The story bounced across the Internet, generating thousands of comments on Facebook, Yelp and Twitter, and prompting nearly 36,000 people to sign a petition on Change.org that asks the Department of Labor to look into the Bouzaglo's practice of pocketing their servers' tips.
While many corporations hire communications experts to respond to every tweet, Facebook message and online review, the wave of digital feedback can be especially challenging for small businesses with small staffs, digital consultants said.
For one thing, there is so much online content to wade through. Roughly 60 percent of all adults get information about local businesses from search engines and entertainment websites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor, according to a 2011 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
"Customer service is a spectator sport now," said Jay Baer, president of Convince & Convert, a social media marketing consultancy in Indiana. "It's not about making that customer happy on Yelp. That's the big misunderstanding of Yelp. It's about the hundreds of thousands of people who are looking on to see how you handle it. It's those ripples that make social media so important."
In their "Kitchen Nightmares" episode, Amy and Samy Bouzaglo are seen yelling and cursing at customers inquiring about undercooked food or long delays. They blame online bullies.
"We stand up to them," Amy Bouzaglo tells the camera at one point. "They come and they try to attack us and say horrible things that are not true."
That's exactly how businesses shouldn't respond, the digital experts said.
"If your policy is to berate the customer online, that doesn't create good public relations," Garrity said.
Baer said he tells clients to create a response matrix representing different potential complaints that staff can refer to whenever bad feedback arises. Creating the comment chart before the bad publicity hits helps ensure businesses aren't responding to angry or disappointed customers with their own anger or disappointment, Baer said.