Online customer reviews can help or hurt your business and it’s important to monitor them closely for presenting your best image to your future restaurant customers.
Years ago when a customer was unsatisfied with a restaurant, they could voice their complaint to the staff and, 9 times out of 10, the staff would solve the problem. The customer could return to having a nice experience and there were little to no consequences.
In the digital age, however, customers are unfortunately much more likely to say nothing and give negative feedback online. "Why doing something in person when the same goal can be achieved online?" is the standard millennial argument.
This presents a twofold problem for the restaurant owner: the complaint, whether justified or not, is now public for all future potential customers to see and you must effectively be able to manage customer reviews to show customers you care. This takes a lot of time and effort to manage but as we will see, it’s worth it for your business.
The power of reviews
Like everything in today’s world, consumers are increasingly likely to look online when it comes to buying, decisions, and advice. With restaurants, patrons often look for restaurants in their area or the area in which they will be traveling for places to eat.
The spontaneous walk-in business will always exist but it’s estimated that between 60-90% of restaurant-goers look up and read reviews of restaurants online before they go. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure and significance on your restaurant’s online reputation.
Whether they are 5-star or scathing, people will see and read them and it will impact their decision to dine with you or not. Various studies have attempted to show the importance of online reviews and they’ve produced different numbers in their results. After reviewing the numbers, we can say that some facts are fairly well-accepted in today’s world:
As little as half a star difference can impact revenue and volume of customers
Businesses with more reviews receive more customers
Businesses with little or no reviews come across as unknown or uncertain to a potential customer
A significant amount of the population researches and reads reviews of restaurants while deciding where to go
Why and when customers give feedback
First, it’s important to understand why customers give feedback and under what circumstances. If you’ve scrolled through the reviews of any restaurant online, they are likely not all positive. You’ll most certainly find complaints about unfriendly service, long wait times, and many other things.
Customers tend to give feedback when they’ve had either an excellent experience or a poor experience. An average restaurant doesn’t motivate you to get online and start typing quite like a great or bad experience would. So with most restaurants, you’ll probably see some 1-star reviews and some 5-star reviews.
People are motivated by memorable experiences, it’s quite normal. A challenge for business owners is to get more people to review their restaurant who didn’t have a “wow, amazing!” type experience but still enjoyed themselves. We’ll touch on that later.
Reacting to bad reviews: act quickly
If you run a restaurant long enough, you are bound to encounter a bad review. It’s pretty much inevitable but if you do have years of 5-star reviews, that’s excellent. When you do receive a bad review, it’s important not to hide from it.
Address the issue head-on as soon as possible. Perhaps it was a mistake, a misunderstanding, or just someone needing to vent. Either way, be polite and accept their criticism. It can be a positive message for other customers and may make them more likely to ask you in person if they have a problem and not damage your online reputation.
Take negative criticism with a grain of salt, as some criticisms may be unfounded. This doesn’t mean you should treat them publicly as so, but it’s important not to be too hard on yourself or start firing staff based on one online review.
How to manage feedback
Feedback management is critical in the online world but it’s not that different from face-to-face conflict resolution. If someone approached a staff member at your restaurant with a complaint, would you answer and attend to them or just ignore them? You would respond quickly of course— which you should also do online.
When restaurants let customer feedback go unaddressed or unanswered, it reflects poorly on their business and potential customers can see this. There may be nothing you can do at this point but the fact that you recognize it and accept responsibility— providing that it was your fault— builds trust among customers and a willingness to dine with you again. Major sites where customers leave reviews are Google Maps, Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Facebook and they should be a major focus of your feedback management strategy.
Through these websites, you can turn on various forms of notifications that tell you when someone has left a review and you can then respond faster and avoid missing reviews that require attention. Customers always appreciate friendliness and concern.
Most restaurant-goers understand that mistakes are made and with polite intervention, will forgive mistakes that have been made on your part. Positive engagement is always a safe bet.
How to increase positive customer reviews
As we mentioned earlier, strong feelings often dictate a review, but middle-of-the-road type reviews are often forgotten to be left by customers. Many patrons believe that restaurants don’t care about feedback. So it’s a challenge for the restaurant to show them the opposite: that you welcome and value it. There are various ways you can collect feedback from customers and improve your business.
When customers reserve a table using email, you can send them a survey shortly after their visit to determine how their experience was. Don’t add too many questions. More than 10 will often cause a customer to abandon the survey.
Paper survey forms
Some customers don’t always check their email and some feel more comfortable with a pen and paper in their hands. Either way, paper surveys in your restaurant can be useful. If someone takes the time to fill one out, it’s often very honest feedback.
Social media analysis
Apps and websites are the most popular form of reviews. Create a system for documenting the feedback so you can organize what’s useful and what’s not. It’s recommended to often Google your own restaurant to see what pops up and avoid missing any relevant information from customers. Also, be careful with regulations.
You can remind customers that you can be found in certain outlets but don’t push things too far. Most have strict guidelines regarding what is allowed and what is forbidden.
Google, for example, will remove any biased information in reviews and strictly forbids reviewing your own business to boost your rating. Plus, fake stories and people are pretty easy to spot by veteran restaurant-goers and are not a good look.