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How should your restaurant respond to online reviews?

Published May 19, 2021

The same way you decide if you want to check out a restaurant or not, the same way your customers will decide if they check out yours, 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. Regardless of where the review was written, you have two choices: either reply to customer reviews or choose to not respond at all. 

Working to ensure your business is receiving positive reviews is just the first step. It’s equally important to know how to 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.”

Leverage the good, bad and ugly of what’s being said about your restaurant online and bring in more business and learn how to respond to reviews in a courteous and professional manner.

Don’t let too much time pass before replying

Sometimes, ignorance isn’t bliss. 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

Always address the concerns at hand even if you know a customer is wrong or think they’re being unreasonable.

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.”

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’re listening. 

A simple “Thank you” response or addressing a detail (“I love the salmon too!”) can go a long way. Responding to your four- and five- star reviewers also shows you want to be loyal to them just as much as you’d like for them to be loyal customers to you.

Related: The importance of strengthening restaurant loyalty programs during the pandemic

Give out your contact information

Whatever you do, don’t try to debate with an angry customer on a public forum. Instead of going back and forth on review pages or other public sites, provide the contact information for the owners so the conversation can shift and be resolved offline.

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’re wary, express how important reviews are to businesses of all sizes.

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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