If your restaurant stays in business for long, you will get online reviews—whether you want them or not.
Why? Because online review sites allow customers to post reviews about your restaurant, even if you haven’t created or claimed your profile on these sites.
When a customer posts a review for your restaurant on a site where you haven’t created or claimed your page, the site automatically creates a profile for your business, and will collate all future reviews there, until you officially claim it.
And make no mistake, online reviews matter. A half-star improvement in your restaurant’s Yelp rating makes it 30 to 49 percent more likely that you will fill every seat during peak hours.
However, one negative online review can cost you 30 new customers. Ouch.
Love them or hate them, online review sites have completely taken over the conversation about where people should eat. In fact, 97% of customers read online reviews for local businesses, and 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends and family.
Even when people get personal recommendations about a new restaurant, they often get “social proof” by reading online reviews before deciding to patronize it themselves.
So if you want to grow your business, you need to embrace review sites and have a plan for maximizing good reviews while minimizing the damage from any bad reviews you receive. We’ll show you how.
First, understand that online reviews are good for your restaurant
P.T. Barnum reputedly said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” In relevant terms, “Any online review is a good review.”
Of course, if you only get bad reviews, there’s probably something very wrong with your food, staff, or facilities. But for savvy restaurateurs, a negative review is an opportunity for improving the business.
One of Womply’s restaurant clients, The Gables at Chadds Ford, recognizes the value of online review sites—including the occasional bad review.
Cathy Centofanti, who runs the online side of the business, says, “We want customer feedback. Some companies pay a lot of money to know what customers think, and we get it for free from online reviews.”
Cathy reaches out to customers who have left unsatisfactory reviews, asking them for another chance. “They almost always take us up on it, and they always leave happy the second time.”
The Junction, another Womply client, used some bad online reviews to identify a key process that had changed in one of their most popular dishes. The recipe was fixed, the product returned to its stellar quality, and the positive reviews resumed rolling in.
Second, claim and optimize your restaurant’s business profile on popular review sites
Before you take any other action toward getting more reviews, you absolutely must start with claiming your business profile on major review sites (like Yelp, Google, TripAdvisor, Facebook, and Foursquare—click the links for our helpful how-to articles).
You should also claim your profile on any additional sites that are industry-specific, like OpenTable for restaurants.
Correct any errors and provide as much information as possible to improve your rankings in search results and start attracting more customers.
There are other restaurant review sites you should actively track to see what’s being said about your restaurant—like Zagat if applicable to your area, Zomato (formerly Urbanspoon), Gayot.com, and GrubHub—even if you don’t intend to formally interact with these sites (or if, like Gayot, they don’t allow restaurant owners’ direct involvement).
Third, respond quickly and courteously to all reviews
You know how you feel when a friend doesn’t text you back? That’s how your customers feel when they leave reviews (particularly when they leave good reviews) and you don’t respond.
So when your customers take the time to recommend, review, or rate your business, let them know you appreciate it.
A quick, genuine response shows any potential customers that you take customer feedback seriously and are interesting in improving your diners’ satisfaction, and makes you more likely to attract new customers.
To be clear, we recommend you read and respond courteously to all reviews, including negative ones. Keep emotion out of it, and be the adult in the conversation.
But if you work hard to produce a quality product and maintain an excellent customer experience, there will be far more happy customers leaving comments than negative Nellies.
Fourth, to get more reviews, just ask… but do it the right way
After you’ve taken the steps above, getting more reviews is actually more simple than it seems. Just ask!
Research shows that most customers will leave a review if you simply ask them to. There are several ways to do this:
- Put up signage, including official stickers from sites like Yelp and OpenTable, encouraging customers to leave a review
- Make a verbal request for feedback while the customer is at your restaurant
- Include a reminder on printed payment receipts, asking for feedback
- Text or email your customers a link to review your business after they leave (If you don’t have customer contact information, consider Womply’s “pre-populated” CRM, which automatically completes and appends your customer list, even if you don’t have customers’ email addresses).
There are also some no-nos that you should never do; otherwise you could be banned from review sites, harm your restaurant’s brand, and even get you in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission.
- Never imply or offer discounts, free food, or gifts in exchange for positive reviews
- Never ask customers to leave you a 5-star review (or even a “positive” or “good” review—just tell them you appreciate their feedback)
- Never bully or threaten unhappy customers whom you fear might leave a bad review
- And never, ever try to “buy” positive reviews
There are several shady companies promising to sell you positive reviews. Don’t even think about it. These tactics are actually bad for business and could end up harming your reputation and getting you in legal trouble. You should only seek reviews from your actual customers.
Aim to maintain a 4-star rating honestly and ethically by providing a high-quality experience and dedicating appropriate time and resources to getting regular reviews from your clientele.
Fifth, consider professional help in managing your online reputation
Some restaurant owners seem to think that once they have optimized their online presence and responded to a few of their best reviews, they can sit back and watch the positive reviews roll in. Wrong.
Managing your reviews is not a set-and-forget process. It requires continual attention because your online presence is always changing as customers post new reviews about your restaurant.
Remember, even if your restaurant has a 4-plus star rating, old reviews really don’t count in customers’ minds. Anything older than about 90 days is no longer relevant for most people.
So, you need to stay on top of things. However, as you know, local restaurant owners are among the world’s busiest people, and rarely have the necessary time or staff to really own their online presence.
Reputation management software can be a big help here (get a free, personalized demo). Womply’s dashboard notifies you whenever you get a new review, and allows you to read and respond to reviews on all of the popular sites, all from one place with one login. This can be a huge timesaver.
Womply also allows you to send customers a reminder to rate your restaurant, encouraging happy customers to post their reviews online and less happy ones to send you direct feedback, so you get more positive reviews and can address customer concerns privately before they turn into negative reviews.
Online reputation management is the most effective marketing you can do because people are already looking for restaurants like yours. You just need to show up—and show well—in online searches. It’s impossible to do this if you don’t consistently get more reviews.
So, developing a plan and investing in resources to help streamline this process is well worth your time and money.
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