It’s an unfortunate reality that any business has to deal with: managing unsatisfied customers. Thanks to the influx of review platforms like Yelp and TripAdvisor, sharing personal experiences at local businesses—good or bad—is easier than ever. As a bar or restaurant professional, your business (and reputation) can live and die by these reviews.
It’s important that you handle all reviews with care and respect. Here are five best practices for managing online restaurant reviews.
Build and monitor your online presence
You want to make sure people can find your restaurant in the clutter of online search results. According to a Bright Local survey, 97% of consumers looked online for local businesses in 2017. Once they find your restaurant, you also want people to talk about you. We’re all a little skeptical of a restaurant with only two reviews.
Every bar and restaurant should be active on social media. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram are perfect for promoting special deals, events, and showcasing new menu items. But, you can’t simply set it and forget it. Posting content regularly helps you build a community of patrons and can help your restaurant get discovered by new guests.
Claim your business listing on popular review sites such as Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor, and take the time to complete all profile fields. Show off your restaurant with professional photos, and get people excited about your dishes by uploading your menu.
Do your research before responding
It’s always best to have the facts before responding to a negative review. Read it closely. Then talk to your staff to get their impressions. Don’t be accusatory, but get a full picture of what happened before responding.
While you’re at it, read the reviewer’s other posts as well. Do they make a habit of one-starring places? Are they always inflammatory? Or does this seem to be an isolated incident? Getting whatever sense you can out of the person you’re responding to is invaluable, as there’s no face to face conversation from which to pull context clues. Giving yourself even a little context can make the difference in how you respond.
Detach yourself personally
Be honest: bad experiences, no matter the reason, frustrate all of us. The anonymity of the internet has a tendency to amplify loud, angry people. As an industry professional, you can’t give in to the emotional temptation of responding to anger with anger.
How you react matters. Remember, what you do on the internet lives forever. To avoid going viral for all the wrong reasons, remove your emotions from the equation. Hear the customer out and try to see the experience from their point of view.
As personal as these reviews may feel, there is value in negative reviews if you consider it constructive feedback. Keep track of the feedback you’re receiving to identify trends, such as “the food is too salty” or “the drinks are weak.” Every quarter, review these trends with your team to find opportunities for improvement.
Respond to all online restaurant reviews
People leave online restaurant reviews because they want to be heard. Whether they’re good or bad, you need to be ready for anything. Of all the things you can do with bad reviews, ignoring them is one of the worst. In fact, responding can improve your reputation. According to a Harvard Business Review study of hotel reviews on TripAdvisor, when hotels respond to negative reviews, they receive 12% more reviews and their rating increases by 0.12 stars on average.
If someone leaves a negative restaurant review, start with a private message. Acknowledge their review, tell them their concerns have been heard, and follow up with clear next steps and actions. Then respond to their negative review publicly. You don’t want potential customers wondering why you haven’t responded to someone’s concerns. Be professional, polite, and make the reviewer feel respected.
The same advice applies to positive reviews. Any time someone shares a positive experience, publicly thank them for their comments. In either case, sincere responses shows that you care about the customer.
Dealing with fake reviews
Fake reviews are a real, malicious, and hard to control. Many review sites don’t require users to post under a real name and Yelp only takes down reviews that violate their terms-of-service. If you think you’re dealing with fake reviews, gather up as much proof of fraud that you can, and present it to the website with a request to have the reviews removed. Beyond that, legal representation may be required for a particularly malicious string of reviews.
At the end of the day, your best tool against negative and fake review is to maintain an active and positive online presence. One negative online review may turn a few people away. But for most patrons, watching you actively solve problems, engaging with positive reviews, and showing that your care will win them over in the end.