Online reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, Facebook. When they’re good, it’s great for your restaurant. When they’re bad…well, it can feel devastating. No restaurant wants to hear that their guests have had a bad experience — after all, you’re in the business of providing a good time and great food. However, online reviews aren’t going away in this digital age, so it’s best to think about how they can serve as insight that helps you optimize the restaurant experience and also as a way to connect with your guests.
To start, it’s important to understand the mindset of those posting reviews. First, the guest clearly wants to be heard (either by those running the restaurant or fellow diners). When guests have a negative experience, they often feel that writing a review is one of the easiest ways to get the business owner’s attention and acknowledgement. On the other hand, writing a review can serve as a way of self-expression and creative outlet for people who are inspired to share their positive experiences.
Our team of restaurant marketing specialists has monitored and responded to thousands of reviews on behalf of our clients for a long time. Consequently we’ve developed a set of best practices from this experience, as follows:
- Respond. Easier said than done, right? The good news is that you don’t need to respond to every review your restaurant receives. We recommend prioritizing the really bad reviews (the one and two star reviews) and a few of the really good reviews on the major online review websites (especially Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, Facebook). For the bad reviews, it’s important to not only let the reviewer, but also potential guests who may be viewing your restaurant’s profile when deciding where to eat, know that you are listening, care about their feedback, and are taking it seriously. It’s also important to ensure that not only the squeaky wheels get the grease – don’t forget to respond to and thank those who took the time to write positive reviews as well! And note this extra incentive for responding to reviews: it can help improve your restaurant’s online search results!
- Time is of the essence. Although you should take some time to craft an appropriate response to reviews, it’s also important not to wait weeks before responding. We find it best to respond within a week.
- Remain calm. Although it may be difficult not to take negative reviews personally, before responding, take a deep breath. If it helps, act as if the guest had provided this feedback to you in-person and respond accordingly. Avoid a knee-jerk reaction and don’t argue with the guest. Always take the high road. If the reviewer stated something that is factually incorrect, feel free to clarify, but in a non-argumentative way. For example, if a reviewer writes that he did not like the taste of the fish and that they suspected it was frozen, you could respond with, “We’re very sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy your fish and we’ll be sure to share your feedback with our staff. However, I wanted to reassure you that the fish we use is not frozen, but delivered fresh, daily.”
- Be honest. Don’t hide, lie or ignore reality when responding. Many times, customers will be off base; however if there is a hint of truth in the review, focus on a response. We’ve often found that guests are very appreciative when they get an apology and a little humility after a bad dining experience.
- Personalize the communication. We find that it helps to use the reviewer’s name and the same words or phrases the guest used (instead of “industry speak”) when responding. Cultivate a compassionate and customer-focused tone.
- Use correct grammar. Proper grammar and spelling are crucial when responding. Most online review sites have spell check tools integrated into the response form, but if not, carefully read (or have someone else read) your response before posting it.
- Provide refunds sparingly and privately. If you feel a reviewer deserves a refund and you have the capability to provide it, let the reviewer know privately by either using Yelp’s “Message Privately” option or encouraging the reviewer to email or call you so that you can “learn more about the experience.” We’ve found that providing a refund publically can encourage other diners to write fraudulent, negative reviews just to receive a similar offer.
- Be brief. When responding either to a positive or negative review, less is more. Just address the issues that are highlighted, provide an apology/thank you and no more.
The online reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, Facebook, etc. are important inputs to your marketing initiatives. Don’t be afraid of them. Use Fishbowl’s best practices and respond with confidence to whatever your guests write about you.