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For as long as we have known, word of mouth has been a highly influential way of attracting new customers to restaurants, in fact all kinds of hospitality businesses. Online reviews are in essence a modern extension of word of mouth, but with more reach and consequently more influence.

No longer is it just a case of customers telling their friends and family. People are online (all the time) and nearly anyone could be reading reviews of your business. With this comes more pressure for restaurants to get it right, so they need to be prepared and know how to deal with their reviews in an appropriate manner.  

Where your customers are leaving reviews

Yelp, Zomato, OpenTable, Tripadvisor, Facebook...there are so many websites, social media platforms and apps out there nowadays that allow customers to ‘check-in’ to establishments, rate their experience and leave comments on what they enjoyed and what they didn’t. And then of course, there’s Google. Google Reviews are front and centre when people are searching for restaurants, certain cuisines or food nearby, and are shown across a number of Google platforms, be it when googling on a desktop or through the likes of Google Maps. Their star ratings especially, are quite likely the first thing people will see about your restaurant.  

How to handle online reviews

If your staff are always cheerful and deliver great service, and your food is always exceptional, you probably don’t need to worry. But in the hospitality industry, we all know how easy it is to have a bad day, or to inadvertently step on a diner’s toes to such a degree that nothing can convince them to leave happy. It doesn’t take much, and it can be the smallest of things, that customers will leave comments about.

That’s why these review sites and apps have the option for businesses to manage their presence. This means you can engage with customers on a good, bad or even mediocre review.

Managing your business and responding to reviews is your chance to thank customers for positive comments and ratings, encouraging them to come back in-store or order again. It’s a chance to hear what customers are saying about your restaurant so you can implement change if need be. And also, when it comes to bad reviews, it’s your chance to try and put things right, mitigating any negative impact on your brand in the process. Whether it’s helping to drive brand advocacy and loyalty, an opportunity for you to learn more about customer perceptions of your business, or your second chance to win over a not-so-happy customer, reviews are very valuable in aiding business growth.

Tips for small to medium sized restaurants on dealing with online reviews

As with anything, it’s all about getting the basics right. Here’s a few things you need to implement and consider:

  • Look into the main review platforms and apps used in your area and ‘claim’ your business. Google My Business especially, is an important one. Side note too, make sure your business information, like your opening hours, are up to date on these websites. There’s nothing more frustrating for customers for example than thinking you’re open and turning up to see the opening hours online were actually incorrect.
  • Regularly keep an eye on the reviews and reply to them. For the positive reviews, a simple thanks will make the customer feel appreciated. For the negative, try and establish what happened to prevent it happening again, apologise and maybe offer the customer something to make up for the inconvenience.
  • Don’t get too stressed about negative reviews, and don’t be tempted to delete them. Studies show that if the response is entirely positive, people are less likely to trust them, so the presence of a negative review can help to give more weight to the positives. Just keep an eye on the ratio between good and bad reviews, and on things like your overall Google star rating, as this can be a guide as to how you’re doing.
  • Don’t be tempted to post fake reviews. Customers can spot these a mile off and so can the sites (they have ways of detecting them). It just ends up making your restaurant look bad.
  • Don’t tolerate anything that is offensive or abusive. If a review is overly insulting to a member of staff, or if it is objectively offensive or irrelevant, you can request the site to have it removed. As much as you want your reviews to be authentic, you also don’t want to encourage anything inappropriate, so you are entirely within your rights to have these ones deleted.
  • Don’t leave your reviews, and your customers, stagnant. It’s tempting when you get busy to just ignore them, especially if the reviews are proportionally positive. This can affect how customers perceive your brand, with a thought out response to a bad review for example going a long way to helping some in the decision making process of whether they want to dine with you.
  • Don’t be afraid to take some conversations offline. Especially with a negative review or one of a sensitive nature, conversing with the customer to rectify things may take a bit of back and forth. So, if it is looking that way, don’t be shy in asking them to reach out through private channels, like email, Facebook Messenger, phone etc. That way you can deal with it more efficiently and in a more personable manner. In saying that, a load of comments to bad reviews that simply ask to take things offline may come across like you’re hiding something or lacking transparency. So, balance it all up and look to handle what you can in the public eye.

Tips for large restaurant brands on dealing with online reviews

No doubt, you know and have already implemented all of the above. So take the next steps with a few ideas that can help you improve your brand presence.

  • Track your reviews all in one place. Increase your efficiency in responding to customers and in community management by getting a tool that combines reviews from multiple platforms all in one place. You’ll also be able to get better analytics on your brand’s reputation across the board, not just in silos, enabling more informed decision making.
  • Engage the help of social listening tools. These help you move beyond just seeing what customers are directly posting about your business on review sites and allow you to see what they are saying about you “behind closed doors” if you will on social platforms. That way you get a much better holistic understanding of customer sentiment towards your brand - not just from the people that actually take the time to review - and can start to better anticipate and negate any issues along the way. With these tools too, you can also track keywords, hashtags etc, not just your brand name making it easier to get a broader view of your brand.
  • Remember to be transparent, honest, and own areas for improvement. Bad things happen, but they only get worse if you don’t have a plan in place. A prime example was #ShrimpGate2021, where big brand General Mills claimed a very obvious shrimp tail in their cereal was merely an ‘accumulation of the cinnamon sugar that sometimes can occur when ingredients aren't thoroughly blended.’ A comment that landed them on national news across North America, for all the wrong reasons. From this you can see it’s better to be honest with customers, rather than trying to cover yourselves. A well thought-out response and consideration for the customer(s) on the other end is crucial or else a bigger problem could arise. Listen to your reviews, investigate opportunities for improvement, and make sure even though you're a business your brand is still as empathetic and as human as possible.

Attracting and retaining customers

If you'd like to learn more about how MOBI can help your hospitality business grow your customer base as well as create more loyal customers, then get in touch with our team today.

Originally published May, 2013. Updated January, 2022.

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