Harnessing the Influence of Online Restaurant Reviews

by Tim Hilton3 Min Read

We no longer depend solely on word of mouth for restaurant suggestions. The majority of customers now rely on online review sites when making a decision on where to eat. More than 67 percent of customers take online reviews into consideration when making a purchasing decision, according to a recent study.

Online reviews are also a great place to look for ways to improve your restaurant’s products and services. It’s important to acknowledge that while you can learn from good reviews, bad ones--though undesirable--provide a great opportunity to take a closer look at parts of your restaurant through someone else’s perspective.

Good Reviews

If you’re not already encouraging customers to review your restaurant online now is a great time to start. Claiming your Google My Business (formerly Google+ Local), Yelp and TripAdvisor pages will help you stay on top of review management and allow you to respond to customer feedback.

Customers know the importance of online reviews just as much as you do, so getting your staff to ask for a review should be encouraged. You’ll also want to make sure leaving a review is as easy as possible. If possible, provide a link on the receipt to make it easier for customers to review your restaurant.

You’ll also want to pay close attention to repeat customers. If they haven’t already left you a review, ask them to do so. Knowing the reasons why they keep coming back can be extremely useful and provide ways to improve your business and increase repeat business. 

Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to reward great reviews. Sending a discount voucher or coupon will show you care about your customers as well as encourage them to refer your business to a friend or leave another review in the future.

Bad Reviews

No business is perfect and you’ll inevitably receive negative reviews. Although bad reviews can be devastating, handling them correctly and learning from them can help you build a better restaurant. Most situations can be resolved with little effort and the takeaways from highlighting issues you might be unaware of is invaluable.

First of all, make sure to be proactive. Monitor your review site accounts and respond to bad reviews as quickly as possible. This shows you’re dedicated to your customers and they’ll appreciate you dealing with issues in a timely manner.

Bad reviews provide a great opportunity to take a closer look at parts of your restaurant through someone else’s perspective.

Your goal with negative reviews is for the unhappy customer to come back to your restaurant to get the experience you truly want to give them. Ask for a second chance and offer an incentive such as a free meal or discount voucher.

It’s important to remember that a single complaint does not a trend make, but do pay close attention to issues raised repeatedly. Perhaps a menu item isn’t working for multiple customers. Use this feedback to improve it or perhaps remove it from the menu altogether.

Negative reviews can also help highlight staff members who might need additional training. You don’t want to fire staff based on a single bad review. Use it as a training moment. Find out what the issue was and help train your staff members to avoid similar situations in the future.

Pro tip: When responding to negative reviews leave a public response as well as a private message. Keep emotions in check. Thanking the customers for taking the time to give you feedback and offering to resolve any issues will go a long way. Don’t forget to follow up. You might end up with a happy customer leaving a positive review.

There are many things we can learn from online reviews, but the biggest takeaway is to not get disheartened by negative responses or contented with good ones. Reviews should be viewed as customer research giving you valuable insights into your business. Use each review as an opportunity to learn and to improve your products and services. Leverage your online reviews as a learning experience to build a better restaurant.

Tim Hilton

@hiltonand | Website

A former chef, Tim Hilton is a web strategist and the founder of Hilton&Co, a digital agency specializing in the hospitality industry. With more than six years experience in the digital space he now spends his time helping restaurants and bars succeed online.

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