Using Online Reviews to Market Your Restaurant

Online review sites such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Google Reviews, have become both a blessing and a curse for the restaurant industry. Reviews can highlight a positive experience and give a restaurant free advertising, or catch them on an off night, and give them negative publicity. It’s a difficult dilemma for restaurant owners and managers to navigate, but if managed correctly, online reviews can be a free and effective way to market their restaurant. I am a twelve year food service industry veteran, and I understand online reviews can be frustrating, but as apps and technology become more widespread, online review sites will be a great way to showcase the positives of your business, and help get your name and reputation out there to the consuming public, boost sales, and build your brand.

Online review sites such as Yelp became relevant in the last ten years or so. (Yelp was founded in 2004.) Before sites like Yelp, most reviews were done by professional critics, who would usually give a restaurant the heads up before coming in to review. Restaurants would be able to prepare and make sure the reviewer had a great experience to ensure the restaurant was cast in a positive light and received a good review. This would help them gain positive publicity and marketing without having to spend or orchestrate an advertising campaign. With the advent of online review services this has all changed. Reviewers are no longer professional food critics (rather the everyday customer), there is no advanced notice of a visit, and restaurants can receive numerous reviews on different sites a night. This means it’s extremely important for restaurant owners and managers to stay on top of staff and food quality so that every customer’s experience is positive. Otherwise restaurants run the risk of getting negative or average reviews.
Negative reviews can be very detrimental to a business. With sites like Yelp, all customers have to do is search for restaurants in a specific area and they are meant with a plethora of results which are organized in descending order with best reviewed restaurants at the top. Restaurants with negative reviews are lower on the search results, causing customers to pick earlier restaurants and visit them. This costs restaurants new customers, and makes it important for them to manage their reviews and employees to ensure they are cast in a positive light and guests have a good experience.

By staying on top of reviews and ensuring customer satisfaction businesses can use online review sites as a way to market their business. If their business is at the top of the search results and has a majority of good reviews, customers will be more inclined to try their restaurant. Customers tend to review an establishment more often if they have a bad experience than if they had a positive experience, so managers and business owners need to ensure that guests have a good time when visiting their restaurant, and that they offer some type of incentive to guests to leave positive reviews. Regular customers forget about the importance of reviews (they’ll come in regardless) and they need to be reminded to leave reviews. Business owners can offer whatever they are comfortable with as an incentive, but must be careful it doesn’t look like they are trying to buy or bribe for reviews. Honest reviews will help the restaurant look more credible and will help market itself, without paying for an ad campaign or promotions. If a guest does have a bad experience it is important for management to handle the incident “in-house”, whereas they do whatever it takes to ensure the guest leaves happy and not with a bad taste in their mouth. This will help limit the amount of bad reviews a business gets. If a business does get a bad review it is important to respond online to the review and offer the guest a chance to try your business again, and let you make it up to them. This shows others (reviewers and potential customers) that you are committed to your clientele, good service, and that their opinions matter. Again this is a way to market yourself and turn a bad situation, into a potential good one.

As long as you keep the bulk of your online reviews looking good and take the time to respond to negative ones, reviews can be very helpful in swaying new customers to your business. Most online review sites have links to your website, offer a telephone number, and even directions to your business. This can be an extremely effective and “free” marketing tool. Instead of placing ads or running costly specials or promos, you can reach customers by just offering a good product and encouraging customers to share their opinions about it. Consumers tend to enjoy interacting with businesses and brands they like, and online reviews give customers another outlet to do so. Obviously it is impossible to control exactly what people are saying about your business, which is scary to many owners, but as long as you manage your site and go out of the way to make customers feel special, majority of your reviews will be positive, and thus help your business grow.

Sites like Yelp make finding reviews exceptionally easy and quick to look up for consumers. Reviews were not as readily available as they are now. Before online review sites, consumers would have to flip through newspapers or magazines to find reviews, and a lot of times they were outdated or difficult to find for the restaurant you wanted. With the increase in access to technology, managers and owners need to ensure that their restaurants and businesses do whatever it takes to showcase their strengths and keep a positive reputation, because it will help market themselves and grow their business.

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