James Evison checks out a pub that knew how to handle an online insult.

 

It is the bane of publicans' lives – the terrible and unfair online customer review. Often it is based on half-truths.

Possibly the "customer" has not even visited the pub and simply has an axe to grind. But how do you respond? One pub has found a unique and heartwarming response.

Stuart Fox and Julian Crowley didn't even plan to become publicans, but in 2016 they took over the tenancy of Ei Group's White Horse in Dover, Kent, after careers as an NHS nurse and an officer for P&O ferries respectively.

 

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"A massive and expensive career change in your early 40s sounds like lunacy, doesn't it? But how could we not? The pub had come up for sale after a couple were retiring and we thought: let's do it."

But six months ago, after a promising start with a 71 per cent increase in sales – and reaching the top of TripAdvisor for the Dover area – it received a scathing online review. They decided to fight back.

Stuart says: "It wasn't actually a TripAdvisor review, it was posted on Google. He said "expensive, not a pub, more of a restaurant, Poser's (sic) sat at the bar."

Immediately, Stuart and Julian screenshot the review and posted it on The White Horse's Facebook page, asking their customers: "who wants to step up and be the poseur?"

They received an "overwhelming" response to the request – and Stuart and Julian decided to turn it into a social media campaign for the pub, resulting in the duo winning their pubco's marketing award of the year last month.

Stuart says: "We are already really out there on social media, but we wanted to take it a step further.

"I know a local chalkboard artist, and we decided rather than having something like 'traditional homecooked meals' on the blackboard behind the back bar, we would have 'Poseurs at the bar'. We would then encourage people to go on Instagram and other social media using #poseursatthebar with shots of them below the sign."

"It's been great. We had people coming in from everywhere to have their picture taken – we've had 'Gin lesbians at the bar', 'Germans at the bar', the list goes on and on."

 

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Don't get dragged into it 

Images on Instagram show how light-hearted the response to the review was – and also how the licensees took ownership of the narrative.

Stuart explains: "It is so easy on social media to be aggressive, but don't attack, don't go on the offensive – you have to rise above it."

He refers to a TripAdvisor review where the pub was criticised for not being able to offer a table as it was fully booked – and therefore 'turning away' custom.

"Just reply politely," he continues, "don't give in to them. For the lady that said it was 'nice to know you are turning away customers', we just replied 'we can't turn away paying customers who have booked weeks in advance'."

 

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He also added a cheeky side note.

"We discovered she had given the White Cliffs of Dover, which is obviously a world renowned tourist site – only a two-star review. So, we referred to that, and said 'sorry your trip to Dover and the White Cliffs wasn't to your satisfaction.'"

It is also important to keep things in perspective. A quick overview of the pub's customer reviews online shows an overwhelmingly positive response from the majority of customers – many posting extensive, well informed reviews of the pub's offer.

In the end, the message is pretty simple for publicans using social media and gauging the level of response required.
"The most important thing is to be positive," Stuart concludes.

 

Fact box:

  • Pub: The White Horse, Dover, Kent
  • Ownership: Ei tenancy
  • Offer: Traditional British homemade food, wide range of beers & gins
  • Social media: Check out #Poseursatthebar