How to Make Restaurant’s Online Reputation a Secret Sauce in Enhancing your Hotel Brand?

A couple of years ago I came across an article published by an Italian blog titled “Pizzeria sues TripAdvisor for psychological abuse”. I was intrigued and honestly curious to understand how a review site could possibly psychologically damage an inanimate thing like a restaurant, as I was sure that psychological traumas were a prerogative of mankind and, to a certain extent, animals.

Digging through the blog I discovered that the owner of the pizzeria (I quote literally) “reserved the right to refuse to serve TripAdvisor users, because” he continued, “We are here to work and not to be the target of the frustration of reviewers”.

As the name of the pizzeria was published in the article, I went online and checked his reputation and, not surprisingly, not only it was very bad (actually it was terrible), but the manager responses to the client comments were full of insults and threats.

Now, as a former hotel General Manager, I know how frustrating it can be when you do your best and guests slash you on review sites anyway, but that is part of the game. At the end of the day, you will not be able to make everybody love you. That is true for anything in life. Therefore, the only thing you can do (unless the reviews are completely misleading, and in that case, you can always report them to the review site for further investigation and possible removal) is to swallow your ego, calm down and apologize.
 I was feeling bad for the owner of the pizzeria and I imagined him as a 70-something old school Naple guy that never get out of the pre-web era, so I tried to contact him privately to give him some advises because, with this approach, he was actually damaging his business (giving the F-word to a client is never a good idea). To my big surprise, when I finally reached him, I discovered that he was around my age and pretty familiar with social networks too.

We had a long chat and I explained to him some best practices in order to deal with the (unavoidmakable) occasional bad reviews (all for free, of course). I didn’t really expect gratitude, and I did it just because I felt bad for the guy, but what he said to me at the end of the conversation shocked me: he accused me to work secretly for TripAdvisor and he told me that I wanted him to buy something from the famous review site. At that point, I stopped any kind of contact with him, as the whole situation was turning into an Illuminati-like conspiracy and I honestly did not want to waste more time on it.

Nevertheless, this incident made me think about how restaurants and hotels managers underestimate the power of reviews when it comes to food & beverage.

Within my clients, I have a hotel with an amazing two-Michelin-star restaurant but, even though they actively reply professionally to every single review published on the hotel review sites, the restaurant TripAdvisor page stays on an incredible state of abandonment. Even worse, whenever they receive a bad review, they try to report it in order to move it to the restaurant page. They use the restaurant review page as the hotel parachute. And we are talking about one of the best places you can eat in southern Italy.

Sure, often hotel restaurants are forgettable (at best), overpriced and the majority of guests eat there as a last resort because the closest restaurant in town is half an hour Uber ride away, but does this mean that you have to give up managing your online reputation tout court? I doubt it.

Listening to your guests is, as always, the golden rule. However, there is another one that’s often forgotten: when was the last time you ate at your restaurant? I am sure between your duties as a general manager you have to inspect rooms, meet your staff and speak to your attendants on a daily basis, but how much time do you spend in the kitchen?

Everybody is complaining about the quality of the veggies on Yelp? Well, maybe it is time to change your distributors. The name of that rude F&B Manager pops out on every single review. I think you should have a chat vis-à-vis with him and solve the issue once for all.

Hotel restaurants have the tendency of being seen as sons of a lesser God when it comes to hospitality: as long as rooms are clean and Wi-Fi works fine then there is no need to worry about the undercooked pasta. They are conceived as unanimated appendages to the main entity: the hotel. However, the reality is that they are not. Even though they do not necessarily reflect the hotel style and vibe, it does not mean they are just tools to make some ancillary revenue. Especially if your hotel is located far from the city center, it is vital that you give your guests a great experience. Would you risk destroying your hotel online reputation just because you serve watered down margaritas? I do not think so.
 Great experience can mean good prices too. If you know that your restaurant is average, it can be a good idea to review your à-la-carte menu to make it look less like a robbery. Remember that with the rise of mobile and social networks your reputation is just one click away so sometimes listening to your clients when they are in the restaurant is not enough.

Therefore, what you should do to actively monitoring your restaurant online reputation?

We gathered 10 golden rules to improve your restaurant experience:

  1. Collect and aggregate data from all the review sites that mention your property and your competitors. This will give you a better understanding of what is working and what needs to be improved. There are modern online reputation management tools that can do it for you, so adapt an online reputation technology that could simplify all the unstructured data in way that is more actionable. Insight on what are reviewers writing about your restaurant, is crucial to identify the gaps and improve guest experience.
  2. Use an online reputation management tool to map your service style and cuisine with your competitors so that you can benchmark and improve by doing apple-to-apple comparison. Remember that Devil is in detail of guest experience.
  3. Once you start analyzing your competitive set, focus on key metrics for these four categories
     a) Food & Beverage: consistency, freshness, value for money, portion size, smell, taste and temperature.
     b) Dining Experience: business hours, greeting, internet access, location, parking, restrooms, seating room and standing room.
     c) Service: Quality and speed.
     d) Ambiance: cleanliness, décor design, atmosphere, comfort, heating and cooling, noise isolation and lighting.
  4. That should be understood, but claim all your pages. You should always have control over those and make sure there are no duplicates. It’s free and easy to do and you can add a lot of useful information like your location, your average price, etc.;
  5. Reply to ALL your reviews. Not only the bad ones, ALL of them. If your clients are happy then just thank them, if they’re angry apologize and promise that you will make everything in your power to improve the service
  1. Do not focus on TripAdvisor only. There are dozens of directories out there: Dineout.co.nz, Facebook, Foodio54, Google, Opentable, Restaurant.com, TopTable.co.uk, Yell, Yelp, Zomato etc. Make sure to be listed and active on all of these. Your online reputation management tool can help you to structure data and get all your online mentions in real time.
  2. Foodies love images: think about opening an Instagram account and share your best dishes every day. You can create a hashtag to give to your clients too, so they will share more images and you will have free contents on a daily basis!
  3. Foodies love videos too: you can think about connecting your Google MyBusiness page to a YouTube channel and publish an interview to the chef or a video of your bartender preparing a perfect Martini Dry. These kind of contents are always appreciated;
  4. You can think about inviting influencers to your restaurant and get a great article written on their blogs. It can be expensive, but usually the return on branding is totally worth it.
  5. Last but not least: create a proper strategy: improvisation is good for jazz, but not if you want to re-brand your restaurant.

So, is managing restaurant’s online reputation a priority for hotel general managers?
 It surely is, if you focus & leverage on technology it can turn out to be a Secret Sauce in enhancing your Hotel Brand.

Originally published at rategain.com on June 28, 2017.