Reviews and online reputation are important for all businesses, but they have more impact on restaurants than any other industry. If you’re starting a restaurant, you need to think carefully about how your online reputation will develop and how it will impact your business. Here are some ideas and considerations for the all-important restaurant review.
Online reviews are a big deal today, impacting all types of businesses. But this is hardly news for restaurants. The entire online review industry started with Yelp and restaurants. Today, restaurants continue to get reviewed far more than any other type of business.
Restaurant owners don’t really need to worry about getting reviews. They’ll come, and sooner rather than later. The question most have in mind is how they can get review content – and online reputation overall – to work in their favor. Let’s explore how restaurants can take online reviews and turn them into reservations, busy bars, and full dining rooms.
Reviews are Part of Your Marketing Plan
When you first start a restaurant, you’ll have an initial plan that details how you’ll create a marketable business. You consider your location and competition. You make decisions about your decor, menu, staff, and entertainment.
Included in – and connected to – all of this is how you’ll be reviewed. From the beginning, you must consider how the experience you deliver with food and service translates into online reviews.
In the old days, restaurants had to deal with professional food critics. These people would come in, experience the restaurant, then write a review for a professional publication. Most reviewers for major publications were known, so the restaurant could prepare and do everything possible to deliver a flawless experience for the critic.
Today, every single diner is a potential critic who can write and publish a review of your restaurant. This means that in a way, you must have the A-game you’d present for a critic for every customer, every day.
This creates two important considerations.
Create a Marketable Restaurant
First, you have to think about your restaurant in terms of being a marketable business. This means you analyze your location to develop a restaurant locals are likely to flock to and one where you can differentiate yourself from the competition.
Far too many new restaurateurs open based almost totally on their personal tastes. They create a menu based on what they want to prepare, ignoring the realities of the marketplace.
You may love making burgers. But if you open a burger joint in a saturated market, it makes it that much harder to market. People’s reviews will be impacted by the fact that you’re “just another burger joint.”
You may love spicy Korean kimchee. But if you’re opening in a location where the locals are more likely to prefer country fried steak, it will be harder to win them over and earn positive reviews.
This is not hard and fast – you might be successful with any restaurant concept. Just keep in mind that you’re not your customer. You won’t be reviewing yourself. You must empathize with your customers and create an experience that will excite them. When you do, reviews – like word of mouth – will help your restaurant market itself.
The second consideration is people. The staff you hire will have as much of an impact on your reviews as the food. Just take a look at any restaurant with many reviews and you’ll see how staff treated people is as common a topic as the food.
No doubt it can be a challenge to find the kind of staff – from front of house to back – that is so positive, energetic, and passionate about serving customers that they become the backbone of your restaurant’s success.
But listen to Aaron Silverman, who started Rose’s Luxury in Washington D.C., a restaurant that was an instant hit and won best new restaurant in America by Bon Appétit Magazine in 2015.
Interesting how they don’t look at resumes or hire on experience. Instead, they hire based on personality and fit with their culture. In doing so, they’ve countered one of the biggest problems in the restaurant industry: turnover.
Restaurants run by families and that have loyal, long-term employees are more successful.
It’s no mystery why. One of the key attributes of marketing a local restaurant is having ownership and staff that enjoy serving people. Their goal is to produce a meal and an experience that delights diners.
Finding the right staff is a focal point when considering reviews. When you’re hiring people, think about how they’re likely to be portrayed in customer reviews. Do they have a strong customer service ethic, or do they seem like the type of person who sees customers as an annoyance?
The people who work for you will have a huge impact on your reputation. Do your best to select people who will get mentioned in reviews for their excellent service and positive attitude.
How Do I Get More Positive Reviews for My Restaurant?
Beyond the service and planning we’ve discussed, there are there several effective ways to proactively get positive restaurant reviews.
A first step is simply to ask diners as they finish up their meal. Train your staff to focus on people who seemed to really enjoy themselves and for which there were no service snafus. Today so many people are on their phones they can quickly leave you a positive rating right then and there.
We’ve worked with several restaurants that have a no tipping policy that they use as a way to ask for reviews. In lieu of the tip, the waiter asks for them to leave a review in which they mention them (the waiter) by name. When this happens, the waiter gets a bonus. This is effective at getting more personalized sounding reviews. For example, in this case, Allison got a bonus and the restaurant got a 5-star review:
Note this is the only way you can “solicit” reviews on Yelp. Otherwise, they have a policy of not asking for reviews and will filter anything they think was solicited. Other review platforms do not have this policy.
Another effective way to get more reviews is to use email. For example, we do reputation management for a restaurant that uses a couple of emails for marketing and reviews.
First, they build their email list by offering a discount to people who sign up:
Next, they sequence an email to go that requests a review:
This favors positive reviews, because when they click “It was great” it links to a review site, while “Not so good” opens a feedback form.
Email works well when you need to get reviews on a particular platform like Trip Advisor, Google, or Facebook. Open Table only allows reviews from people who the system confirms kept their reservation.
Platforms like Trip Advisor, Open Table, and Top Rated Local® have apps that people can use to quickly leave reviews on their phones. Mention this when you request a review in person. In particular, mention these apps to regulars who might be willing to write some reviews on a number of these different platforms.
You can also use text messaging (notice the email has the text message number) and request a review through a text message.
Put up signs in your restaurant requesting reviews on Yelp, Facebook, Google, Open Table, Trip Advisor, or Top Rated Local®.
How to Deal With Negative Restaurant Reviews
As a restaurant, there is one thing you can be certain of. No matter how excellent your service and food is, eventually you’ll get dinged with some negative reviews.
When it comes to food service, there is no way to satisfy everyone. Some people are just plain hard to please and they take a certain satisfaction in complaining.
If the review violates the policy of the platform, you can request its removal. For example, if there is something illegal, threatening, obscene, racist, defamatory, libelous, or pornographic in the review. With restaurants, you can usually get reviews that mention some sort of health code violation (there was a rat hair in my soup!) removed.
However, you can’t remove a legitimate sounding negative review, even if the reviewer is bordering on unreasonable.
When it comes to these reviews, do one of two things.
First, if the review has a petulant or snarky tone, just ignore it the way you would a child throwing a tantrum. Most restaurants have a few of these in their review profiles, and people researching you will recognize that the reviewer has an attitude problem.
If the review does point out a service problem, respond to it with details about how you rectified things. This shows you care about the feedback you’re getting, and can even improve your ranking on Google business listings.
There’s no getting around the impact of reviews on your restaurant marketing. A great review profile means many people will want to try you out; a poor one can literally put you out of business.
The #1 piece of advice we have for restauranteurs is to remember – from the beginning of your planning – that every customer is a critic with the power to publish an influential review about you.
The biggies of food and service quality are the main factors with reviews. But don’t forget that little, memorable touches also have a big impact.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries dumps an extra portion of fries into your bag with each order. Boy, do I like digging into that bag for a few more fries than I feel I paid for.
Tortilleria La Autentica is a tiny Mexican food restaurant in Loveland, CO. They have the best tortillas I’ve ever had. And they have a hard-working family cooking and serving that’s fast yet welcoming.
Oskar Blues (known for Dale’s Pale Ale beer) in Lyons, Colorado just has a vibe. Cool art, music, and staff. Really fun bartenders and servers working with what always seems to the right blues song in the background. I’m not even that partial to their beer or food, but I love going there anyway.
Fuzzy’s Tacos is a chain joint that’s half counter service fast food and half happening bar scene. I was genuinely delighted by how tasty and strong their margaritas are, especially since they’re served out of a Slurpee machine. It’s fast, inexpensive, tasty, and energetic.
As a restaurant customer, I give each of these places great reviews. The main reason? Because they’re doing something memorable that I enjoy and gives me a sense of value.
Start with that, then watch your reviews. Influence them in your favor without falsifying. Make sure they reflect the excellent experience you always strive to provide. Ask for recommendations from loyal regulars – or first-timers you can tell enjoyed with gusto.
Online reviews are marketing material for restaurants. In the end, they’ll (mainly) reflect the experience you provide.
Word of mouth is now word of mouse, but the idea is the same. Get people talking about you in positive ways. It’s the key to being one of those restaurants that stays open for decades.