Miss Manners: To yelp, or not to yelp?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dear Miss Manners:

It is in desperation I turn to you to teach proper etiquette to the 20-plus crowd for dealing with problems they have with businesses they patronize. I refer to the all-too-common practice of leaving the place in a huff, rushing to the computer and yelping about the experience over the Internet. The resulting scathing reviews sharply cut into the business's customers and revenues. The damage can be severe. Loyal and appreciative customers can do nothing to repair the victim's reputation.

One extremely popular Web site makes all its money by charging businesses $300 a month both to select which reviews come first on its site and to answer the charges of the negative reviewer. There are reports that businesses who refuse to pay find the good reviews vanishing from their sites and bad reviews taking their place.

I, personally, am horrified by the bad reviews I see. The revered and highly respected ob-gyn who successfully steered me through an extremely difficult twin pregnancy was given a one-star review by someone who visited his office once.

She announced to him she had decided not to have children. He engaged her in what he thought was harmless banter. She flounced out and gave him a scathing review. He lost patients. I just related this story to strangers at a coffee shop, and they immediately knew who the doctor was and were amazed that he had a bad review from anyone!

Professional restaurant critics visit restaurants several times with friends before they write their review. While not every review is glowing, all reviews are polite and give credit to the business for knowing its trade.

People who expect and deserve good service from the business they patronize politely bring any shortcomings to the attention of the owner/manager and give them a chance to rectify the situation. They do not yelp!

Since your one example is on behalf of your doctor, Miss Manners will assume that you do not have a professional interest in suppressing complaints. But is she mistaken in detecting an edge against all who use this method of making their grievances heard?

She does agree that dissatisfied customers and clients should first complain calmly to the person or business itself. Reputable people have thanked her for doing so, always saying how much they prefer the chance to make amends instead of losing patronage without knowing why.

But not every person or company is conscientious -- or even reachable. Reviews have been a much-needed outlet for those who have been given the Your-Call-Is-Important-to-Us runaround.

Besides, such sites contain recommendations as well as complaints. Why don't you write one for your doctor? Although Miss Manners considers it injudicious, at best, to banter with a patient over an important and emotional issue, she might be swayed by strong evidence of professional competence.

Dear Miss Manners:

Under what circumstances is it permissible to taste a bite of a dining companion's food in a restaurant? My mother and I have always traded "bites" by placing a small portion on the edge of the plate of the other, or alternatively passing a small amount on a clean bread-and-butter dish. My husband is appalled by this practice. What say you?

That it would be a good idea for you to stay out of your husband's plate.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

2010 Judith Martin

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