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The Potent Online Review Management Formula for Restaurants

Of all the different markets in the world, few are as highly reviewed and publicly scrutinized as the restaurant industry. People love to share their dining experiences with their friends, family and social peers – and look to other people’s experiences to determine where they’re going to visit next.

Where influence once came from traditional media (such as newspapers, magazines or television), the rise of social media and bespoke review sites has seen consumer focus shift, and the trend towards experiential dining means the feedback a restaurant gets on these sites carries a great deal of weight.

The Importance of managing online customer reviews

How your restaurant appears on social media, review sites and the way you conduct yourself online will determine a guest’s opinion of you before you even know they’re there. Potential customers will create an impression of your brand in their minds based on what they can see for themselves and what others have to say.

Your online strategy has to be proactive and reactive – and dealing with reviews plays an important role not only with the individual customer and the impression you leave them with, but how future visitors will view your brand.

The Benefits of Responding to Positive Reviews

When your happy customers are leaving positive reviews, you’re building your reputation, brand authority and levels of trust. You’re also more likely to be recommended and remain visible in the public consciousness.

It’s important that you engage with these customers – they’re taking the time to appreciate your brand, you need to show them that it’s a two-way street.

Importance of responding to positive restaurant reviews

Why should you reply to positive restaurant reviews?

  • Show your customers that you care for their experience and are a warm and welcoming venue that they’ll want to visit again.
  • Make the customer feel valued and more likely to recommend you to their friends, family and social peers.
  • Show future customers that you’re a brand that cares and delivers a customer experience that they’ll want to engage with themselves.
  • Generate twice the amount of positive sentiment that can be indexed for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

The more good things people can see about your restaurant, the more trusted and valued your brand will become. This will allow you to thrive and grow, building a sustainable community who are actively interested and invested in the success of your establishment; and with so many social media channels now ranking engagement and focusing on community building, you’re going to improve your social media ROI by creating more genuine conversation.

Responding to positive reviews

How to reply to positive restaurant reviews?

  • Do take the time to thank them: Gratitude and appreciation will make your brand seem more ‘human’ and approachable.
  • Do personalize your response: Look at what they’ve written in the review, if they’ve mentioned a particular dish or element of service, reference this in your response.
  • Do answer quickly: Answering quickly shows you as being an active, engaged and caring brand, and will build more positive sentiment.

Responding to and Managing Negative Reviews

It’s not pleasant getting a negative review, and it can sometimes feel like a personal attack. There may be a temptation to answer immediately, lashing out and putting the blame on the customer, or to ignore the review entirely – but neither of these approaches are good for your business, and can lead to not only an immediate customer loss, but damage to your brand in the long term.

When a customer makes a complaint, they are giving you an opportunity to correct the issue and restore their positive impression of your venue. How you handle the situation may change their opinion and see them championing your brand where they might have otherwise ignored or negatively responded to it.

Negative restaurant reviews

Before you deal with a negative review, you need to look carefully at what the customer is saying – try to understand their frustrations and discover if there are any learning opportunities.

If your customer is leaving a negative review, it means that they felt compelled to do so; it’s estimated that only 1 in every 26 unhappy customers will complain – so you must take the opportunity to listen and learn.

  • Did the customer leave feedback because they want an issue to be directly addressed and resolved?
  • Are they the sort of person that leaves negative feedback on a regular basis?
  • Are they looking to gain popularity and using your restaurant as the driving force?
  • Are they genuinely frustrated and unhappy, but willing to interact with you to fix the problem?

Knowing where you customer is coming from will help you determine what you need to do and aid you in providing an appropriate response that showcases your establishment in a positive fashion.

If the review is not genuine, and has been created solely to damage your reputation, it is important to act as soon as possible (don’t forget, new reviews will be seen first, and potential customers aren’t going to know that it’s a malicious attack). If this review has appeared on a 3rd party website, you need to contact the site and give them the relevant information, so they can remove the content.

If the review is on your social media channels or own website, you have two options – you can either remove the review entirely, or you can respond to it with the details and factual truths. Both approaches have merits but can also have risks, especially if the review has been up for some time.

Ideally, you need to develop a Review Management process and a Crisis Management template that outlines your procedures and gives your staff and team the tools to deal with the incident on a case by case basis.

Responding to negative restaurant reviews

If you’re not going to have the negative removed, or it’s coming from a genuine complainant – it’s vital that you respond.

  • Don’t reply with copy/paste text: if people think they’re getting an automated answer, they’re going to assume you don’t care.
  • Don’t ask them to contact you directly: they’ve already made their complaint known, it’s now up to you to act on it.
  • Don’t just say you’ll ‘look into the problem’: Phrases such as this and ‘lessons have been learned’ do not sit well with the public, it will be assumed that you’re ignoring the issue and will do nothing. When you say you’re going to make changes, you must do it!
  • Don’t just message them privately: Whilst it’s a good idea to contact the reviewer directly and address their issue, you also need to be seen to be doing it. Future customers aren’t going to know you contacted people privately – they’ll just assume you didn’t respond. Offering a simple apology and informing the reviewer that you’re going to contact them directly is more for the benefit to giving context to future customers than it is the reviewer of the time.

If the negative review comes from a genuine problem, make sure you research the incident and take the opportunity to identify the root cause; this will allow you to be more proactive with your procedures and strengthen your business – whether that’s educating your team or retraining your staff, you’re being given the opportunity to make your restaurant service better.

Sharing reviews with your staff is a useful learning tool – but it should not be used to penalise them or berate and undermine them. Your staff are your front line, they know more about your customers than anyone else – getting their feedback on the situation, what went wrong, and how you can improve will give you valuable insight and identify areas of weakness that might otherwise have been neglected.

Once you’ve started managing your online reputation, it’s important that you maintain it – it’s not something you can do once and leave, your reputation is only as strong as the last engagement, and if customers aren’t seeing you at your best, you’re not going to see them.

When approaching your management strategy, we suggest doing it with EASE:

EmpathizeUnderstand that your customer’s mood will vary from moment to moment depending on factors outside of your control. Your guests are only human, and a bad day can make any of us act in ways we wouldn’t normally. Approach a situation with an open mind and consideration for the individual.

Acknowledge: Let people see that you are aware of the problem. Send the unhappy party a private message to ask for more details and apologize that their experience hasn’t been to their expectations. 

On the actual public complaint, apologize and tell the individual that you have (or will) contact them privately for more details so your audience can see that you are engaging and caring and acting in their best interests.

Solve: Take steps to resolve the issue and let the individual know privately what has been done, as well as posting publicly. This may lead to their negative experience being forgotten, and the customer service converting them into a Brand Champion.

Evaluate: Look at what went wrong, what happened and what you had to implement to change it. Are there any other similar areas of your business which could benefit from the changes you’ve introduced? Take this opportunity to refresh your procedures and bring your staff training up to date.


About the Author

Lynne Pratt is the Creative Content Director for Virtual Solutions, a boutique agency specializing in offering digital solutions and exceptional experiences for the Restaurant, Hotel and F&B Industries. Lynne has a BA Hons in English Literature and enjoys creating content which clicks.

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