Some restaurants go through something I know very intimately:

Years ago, a family member of mine had been subjected to an attack over the Internet. Something that by most measures is embarrassing and private has been the first search result on Google for her name. It has been readily available to the public although she didn’t hurt anyone.  An anonymous cowardly person has gone to great lengths to run a smear campaign. Luckily, this issue will soon be resolved. But the point is people can be mean.

Obviously, your restaurant’s online reputation is important and is getting progressively more important. Therefore, you have to defend it and do whatever you can to protect against the most abusive attacks on your restaurant. First off, you need a method to know when something damaging appears. For most restaurants using Google’s Me on the Web (on your Dashboard of your Google account) or Google Alerts will keep you updated to any changes in important information that appears on the web about your restaurant. It sends updates through email so you keep informed about what is being said online.

I am NOT talking about tough criticism but a cruel and blind attempt to ruin a restaurant. Many owners want only the positive side of the Internet (especially on Yelp), and waste time fretting about a problematic supply of negative opinions online rather than addressing them in their restaurant. We are talking about the lone gunman, not reoccurring problems.

In truth, restaurants that experience online content do not have a quick way of suppressing the content because the content has not broken the rules (whether its Googles or Yelp or the webmaster’s).

Still, frequently a customer, competitor or former staff member has a vendetta against your restaurant and attempts to destroy your online reputation making it impossible for customers to question the integrity of your restaurant. You may have see that reputation management companies sell services to improve your online profile but not without considerable expense. This should be a last resort.

The main link where a restaurant can interrupt the flow of abusive content to their customers is in search engines so two of these suggestions involve creating valuable content (and positive) about your restaurant. If a customer cannot find this unfair or inaccurate rant, it matters little. (if something is not on the first page of Google barely anyone notices).

Here are some tips:

Provide Valuable Content on Your Restaurant’s Blog

Restaurants, however, should realize the best defense is an offense through the creation of positive content that is worthwhile to customers. Restaurants can do a lot to protect themselves from this kind of abusive content even before it is posted, but this involves being proactive and taking the influence of the Internet on your business’s reputation seriously.

Blogs are great places to create a lot of valuable content about your restaurant. Search results on Google and Bing give preference to content with value. Restaurant blogs can include recipes, videos and articles that customers find valuable. These blogs should not be places for shameless, uninterrupted promotion (as search engines and customers tend to find less value in this), but for giving information that a customer would enjoy and shed a good light on your restaurant. If you don’t have the time, you may need to pay a content writer (make sure they are intimate with your restaurant).

Here is an example of content that may provide value for customers. If you are an Irish bar, you may have an article about Irish bar traditions and how they developed. Of course, include your restaurant in the article as it will not appear in search engine results  if it seems unrelated to your business. The trick is connecting valuable content with your business.

A supply of posts on a blog prevents any old website about your restaurant from rising to the top. Of course, major media sources will overwhelm your blog but they normally don’t abuse restaurants.

Send Press Releases to Media

As major media sources do very well in search results, one way to protect yourself against is to get in the newspaper or on television. So when your business is doing something original whether its an event, promotion or perhaps the entire concept of your restaurant, you should send out a press release to get positive press coverage.

Search engines love legitimate media sources because customers read them as they provide interesting and objective content. Frequently, they fill the top of your search results if the site is visited and trusted by online surfers. Besides press releases, if picked up by media, can get the word out about your restaurant and increase business.

Actively Engage Customers Online

Lastly, you should try to interact with these wrongdoers, even those that seem set on insulting your restaurant. This is a delicate process and you shouldn’t act defensive, but as someone who realizes that the source may take down the information if their opinion becomes less extreme. Don

Do not try to bribe them (with freebies), but do invite them back to your restaurant or try to resolve the issue in a polite and concerned matter. Ask them to come again and tell them that you address whatever was the source of the grievance (make sure whatever may have caused the problem doesn’t happen again). Diplomacy works many times and should be the initial strategy as it produces the cheapest and fastest results when successful.

Contact a Lawyer or Webmaster

Sometimes, a customer crosses the line by violating your legal rights or disobey the terms of service of the website (like for WordPress or Blogger). Research this and consult someone knowledgeable before you try to have the information removed. If its only a violation of the terms of service (like harassing content), the webmaster approach might only produce temporary results and further enrage this spiteful person. They may seek out another website that will not pull down the material.

A lawyer, if it is really bad, may be able to take legal action  (whether in court or the threat of a lawsuit). This is pretty expensive way of handling it, so definitely see if this is some really horrible stuff that will stick around for a while. In your state, investigate what the standard is for libel (written defamation) and see if a lawyer can help.

Report Spammy Attacks to Google

Frequently, these customers spam their rant (repeating word for word their proble)  all over the place. This can be reported to Google and sometimes, Google (and Bing) will take action to penalize the content in their search engine or remove the site entirely from search results. Normally, Google does this for a short period of time (a month). This can further enrage these people and they may find ways around this tactic.

In the end, I think the best way to guard your restaurant (other than maintaining consistent quality) is making sure there is positive content about your restaurant online. Most times, it prevent isolated abusive attacks from being a problem in the beginning and you don’t have to dedicate time and money to one abusive attack.