How to leverage online restaurant reviews

Restaurant Interior
Laura Cain
February 14, 2014

The impact of online reviews for restaurants on social sites such as Yelp and Urbanspoon is undeniable, and it’s simply bad business these days to ignore reviews.  Not only is it a poor business move, but there are actually advantages to responding and listening to reviews!  Doing so can allow your restaurant to grow in quality and in number of customers.

According to a Harvard study, a half-star increase in your social review ratings can increase annual revenue by 5 to 10 percent.  And if that isn’t enough to make restaurants take notice, 80 percent of customers have changed their minds about a purchase based solely on the negative reviews they read. (Via Buzztime)

So how to take full advantage of reviews? What if it’s a negative review? Here are the top 4 tips for maximizing the potential of online reviews.


1.  Dedicate one employee to the task of reading reviews.

This can really be anyone who works for the restaurant– from your social media specialist or marketing manager to your general manager or even the owner if you’re a small restaurant.  It’s important that the person designated to the reviews stays atop of all social review channels.

Tip: Certain social review sites like Yelp allow you to set up free instant notifications so that you receive a message when anyone leaves a review for your restaurant.


2.  Respond

A lot of people disagree on the best practices for responding to reviews.  Ultimately, you’ll need to decide what works best for your restaurant based on your bandwidth and your restaurant’s online personality.  What is most important is that you respond in a timely fashion, and don’t be defensive.  Instead, look for ways to respond in an understanding and proactive fashion.  Here are some things to consider:

Positive vs. Negative Reviews

It’s a nice idea to respond to every review, but sometimes this can be overkill.  One strategy is to respond to certain positive reviews if there’s an aspect of the review that you can specifically comment on – if they really liked a new entrée that you added to your menu, maybe give them some history on the inspiration of the dish!
A good rule of thumb is to respond to every negative review.  Don’t discredit or be defensive about what the reviewer says, and don’t just apologize – make it clear that you’re taking their comments into account!
Public vs. Private Response

There’s really a discrepancy out there regarding who can see your responses to reviews.  In general, however, it’s important to thank happy customers and respond to disappointed customers in a public fashion – you want others reading the reviews to see that you’re taking the time to respond to people.  But don’t overdo it, otherwise it can begin looking like a PR stunt.  So keep comments brief and sincere unless more action is needed.
If you feel that a negative review needs a more extensive follow-up (perhaps they’re calling out a specific server at your restaurant, for example) it’s a good idea to message them privately to address the issue.  Let them know that you take their remarks seriously.
If someone leaves a review that is simply untrue and puts your restaurant in an inaccurate and negative light, it’s not out of the question to privately message them and ask them to take down the review.  If they refuse, it’s acceptable to publicly comment on their post and explain the reality of the situation.

3.  Actually pay attention to reviews.

Not only is it important to read reviews, and, when necessary, respond, but it’s equally important to pay attention to the reviews.  Look out for themes within your reviews – if people are consistently complaining about your hours, consider changing them.  If everyone is raving about a particular dish on your menu, look at how you can flesh out the rest of your menu options to reflect that success.

4.  Allow people to leave reviews on your site.

While social review sites are extremely helpful in driving business to your restaurant, the reality is that they often drive traffic away from your site, which you want to avoid if possible.  So consider enabling customers to write reviews on your site.  Not only does it keep potential customers on your site, but it shows that you’ve taken the extra step to hear from your customers.




Have you and your restaurant run into other problems handling reviews that aren’t mentioned here? Comment below or send me a tweet @lauracmarketing


Laura Cain
Senior Director, Business Operations

Laura Cain is a University of Chicago alum who hails from Mandeville, Louisiana. If she could have her own store, she would sell sandwiches on really fancy bread, and the one thing she can’t live without is ice cream (seriously).

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