the reviewer to come and try your establishment again. Throw in a free night’s stay or some other encouraging factor to get them to come back and ask them to let you know how they have experienced their second stay at your hotel, meal at your restaurant or spa experience.

We are not suggesting you specifically ask the reviewer to write a positive review, but hopefully they will be so pleased with the changes that they will want to let their readers know that you have taken their criticism to heart and improved the customer experience for everyone!

What not to do :

  • act in a defensive manner, sub-tweet, defame the reviewer;
  • ignore the review altogether, block the reviewer and put your head in the sand;
  • send threatening letters to the reviewer demanding they remove the post/publish an apology (this will only result in them writing further articles or posts about how poor your management style really is and how you have threatened them…);
  • any other action that is aimed at trying to “silence” the reviewer and/or the bad review.

Prevention is better than cure

Of course, your best option is to ensure that you never receive such a review, by contacting Guestwho Mystery Guest Services to come into your organization and conduct a review for you. Remember that our reviews are confidential and private and will not be published – the information is for your eyes only, so you can rectify any issues and ensure that you only receive a sparkling review from the public!

Should waiters take notes?

How to train your dragon waiter*

*waiter, waitress, waitron, server, steward etc – replace with whichever term you find least offensive

Fancy waiters without notepads

Yes, yes, for many years now, a sign of a classy restaurant is the fact that your possibly college-educated waiter takes your order without the need for a pen and paper.

“Paperless” waiters create an impression that staff members are well-trained and educated. However, the service must be impeccable for your establishment to get this one right. It’s no help if the waiter gets the order wrong or forgets to bring the starter!

If the waiter manages to remember the order correctly (without the need to come back to the table and confirm it) then your patrons will be impressed, but it is something that can easily backfire when things do not go according to plan.

Train ’em up

Waiters need to be very knowledge with respect to your restaurant’s menu. Ideally, the waiter should be able to answer questions as to ingredients in dishes and address diner’s concerns in line with their particular dietary requirement (without needing to excuse themselves to go and ask the chef).

Far more impressive (than a waiter who does not need a notepad) is a waiter who understands dishes that complement each other, and even more so, can suggest wine parings.

Waiters should not only undergo training in respect of their duties and the menu when they first begin at the restaurant, but refresher courses should be mandatory.  Alternatively, you should conduct an internal audit / review process, or make use of a mystery diner service such as Guestwho.

All waiters need kitty notepads and sparkly pens

(Not really). In fact, preferably, not at all! If waiters will be making use of notepads, either provide a standard notepad to staff, or insist upon a particular style of notepad being used. It is most definitely off-putting when a waiter whips out a scraggly and scruffy old notepad and then searches for an open space within which to record your guest’s order! The neater the presentation of the notebook, the better the impression created as to the strict requirements of the restaurant (and its general cleanliness and tidiness).

The standard-issue kitty notepad & sparkly pen

The standard-issue kitty notepad & sparkly pen

What’s in a name (tag) or a uniform?

As you may have realized by now, we at Guestwho Mystery Guest Services, are all about making a great first impression, and what better way to do that than to ensure your staff members are neatly presented and well-dressed?

Do uniforms make a difference?

  • they instantly create a team and unite staff (even if it is over their loathing of the uniform);
  • uniforms ensure all staff look similar and are easily identifiable by your guests / patrons;
  • they can immediately make an impression on guests (clean, neat uniforms translate in the minds of guests to clean, neat rooms and facilities);
  • regardless of your employees’ personal circumstances, providing them with uniforms means they do not need to worry about how to dress or be concerned about additional financial implications of “dressing the part”;
  • uniforms can further establish your brand – through colour, style and use of your logo.

What’s in a name?

Often going hand-in-hand with uniforms are personalized employee name tags (as opposed to name tags that simply reflect the individuals job position or title such as “manager”).

Are name tags important? Absolutely! They allow patrons to identify your staff members and create a more personal atmosphere.  They also allow guests to know the name of the individual who assisted them when complimenting (or complaining!) about your business. Name tags establish a bond between your guests and staff and should be worn at all times.

Do it properly or not at all

Uniforms and name tags are both great tools that can be used to further the image and professionalism of your establishment, however, if not well-maintained or well-implementing, they can have quite the opposite effect.  Often restaurants and hotels try to save costs by asking employees to wear all black or black and white.  While this can work for smaller establishments, you lose control over the style of dress worn, the quality of the clothing and the overall picture of unity, neatness and cleanliness. So, if you do require your staff members to wear uniforms and name tags, do it properly or not at all!

Uniforms - she isn't wearing one!

Uniforms – she isn’t wearing one!

Do you have any additional comments on wearing uniforms and name tags? Let us know in the comment box below!

Surprises are great – just not on the bill! (our mystery guest views)

The most amazing hotel, lodge, restaurant or spa experience can be ruined (beyond repair) by a nasty surprise on the bill (check) or account at check-out.

Those hidden costs

Guestwho, a mystery guest services company, has noticed a trend among hotels, lodges and spas to offer a great rate or special but then have a number of add-on costs.

There is no big issue with additional costs, but the problem comes when these are not clearly explained to the guest or patron and/or where the additional costs are not displayed prominently or at least in an accessible manner (such that a guest knows that if they want to make use of that service it will cost x amount of money).

In respect of services, amenities or facilities, the use of which would ordinarily be expected to be included in the fee, it is all the more important to ensure guests are aware that these carry an additional cost.

First and last impressions

It is said that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and while we at Guestwho firmly support this and the importance of making a great first impression, even if everything else at your hotel, lodge, restaurant or spa has been absolutely perfect and the guest has had the most amazing time, nothing can ruin that experience more than a nasty surprise on the bill for some cost that the guest had thought was included or a complimentary amenity.

The effect can be so damaging that even though the guest may not complain, their memory and recollection of their experience at your establishment will be forever tainted by the unwelcome expense, to such an extent that they may never return.

What is expected?

These are some items or services that guests would expect to be included in the room cost / treatment cost –

  • Hotels – use of hotel gym, swimming pool, tea & coffee service in room, hotel breakfast, in-room hotel amenities (toiletries), wifi;
  • Lodgesgame drives, non-alcoholic drinks, all meals (if your lodge advertises as “all inclusive”);
  • Spas – use of swimming pool, steam room, sauna, non-alcoholic drinks, light snacks and fruit.

We are not suggesting that you cannot charge for the use of these services or amenities, but rather that if you choose to charge for these, that you make this clear to your guests  – preferably on your website, as well as at the time the guest makes a reservation and again when they arrive at reception. Consider included a price list in guests’ rooms or readily available in the spa.

Mystery Guest Additional Expenses

Are there any other items that you (as a guest) would typically expect to be included?

(Secret) Shopping up a storm

Mystery guest service companies, such as Guestwho, are often asked to be “secret shoppers“. Like all our other mystery guest services, we would visit the particular store and pretend to be just another regular customer, and then report back to management about our experience, so that various weaknesses or problem areas can be identified and rectified.

Secret Shopper List of Great Ideas

Based on our experiences, we have prepared the list below, which is (admittedly) more appropriate for a smaller or boutique-style store, but many of these tips could be implemented in larger retail outlets, with a bit of tweaking –

  • greet and welcome a customer within 30 seconds of the customer entering the store;
  • offer assistance –  a simple “Is there any way that I may help you?” or “Are you looking for something in particular?” goes a long way;
  • do not judge a customer and proceed to then treat them according to such assessment (think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman);
  • if a customer has picked up an item and is holding it in their hand, offer them a basket or offer to hold the item at the till/checkout point;
  • if the customer is engaging with you, offer some suggestions;
  • at the till/checkout, ask if the customer has found everything that they were looking for;
  • ask if any of the items are gifts and offer gift-wrapping (if this is something that your store offers complimentary, which we think is always a good idea);
  • consider purchasing software that allows you to record customer’s details and purchase history – this will assist you in getting to know your customers and targeting new campaigns at specific individuals;
  • if your store packaging uses tissue paper, spray the tissue paper with a fragrance (that is different to the one purchased by the customer – this way you can introduce customers to other fragrances and ranges);
  • if a manager needs to be called at any stage, the manager should greet the customer, introduce themselves and apologize for whatever the issue is (whilst simultaneously fixing it!);
  • if the customer is paying by card (or if you have a loyalty programme that lets you identify the customer’s name), thank them formally, using their surname (eg Thank you Ms Bigspender, thank you Mr Moneypants);
  • when handing over the purchased items, preferably walk around the till/checkout and hand the items directly to the customer.


Guestwho loves shopping in New York!

Guestwho loves shopping in New York!

Rude Receptionists – the importance of the front of house

Website and telephone bookings aside, the front of house / reception is the ultimate first impression-making opportunity for your hotel, lodge or spa, and yet this is an area where our mystery guests often identify significant issues.

Rude receptionists

You would be forgiven for thinking someone enters the hospitality industry because they enjoy being hospitable. At Guestwho, we have been amazed at just how rude and unwelcoming some receptionists can be – and at the most luxurious of hotels and estates! A disinterested, unfriendly and unhelpful receptionist can set the tone for the guest’s entire visit and really impact on that guest’s perception of your establishment, with the result that when they are again looking for an hotel, lodge or spa in that area, your business may very well not be their first choice.

Guest experience audit

Conducting your own hotel audit / customer experience audit can be tricky because everyone is nicer when the boss is around (hence the growth in mystery guest services) but we’ve included a mini-checklist below for what is expected of a great front of house –

  • all persons in front of house should be friendly, polite, well-trained and well-mannered;
  • they should be dressed immaculately and be wearing name badges;
  • receptionists should welcome guests, introduce themselves and address the guest appropriately;
  • when checking a guest into a room, receptionists should offer to make a reservation for the guest at the hotel’s restaurant (a great little up-sell!);
  • staff should assist with any luggage;
  • arrange that guests are escorted to their rooms, and shown the hotel’s features en route;
  • similarly, at spas, a brief spa tour should allow patrons to be introduced to the spa’s facilities before they are escorted to the change rooms.

Our mystery guest suggestions

Some additional ideas to ensure your guests feel incredibly welcome at your luxurious establishment –

  • offer guests a welcome drink on arrival (it needn’t be French champagne, some chilled water with mint or cucumber is inexpensive but a great gesture);
  • provide complimentary bite-sized snacks, fruit and nuts  in the reception area / lounge;
  • ask guests checking-in whether they are visiting for business or pleasure
    • business, ask if they need a meeting room made available to them (assuming you have such facilities), if they need conference call dial-ins set-up for them and if they will be entertaining business guests and would like some restaurant suggestions (and then make any reservations for them);
    • pleasure, suggest some local tourist attractions, offer maps of the area and suggest some local tours (if they are interested, make the reservation /s on their behalf).

Hotel Reception Front of House Mystery Guest


“Conditioning Shampoo” and other hotel horrors

Dear hotels

The 80’s called – they want their 2-in-1 shampoo & conditioner back!

Rightly or wrongly your guests will judge you based on the “hotel amenities” you provide –  you know, those tiny bottles of happiness in your hotel rooms.

We’re not saying you need to offer L’occitane or Crabtree and Evelyn‘s range of hotel products (although, oh my goodness we would LOVE it if you did!) but spare some thought for the association of your hotel and its brand with the amenities you are making available for your guests.

Yes, we’re sure it gets expensive and guests nick them all the time (What? We’re not supposed to take them home?!) but a great little bottle of body lotion is a simple yet effective reminder of the wonderful weekend spent at your luxurious hotel!

Not only is the quality of the product important, but the type of product is too!  These are the absolute basics

  • conditioning shampoo is enough to make any gal cringe (shampoo and conditioner are two separate products – keep it that way!);
  • shower gel;
  • bubble bath / bath salts;
  • soap bars (at least one for the hand basin and one for the bath/shower);
  • body lotion;
  • emery boards, cotton buds (Q-tips) and cotton pads;
  • shoe mitt;
  • shower cap; and
  • sewing kit.

Here are some other ideas that would just delight us –

  • mini-facial cleanser;
  • hand cream;
  • body scrub;
  • pillow spray;
  • shave balm;
  • refreshing wipes;
  • mouth wash;
  • lip balm;
  • comb;
  • mini luffa;
  • mini pumice stone.

Think of your in-room amenities as an on-going marketing campaign for your hotel and your brand and remember, our mystery guests are not the only ones judging you, your guests are judging you too – impress them with great mini products!

Mystery Guest hotel amenities

Vegan, gluten free, banting – can your restaurant keep up?

With so many new diets and dietary restrictions these days, is it even possible for your restaurant to cater for them all and does it even matter?

Our mystery guests love being “difficult customers” and we’ve included some easy tips below for helping you to stay ahead of the diet trend.

Firstly, know thy diet (a rather rudimentary guide)

vegetarian – no meat, no fish but does eat eggs and dairy;

vegan – no animal products at all (no meat, no fish, no eggs, no dairy);

pescatarian – like a vegetarian but also eats fish;

ovo-vegetarian – like a vegan, but eats eggs;

lacto-vegetarian – like a vegan, but has dairy;

raw foodist – like a vegan, but food cannot be cooked above certain (very low) temperatures;

gluten free – as the name implies!

banting – low carb, high protein.

Secondly, examine your menu

You needn’t redo your entire menu, but catering for any of the above dietary restrictions can be really easy.  You don’t even need to have a specific menu option available, but could rather include a note that your restaurant is “[insert whichever applicable diet] friendly” and encourage guests to ask their waitron for more information.

Thirdly, make small changes

Most restaurants already cater for pescatarians, vegetarians (lacto- and ovo-vegetarians) and the banters, but there are some really easy ways to make guests with other dietary restrictions feel more welcome –

  • stock long-life soya/almond/rice milk for the vegans;
  • stock gluten-free breads / wraps;
  • have a gluten-free pasta option (if your restaurant serves pasta);
  • consider “build your own” salad, pizza or wrap options to enable customers to choose their own fillings/toppings;
  • many of your current menu options may already be catering for specific requirements, without you even realizing this.  Discuss menu items with your head chef and identify those that can be re-branded where appropriate.

Customers with special dietary requirements are more than happy to pay a little extra, so feel free to add an on small levy for the soya milk or gluten free wrap options – your restaurant patrons will gladly pay this.

If you are still feeling lost in a world of interesting diets, contact Guestwho and we will happily assist you in identifying where your restaurant can make simple changes with significant results for your special request guests.

A perfectly delicious vegan Philly steak

A perfectly delicious vegan Philly cheese steak

Kiddie friendly (but still classy) restaurants

The dating game involves a large number of restaurant visits, but once a relationship progresses and children arrive, parents are often left with very few restaurant options, with “child friendly” or “family restaurant” usually being part of restaurant chains and not typically being associated with to0 much class.

Is it possible to have a child friendly but still classy restaurant? We think so!

Here are some possible ideas from a Guestwho mystery guest for upping the family-friendly factor of your restaurant without detracting from its elegance and class too much –

  • prepare a separate kiddies menu, with simple, mild foods and tasty desserts;
  • arrange a children’s area, preferably in a closed room, with large windows (so parents can still see their children without necessarily having to hear their screams of delight!);
  • employ students as entertainers for the children – this goes beyond babysitting services, let them interact with the children, play games and activities with the kids;
  • depending on the size of the venue available, have different activity stations for kids –
    • arts and crafts;
    • play doh and cookie cutters;
    • boardgames;
    • perhaps even a mini photo booth option where kids can dress up with various accessories and email the digital photos to their parents –  a great way to build up your mailing list, subject to applicable data laws of course!;
  • arrange activities around themed events (let the kids make pretty cards for mothers’ day, decorate eggs at Easter time);
  • for those children who prefer to stay with their parents, have traditional coloring in and quiet-time paper activities for these kids, but with all the fun available in your kids’ activity zone, it is unlikely many children will prefer to stay at the table;
  • children should be escorted to and from the kids’ activity zone to ensure they are not left running in and out of your restaurant;
  • include identi-tags or arm bands for children with corresponding codes for their parents, so parents need not be concerned that someone else might take their child from the kids’ activity zone.

Although many of the above suggestions will include an additional expense for you to implement and maintain them, if parents are able to enjoy a delicious romantic meal, whilst their children are happy and entertained, your business should certainly reap the rewards in the longer term.

Child friendly but classy restaurants - mystery guest tips

Luxury lodges – a few game drive ideas

Tips from a mystery guest for distinguishing your luxury all-inclusive game lodge

A quick Google search for a luxury all-inclusive game lodge in South Africa will produce  hundreds of fine results and, with just about every second cattle farm converting to a game farm, competition is tougher than ever before!

So how do you distinguish your luxury all-inclusive game lodge from the hundreds of others offering exactly the same thing?

As mystery guests, we are trained to notice the small details, the areas where lodges go the extra mile (or don’t!) and we provide comprehensive reviews for our clients so that they can understand how to improve their business and increase the rate at which (their) clients return.

Here are a few tips in relation to game drives that Guestwho’s mystery guests have identified based on our reviews of some of the very best of luxury game lodges that South Africa has to offer –

  • ensure your guides are well-qualified and knowledgeable (and able to add value on game drives and guided walks);
  • even if animals are scarce, guides can impress guests by identifying animals tracks (“spoor”) in the sand;
  • provide blankets and hot water bottles (if it is really cold) on game drives;
  • provide spot lights or large torches to guests for use during the game drives;
  • include a stop for some tea, coffee or hot chocolate on morning drives and drinks on evening drives;
  • set up a small table with a table cloth when stopping on drives;
  • provide complimentary rusks in the morning and nuts or chips in the evening;
  • provide serviettes, napkins and/or wet wipes to guests;
  • if drinks are not included in your “all-inclusive” pricing structure, then ensure the guide takes notes of what guests have to drink – don’t expect your guests to provide you with this info after the drive;
  • arrange that there is someone waiting with hot refresher towels as you return to the lodge (and make sure they are actually warm!)
  • have espressos ready and waiting for guests when they return from a morning game drive; and
  • perhaps offer small glasses of sherry (or warm apple juice with ginger) to guests in the evening when they return from the game drive.

These are just a few ideas and tips from Guestwho, can you think of any other tips or ideas for game drives?

Mystery Guest tips luxury game lodges