People read and write online reviews for restaurants more than any other type of business. That's both good and bad news when it comes to managing your restaurant's online reputation. Here's how to make it only good news...
Hell hath no fury like a restaurant patron scorned.
As a restaurant owner or manager, you know "Those" customers. The ones who, upon being served a slightly limp salad or waiting 35 minutes for a table when the hostess said it would be 30, act as though you've insulted their mothers. Poor or mediocre service deeply offends them, and the only thing that brings them satisfaction is to write a one-star Yelp rant.
And hey, that's their right! Your restaurant staff might even get a chuckle out of reading the exaggerations and dramatic statements that those impossible-to-please customers make.
You and your staff have context, though. You know that this Yelp review from Tim M. doesn't reflect the whole truth. You know he devoured the pizza he claimed in his review was inedible, and that he actually only waited three minutes for his bill to arrive, not 15. The other people in your community, though? They only have Tim's word for it. Some people might read his review and file your restaurant away on a mental Do Not Eat There list.
So what's a restaurant owner or manager to do?
It's pretty simple, actually. Give your customers (and prospective customers) context. Show them a wide range of customer experiences so they can see for themselves that Tim M.'s review isn't an accurate representation of what it's like to eat in your restaurant.
To do that, you're going to need more reviews.
An Appetizer: Why Reviews Matter
The rise of online reviews has affected most brick-and-mortar businesses, but the restaurant industry has arguably been the most altered. Before online reviews, people would read newspaper reviews and get recommendations from friends about where to eat. Ultimately, though, walking into a new eatery meant taking a little bit of a chance.
We don't take chances anymore, not when it comes to choosing where to eat. When 30 seconds on a restaurant's Yelp page can show you photos, menus and a catalog of every rant and rave, why wouldn't you look?
And most people do. Research shows that people read reviews for restaurants and other dining establishments more than they do for any other business - by a wide margin.
In a recent survey, 60 percent of consumers surveyed said they had read reviews for restaurants or cafes. The next most commonly-read review category was hotels, with 40 percent of respondents saying they had read those reviews.
The people in your community do more than just read reviews, though. They believe what they read. In the survey, 85 percent of people said that they trust reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations from friends, and 73 percent of people said they trust a business more after reading positive online reviews.
Also noteworthy? Three-quarters of people surveyed said that only reviews from the previous three months are relevant, and the average customer wants a business to have 34 reviews before he or she will trust its star rating. But remember, people have allegiances to different review sites, which means you need to have a lot of recent reviews on all the major ones, including Yelp, Google, Facebook and TripAdvisor.
Your customers read and value reviews, but only if you have a lot of recent reviews for them to read.
The First Dish: General Reputation Management For Your Restaurant
Keep an Eye on Online Reviews
94% of customers choose a restaurant based on its reviews. Under no condition can you overlook online reviews on websites like Facebook, Google, or Yelp. It’s also imperative to have the proper tools to track your reviews on these platforms.
When you regularly monitor your reviews on these review sites, you can keep the finger on the pulse of your customers and their experiences at your restaurant. If they’re not happy with your services or quality of food, they will make it more than evident through these reviews. While this can be frustrating, it can also be worth its weight in gold.
Request Reviews From Your Customers
There isn't a good reason why you shouldn't be asking every single one of your customers for a review. Yes, there are different tactics to get it done (more on this below), but not asking is simply not an option. If you don’t ask, then you won’t receive… well, at least you won’t receive as many reviews as you could and should be getting.
And asking your customers for a review doesn’t need to be complicated, but you have to do it no matter what.
Respond to Negative Reviews
When you ask for reviews on a consistent basis, lo and behold you’ll start getting them! And if your restaurant is even half decent then most of those reviews will be positive. Of course you will notice the occasional bad review - it’s all but inevitable, especially in the food service industry.
Research shows that simply responding publicly to negative reviews in a kind, honest (and maybe even generous) way can recapture more than 40% of potential customers who wouldn’t consider your restaurant otherwise. That’s a huge impact simply by responding to honestly to negative reviews.
When you do this, make sure to directly address their concerns, avoiding boilerplate cut-and-paste responses. And of course if you can’t hold your tongue and can’t keep it together then do not respond publicly - it will only hurt you.
Update Your Online Business Listings When Appropriate
It’s important to complete your online business listings with full descriptions, website links, and photos. But you’ll also want to make sure you make temporary and seasonal updates too - for example if you have shortened hours on a holiday.
This will help set customer expectations (because you will get a bad review if the customer shows up during the hours shown on your Google listing and the restaurant is closed unexpectedly), but it also shows the review platform that you’re active on it, which can help boost your ranking. And who doesn’t want to rank higher on Google or Yelp?
Check Out Your Competitors
Evaluating competition can go a long way in helping you manage your restaurant's reputation. You can easily identify fresh trends and ideas and incorporate the same for your business, or intentionally choose to go in another direction to pave your own way forward. Again, customer reviews are often the gold mine here, as opposed to a competitor’s website that may not be frequently updated.
When you keep an eye on your competitors's reviews, you can easily identify what they're doing and how they're attracting customers. This can help you keep a track of innovative ways to not only maintain but also enhance your restaurant’s reputation.
The Main Course: Feasting on Rave Reviews
So we've established that you need a lot of positive reviews to woo your customers (and to drown out the Tim M's of the world).
Luckily, restaurants get anywhere from dozens to hundreds of customers per day. That's a huge pool of potential review writers, and when your happy diners are consistently writing reviews about you, 99 percent of your online reputation takes care of itself - because those reviews influence more than just the people who go looking for them.
Getting people talking about you online is important for search engine optimization purposes, as this will get your website to show up at the top of local search engine results. Some people even share the reviews they write on social media, which means one person's positive review could reach an audience of thousands.
But personally asking every one of those customers to write a review is just not realistic. It takes time you don't have. You could delegate the task to your servers and other staff, but there's no guarantee they'll ask everyone - plus, it's really awkward to ask customers for a favor.
So don't ask. Let ReputationStacker do it for you.
All you have to do is enter your customers' email addresses or phone numbers into the ReputationStacker system. It reaches out to your customers with a one-question survey, identifying the satisfied ones and directing them to the review sites of your choice to post a review. Dissatisfied customers are directed back to you, allowing you to address their concerns privately.
Putting that plan in place makes it possible to get new positive reviews each day. More importantly, they'll be positive reviews that you've actually earned by serving great food and providing great service.
The Final Course: Reviews in Review
In the restaurant industry especially, getting a steady stream of positive reviews has a ripple effect that boosts your online reputation and your real-world sales. But getting those reviews the old-fashioned way (asking each customer to write one) is inefficient.
An automated system like ReputationStacker does the heavy lifting for you, reaching out to your customers and prompting the happy ones to write reviews on their own time. And if writing a Yelp review reminds them how delicious your food is and how they should return soon, then that's just icing on the five-star cake.
Ian Kirby has been working in digital marketing for over 15 years. Having worked both with and for digital marketing agencies and in-house with multiple companies, he has a specific interest and expertise in online reputation management, online reviews, and the implementation of business systems. Ian’s writing, videos, and interviews have garnered millions of reads, views, and listens.