How Should Your Restaurant Respond to Online Reviews?

Online reviews can make or break your business, which is why restaurant owners need to be conscious of what's being said about their brand on the web.
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Respond with timeliness to both negative and positive online reviews to show customers that you value their opinion. (Photo: Georgejmclittle/Shutterstock)

When you own a restaurant, online reviews are critical to your success.

According to BrightLocal’s 2017 Local Consumer Review Survey, 90 percent of customers will read a review online before they visit a business; 84 percent of people trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation; and 74 percent of consumers say that online reviews impact their trust in a business.

But that doesn’t mean you should leave your restaurant’s reputation in the hands of fate. Whether the review is on Google, Facebook, Yelp or TripAdvisor (among others), businesses have the ability to reply to customer reviews, or choose to not respond at all.

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Barb Breeser, a digital mobile marketing strategist, recommends offering table cards to help encourage people to leave a review. (Photo: Barb Breeser)

Working to ensure your business is receiving positive reviews is the first step, but it’s equally important to know how to properly and professionally respond to comments made about your brand online.

“Reviews are precious because they provide insight into how our restaurants are running that we might not notice on our own,” said Tyler Kaune, guest relations manager at hospitality management group LM Restaurants. “We might have a super rude hostess who is all puppies and rainbows to her managers, but is rude and disrespectful to guests. It’s important to know these things so we can address them.”

So how do you leverage the good, bad and ugly of what’s being said about your restaurant online to bring in more business? Learn how to respond to reviews in a courteous and professional manner.

Don’t let too much time pass before replying

To manage your restaurant’s reputation, you must first be aware of what’s being said about you online. Check your restaurant’s pages frequently and stay on top of reviews, otherwise, it may seem like you don’t care about hearing from your customers.

According to Barb Breeser, digital mobile marketing strategist at Purplegator, the key is promptly responding to every review.

“Restaurant owners should respond in a very timely manner to both positive and negative reviews,” she advised.

Address the reviewers’ concerns

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Offer a full meal to customers that have had a bad experience. (Photo: SG SHOT/Shutterstock)

Even if you know a customer is wrong or is being unreasonable, always address the concerns at hand.

David Eichler, founder and creative director of marketing and PR agency Decibel Blue, said restaurant operators should avoid “defensive” responses and instead focus on expressing empathy. This is especially important in online reviews since tone of voice and body language aren’t communicated over text.

“Always validate the customer’s feelings and opinions,” he advised. “Those feelings are real to them and if you had the same ones you would hope the person listening would treat you the same way.”

Also communicate that your top priority is your customers’ happiness. Eichler suggested asking the reviewer how you can make the situation better. Find out if your guarantee that the issue will never happen again is sufficient, or if they are looking for additional compensation to make things right.

“Be prepared to comp a meal, not just an appetizer or dessert. Generosity goes far in these situations,” he said.

Respond to positive reviews, too

If a customer leaves you great reviews, let them know you are listening.

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Tyler Kaune, of LM Restaurants, says always respond to a positive review even if it’s just a simple ‘thank you.’ (Photo: Tyler Kaune)

A simple “Thank you” response may work, said Kaune, or you could “address a detail: (‘I love the ___ burger too!’). I feel like it builds brand loyalty to have their four and five star reviews responded to.”

Give out your contact information

Whatever you do, don’t try to debate with an angry customer on a public forum. Instead of getting angry and going back and forth on your review pages, Breeser said it’s more helpful to give out contact information for the owners so the conversation can shift offline.

“This strategy has proven to be very effective,” she said. “In one particular case, a person continued to complain even after I posted the request to call the owners to discuss. Other people joined the online conversation to say, ‘You don’t need to keep complaining here (online). You should call the owners so they can make it right.’”

Ask customers to leave positive reviews

You can always be proactive and ask your customers to leave you a review if they feel you’ve done a good job.

If they need some convincing, “Express how important customer testimonials are to a business, whether they are a global brand or a mom-and-pop,” said Eichler.

He recommended adding a message about reviews on your menu or a small insert in the check presenters.

“We have table cards that encourage people to leave a review,” said Breeser. “[It says that] if you had a great experience, please leave us a review on Yelp, Trip Advisor, Google or Facebook. If you did not, please ask to speak to a manager.”

That way, you can resolve any issues before the customer walks out the door and leaves a negative comment online for the world to see.

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