Let’s face it: Customers wield a remarkable amount of power over businesses these days — anyone with taste buds and a wifi connection can be a restaurant critic.
Sites like Yelp & Tripadvisor have revolutionized the way consumers talk about and discover restaurants. Review sites can either be a great thing for your restaurant or a major deterrent of business.
If you’re like many restaurant operators, you prefer to ignore the online review sites as it feels like you have no control or maybe you share a popular belief — only certain pesky customers really pay any attention to sites like Yelp. There is no doubt that there is an increase in the amount of power a review site has to influence customer actions — A recent Harvard study found that an uptick of just 1 star can have up to a 9% overall increase in your sales.
Since you are reading this, you’ve probably had some sort of negative experience with an online review. You’re not alone. The good and bad news is that your competition is also on every review site and has either chosen to complain about it/ignore it or to use it as a powerful marketing tool. Get a step up on your competition by using online review sites to boost your business. It’s not as hard as you may think.
Here is your 4-step guide to combating negative reviews and wield online review sites as one of your greatest marketing tools:
Step 1: Embrace online reviews.
The first step to combating negative reviews is to know when and where people are talking about you online.
It can be daunting to think about how consumers can talk about your brand online — there are hundreds of sites people are writing reviews on, however, there are 5 sites where over 80% of online reviews get posted. Here are the top 5 sites you need to keep your eyes on — these links will take you to the page to claim your listing:
Zomato (formerly urbanspoon)
And of course OpenTable if you accept reservations through their platform
Through each of these platforms you can claim your profile and set up notifications each time a new review is posted.
Pro tip: You can catch most of that last 20% by setting up a Google Alert
Negative reviews aren’t the end of the world, in fact, negative reviews can actually be good for your restaurant. Here’s what I mean. If you see a perfect 5-star rating for anything, you become a bit skeptical of the accuracy; however, if you see a ‘positive review sandwich’, it actually creates more credibility for your restaurant:
Having a few bad reviews thoughtfully responded to (more info on this below) mixed with mostly positive reviews builds a lot of credibility for your brand — everyone knows that a human-based business isn’t perfect ALL of the time. Embrace that thought and use the negative reviews to your advantage.
Step 2: Respond to all negative reviews.
Now that you have your profiles claimed, it is important to respond to all negative reviews that are posted.
Have negative reviews from many months (or years) ago? Only respond to reviews from the past 90 days as it may look a bit disingenuous to respond to a review 4 months after it was posted. Make a commitment to respond to all negative reviews from this point forward.
For positive reviews — give random, unexpected thank you’s to through a different medium than the review came in on and an occasional thank you as a comment on the review. Send a personal thank you note, email, Facebook message, etc.
Pro Tip: send personalized thank you notes automatically through Thankster
Why respond to the negative reviews? Here are 2 great reasons:
- Responding not only helps to pacify an angry customer, it can turn a negative into a positive. Respond, and you’ve got a 20% chance of converting mad customers not only into returning customers, but raving fans.
- Show the thousands of people that will see this review in the future that there is a consciences & thoughtful owner/management team at this restaurant. Not only will you diffuse the negativity of this review, you’ll get a chance to show your restaurant’s personality and culture to future viewers.
You may be asking what a good response to a negative review looks like. See our ‘Anatomy Of A Restaurant’s Response To Negative Reviews’ for response tips and template. You may also be wondering if any reviews can be removed. Generally, you can flag reviews for removal if they have vulgar/obscene language, call out a specific employee/manager/owner, or have slander. Here are Yelp’s guidelines for what types of reviews can be flagged for removal.
Step 3: Take bold steps to improve based on valid feedback.
It’s easy to write off negative reviews as they seem to come from ‘trolls’ and are hard not to take personally. I encourage you to look at the reviews objectively and find ways to improve — afterall, this is pretty inexpensive feedback you may not see yourself and would have to pay a mystery shopper to get this sort of objective look at your business.
Talk about that internally & be transparent with your team and customers — in some cases, you may choose show the feedback on social media and what you did to correct it. Celebrate the feedback and show the world how you’re improving. This will go a long way to build trust and credibility.
Pro Tip: Create your own mystery shopper program. Utilize a tool like Restaurant Logic’s feedback feature or Google Forms to create a questionnaire. Have your friends and regulars fill this out using their smartphone.
If you listen to feedback & make meaningful changes based on what you learn, watch what happens to the customers and team members you engage in this process, I think you’ll like the results.
Step 4: Get more positive reviews.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking: Duh, that’s the whole goal here. How to do this isn’t as obvious, however. Here is a sure-fire way to get more positive online reviews: ask for it! The best ways to do this:
- Add a feedback element on your website on a feedback page (www.yoursite.com/feedback)
- Advertise the ability to give feedback through your website in your check presenters — Example & Free template here
- Add a sign on the back of your front door w/ link to your site
- Add the link to the bottom of your receipts
The point here is to not let a customer leave your restaurant without knowing they can give you direct & candid feedback through your website. Once you get that feedback, thoughtfully respond and manage the negative reviews and personally invite the customers who gave you positive feedback to write a review on a review website.
Pro Tip: Use Canva to quickly create professional-looking check presenters. A typical check presenter insert is 3.5" x 8.5"
Here is a positive feedback response template that will help you in generating more positive reviews on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc:
Make it personal — write a note in the check presenter requesting feedback (example here). Use an online feedback tool embedded in your website. At Restaurant Logic, we have developed a full online feedback tool that you can configure to automatically respond based on sentiment of the review or you can use a free solution like Google Forms. Make it a habit to respond to every review that comes through your internal feedback system. Automation is recommended here so responses go out very shortly after someone writes a review:
When responding to negative feedback, you’ll want to get a thoughtful response out as soon as possible to dissuade someone from going to an online review site. Again, automation will help things from falling through the cracks, but it is recommended you follow up with a personal response addressing their specific concern.
Here is an example of an automated response to negative feedback:
Hi (customer name),
Thank you for your recent feedback about your experience at our restaurant. We value your opinion & are very sorry to hear that we didn’t exceed your expectations during your recent visit. Please know that our management team will be reviewing your feedback and we will be in touch very soon. In the mean time, if you would like to speak to one of our managers, please call our office at (your number) or email (your email).
Thank you again for your feedback.
When responding to positive feedback, you’ll want to genuinely thank the reviewer, provide a kudos/gift of some kind, and refer them to online review sites.
Here is an example of an automated response to positive feedback:
Hi (customer first name),
(your name) here from (your restaurant). I just wanted to reach out to you personally to say THANK YOU for providing the great feedback about our restaurant during your recent visit! Customers like you are what keep me smiling every day.
As a special thank you, I’d like to give you a coupon for a free appetizer of your choice just for being an awesome customer. Simply click this link for your coupon (must be used for dine-in only).
Thank you again for your business, we hope to see you again soon!
If you are a Restaurant Logic customer, these responses are already loaded in your dashboard, however, you can edit these templates to make them your own. If you’re not, please feel free to use the suggestions above for the system you’re using.
My hope is that you’re feeling more empowered about your online reputation. Let me know if you would add anything to this in your comments below!