How Yelp and Other Review Sites Can Make or Break Your Restaurant Business

First let’s face the facts. We all search the internet to check out the restaurant scene anytime we visit a new city, or we are looking for a place for a celebration or we just want to try something new.  Put the question in your search engine and the first things that pop up are Yelp and Trip Advisor. Even in searching for a particular restaurant  their Yelp link often shows up before the actual restaurant website link.

How does all of this translate to business?  Here are a few facts:

  • 34% of the public chooses a restaurant based solely on information from a peer feedback website
  • For those aged 18 to 34 years old, the current largest group of consumers, 53% base their restaurant choice on information from a peer feedback website
  • Each star in a rating means an average sales boost of 5% to 9%
  • Chain restaurants are less affected by ratings and reviews

The human brain loves shortcuts and rating stars are definitely a shortcut.  Look for 4 stars, read a couple reviews, make the decision and jump in the car.  In fact, chances are you were already in your car completing the first 3 steps on your phone. So, no matter how much we hate negative reviews and take them all personally, they affect our business and to survive we have to embrace review sites.  Here are some tricks for using them to your advantage:

1)   Upload Photos. Remember when I said, “the brain loves shortcuts”? That means step one is count the stars, step two is look at the pictures. On most sites, the owner has control over this section. You should make sure there is a good variety of high quality photos showing interior, food and drinks. The problem so often with the photo section of review sites lies in the fact that it is allowed to be reviewer driven. You then end up with several poor-quality photos of the same entrée and an occasional cocktail. In making a restaurant decision, people like to see other people having fun in a room that feels comfortable and inviting.  They also like to see the variety you have to offer in both food and beverages. Photos of your staff and managers at tables or behind the bar interacting with guests brings energy and excitement to the concept. As an owner, you should consistently add new photos to your review pages.

2)   Link to Your Website. While chain restaurants are less affected by ratings, they are also consistently losing business to independents. Your goal on review sites is to be the independent that stands out.  So, while my advice is to make sure there is a link to your website on all your review pages, my more important advice is “Have A Website”. When someone clicks on your link it is because they want more information. What does your menu look like, do you have happy hour specials, do you take reservations, where do I park, or anything else that will convince them they are going to have a good time and it will be easy. There is nothing more frustrating than clicking on that link and being routed to a Facebook page that tells you nothing. When some someone lands on your homepage, they should see great images and find it easy to navigate to quick answers.  A poor website can cost you almost as much business as a bad review.

3)   Respond to Negative Reviews. A bad review is like an open wound left unattended to infect the entire body. When I read Yelp reviews, I am amazed at how many bad reviews go without comment from the restaurant.  On most sites, you can gain contact information for the writer and use that to connect with them.  And that is exactly what you should do. But you should also post an online apology to show the world you care and that you are trying to correct the situation. I always suggest that when contacting an unhappy guest and inviting them to return, that you make sure they get in touch with you personally to arrange that visit. It can be presented as your wish to pick their table, or your assurance they are able to get their desired reservation time, or it may simply be your insistence to be there when they arrive to offer your apology in person. Whatever the reason, know when they are dining and make sure the experience is extraordinary. Most people who take the time to write a bad review will also take the time to go back and write about how wonderful their second experience was.  In the restaurant business we have always been trained to get the unhappy guest back into the building to correct their opinion of you. We now must go a step further and repair the relationship online to correct everyone’s opinion of you.

4)   Play the Numbers Game. More ratings raise your average rating by making a bad review less significant.  A steady stream of reviews also pushes bad reviews down the list and to back pages.  Encourage happy guests to write reviews, display logos for the sites you are reviewed on, and add the URL for review sites to the bottom of all guest checks. People love to write good things, we just have to remind them to do it. And don’t forget the selfie.  Train your entire staff to watch for guests trying to take photos of themselves.  It is the perfect opportunity to offer to take the picture for them, comment on how great they look and encourage them to post it on your review pages.

5)   Embrace Site Marketing. Yelp and other sites offer great marketing programs.  The amount of money you want to spend can be controlled by you and their team is very good at helping you get the most for your money.  You can create a deal or check in offer, remove competitor ads from your page, and even run ads that put you at the top of pages when people are searching your neighborhood.  Aside from their paid advertising, review sites in themselves are free advertising. The more you work to keep your reviews positive and your average rating high, the more the site works to spread your reputation.

In this technology-driven world, it is more and more important to obtain information quickly in order to make decisions. Your reputation as a restaurant is no longer earned in your dining room, it is typed and posted. It is time to stop sulking about the “stupid reviewer” who said your calamari was actually onion rings and instead concentrate on all the good these review sites bring to the table.  The biggest of these being the ability to reach significantly more potential guests than you could ever single handedly accomplish, and it’s FREE.

Michael Maxwell – Partner, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting

Do you need assistance with advice on how to receive stellar online reviews for your restaurant? We’re here to help! Contact us today, and let’s chat.

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