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When it comes to customer reviews, take a proactive approach

When it comes to customer reviews, take a proactive approach

Whether it was an irate guest shouting about the temperature of their steak or one of your regulars, threatening never to return if you don’t bring your all-you-can-eat wings special back, you’ve likely already responded to a complaint this week. It's one thing to listen and respond to customers face-to-face, but what about those guests who share their negative experiences online? Online restaurant reviews are an effective marketing strategy that can make or break your restaurant, so it is essential that you have a plan of action for encouraging positive feedback and addressing negative comments.

The 5 Best Restaurant Review Sites

In order to most effectively and efficiently manage your online restaurant reviews, it’s important to focus your attention on the most popular review sites.

  • Google My Business

  • Yelp

  • Facebook

  • OpenTable

  • TripAdvisor

How to Handle Online Restaurant Reviews

Negative restaurant reviews are always hard to swallow, but reframing them as a restaurant management tool can make it a bit easier. It’s best to deal with online reviews with the same level of customer service you expect from your employees. Patience, empathy, and attentiveness can go a long way. These tips will help you develop a plan for collecting and responding to your online restaurant reviews.

1. Vary your collection strategy for online restaurant reviews

Getting the hundreds of reviews that are needed to accurately reflect the quality of the food and service that you provide is a slow process, but the best way to get the ball rolling is to ask. According to a 2020 survey, 22% of US-based consumers wrote reviews during the pandemic in order to support local businesses that may have been struggling. The takeaway: Customers want to help!

A great way to tap into this motivation is to reach out directly. When guests tag your restaurant in social media posts, include a link to a review page in your thank-you message. If they made an online reservation, use your restaurant CRM to automate email requests for feedback. To reach the customers that don’t connect online, post QR codes that lead to your preferred review sites around your restaurant, stick comment cards in takeout orders or add links to the bottom of receipts. Once you have a collection of great reviews, embed testimonials into your restaurant website in order to encourage future visitors to do the same. This can be a very effective type of marketing that brings new customers to your front door.

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2. Respond to feedback in a timely and thoughtful manner

Although negative comments can be disheartening, it’s important for you as a business owner to process the feedback and respond in a way that shows your commitment to providing a more positive experience the next time the customer comes around. To Chelsea Herre, the director of operations at Rhubarb, the best way to deal with negative restaurant reviews is to apologize, acknowledge a customer’s concerns, explain that their experience did not meet Rhubarb’s standards, and invite them back for the pleasurable dining experience that they can typically expect.

By keeping things short and sweet, Herre makes the guest feel heard without acting defensive. “A thoughtful response to a poor review can create a great opportunity for recovery,” she said. Herre does, however, draw the line when a reviewer is acting abusively or grumbling about trivial issues. “I feel it’s best to let the reviewer speak for themselves and not engage,” she explained.

A customer increasing their review from 2 to 4 stars because of the owner's response.

3. Consider privately following up on certain comments

Responding publicly should always be the first thing you do because, according to a 2018 survey, about 45% of consumers say that they are more likely to visit businesses that respond to negative reviews than those that did not. That being said, some situations will also call for a more direct conversation. If you want to offer the guest an explanation or offer compensation for a return visit, a private message is the way to go. If the review platform doesn’t have a private messaging feature, include an invitation to reach out personally with your name and contact information in the public response.

4. Look for patterns in customer reviews to determine the solutions

It’s easier to keep a high review average than to improve a low score, so it’s important to think about the service issues that can lead to poor reviews on a more granular level. The general manager of Portillo’s, Gregory Saarinen, reads through all reviews to evaluate how he and his team are doing in terms of speed, food quality, order accuracy, friendliness, and cleanliness.

Saarinen assesses reviews on a day-by-day basis so that he can figure out what’s going wrong during lower-scoring shifts. “People want to know what’s going to happen every time they come to the restaurant, so getting 70% highly satisfied customers on Monday but only hitting 55% on Wednesday signals a consistency issue,” he said. Once he finds the common thread in the negative reviews, he talks to his team about how to improve and later checks the new reviews to determine if he needs to take further steps to resolve the issue.

A restaurant's Google reviews page with service and slow highlighted in the people often mention section.

5. Make a plan for assessing and responding to online restaurant reviews

Taking 10 to 15 minutes every day (perhaps while you drink your third cup of coffee) to check on your reviews will not only prevent this task from becoming overwhelming, but will also give you the opportunity to improve poor ratings. According to Yelp’s Director of Business Outreach Darnell Holloway, customers are 33% more likely to change a review when they receive a response within 24 hours. Of course, restaurants are busy places, so you may not have time to be that attentive. To build a plan that works for you, you first need to define your objectives. If you’re working on maintaining your 4.5-star rating, for example, a weekly or bi-weekly assessment should be sufficient. On the other hand, more specific or ambitious goals such as “improve food quality feedback” or “increase customer reviews by 15 percent” may require more frequent check-ins.

6. Ask yourself how you can make a good review great

Negative restaurant reviews shouldn’t be your only motivation for making improvements; managers should always be asking themselves how they can get a good score up to a great one. A 2016 survey found that a one-star increase in an independent restaurant’s average rating can lead to a 5 to 9% increase in revenue. That finding not only shows how much diners trust and rely on customer reviews to determine where they are going to eat, but it also shows that keeping your finger on the pulse of your guest experience by collecting new reviews regularly and leveraging insights to improve your restaurant will always pay dividends.

Although reading and responding to customer complaints after a grueling day of explaining why you're out of ketchup packets or no longer offering baked potatoes is probably the last thing you want to do, it's so important to your restaurant marketing strategy. Every response puts you one step closer to building lasting relationships with the customers who are scouting out restaurants before placing their next order.

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