By Mark Plumlee
If you want to capture the attention of would-be guests on the internet, online reviews are of the utmost importance.
According to a study by TripAdvisor, 94 per cent of respondents in the U.S. admitted that online reviews influence their dining decisions. Another study by two economists at the University of California, Berkeley, concluded that even a measly 0.5 star increase in your Yelp rating can have a profound effect on the number of guests at your restaurant during peak business hours.
Soliciting online reviews can provide actionable feedback to help you improve the day-to-day operations of your restaurant, from the efficiency of your operations to the quality of your food, all while showing your customers that you care about what they have to say.
Additionally, you can think of online reviews as the digital equivalent of word-of-mouth marketing. It’s important that you promote, grow, and manage your online reputation, and online reviews are the fastest way to do so. There are many different online review sites, but if you focus on the more popular ones like Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor, you’ll be off to a five-star start.
Let’s imagine a potential customer in town for a business meeting, or maybe a family vacation to a local attraction or landmark. It’s dinnertime. Their stomach is rumbling. What do they do? What would you do? In their computer or smartphone, they Google “good food near me”. You want your restaurant at the top of that search return, instead of buried under all your competition, or else it’s like you don’t even exist for would-be customers.
To keep you near the top of this search, you need a lot of great reviews on Google, making your restaurant easier to find by its search engine and Google Maps. And with so many consumers directly and easily comparing restaurants on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, it’s important to have a plan for these too.
Whether you want that more prominent position on Google, or you want to win over prospective customers, the answer can be found in more good reviews. Soliciting them should always be part of your overall marketing plan, and it isn’t as hard as you might think.
Below are a few key ideas to help you get started.
Claim your restaurant
If you haven’t created your own listing on popular review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, it’s more than likely that someone has already done it for you. After you’ve checked the accuracy of your restaurant’s details — things like address, phone number, menu offerings, and website — you’ll want to claim your listing. If you want to take advantage of the Search Engine Optimization benefits of Google — and you definitely should — you’ll need to set up your free Business Profile. The process is straightforward, and Google’s Profile Manager will walk you through the process.
While each platform has a slightly different protocol, claiming and creating your listings allows you to receive notifications each time a review is left, and it allows you to respond to reviews. We’ll talk more about responding in a minute.
Promote your listing
Before you ask your customers for reviews, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to find you on review sites. There are many ways to make your listing easy to find, but here are a few that are sure to help.
First, link to your listings on your own website. You could think of it as a testimonial page, linked to Yelp and Google. This has the added benefit of allowing you to share multiple review platforms with one easy social media post or social media bio link.
You can also promote your listing through QR codes on table tents or right on your menu. QR codes make getting your customers to your online platform a cinch. Your customers just scan the code and are taken to any review platform you’d like them to use. This streamlines the process by removing unnecessary steps for your customers, like pulling up their internet browser, finding your preferred review platform, and clicking the “post review” button.
The easier you can make it for your customers, the more likely they will be to put in the work of writing a review. If you don’t have experience with QR codes, or if you don’t know how you could incorporate them into your restaurant, here is a free QR code tool which allows you to link to review sites — and anything else online — for free.
Once you’ve made it incredibly easy for your guests to leave reviews, now it’s time to ask from them. Some of your customers, especially loyal regulars, will gladly leave you a great review, especially if you educate them on the importance of a review for your business on Google, Yelp, or any other platform you’d like to target.
But your customers don’t always understand how much a simple review can help do something like boost your Google rating, making you easier to find via Google search. So, explaining it to them with a short blurb on the menu or bill, along with an impassioned plea for a review, can help prompt action.
Whether it be in-person, via social media, or via email, you can ask for reviews in a variety of ways. Incorporating it directly into your marketing materials is a good strategy. Table tents are a perfect place to promote your listing and ask for reviews. Additionally, you can use a QR code on your table tent, guiding your guest directly through your promotion in one place, from the table tent to the review platform. It doesn’t get any easier than that. And you can find hundreds of table tent ideas and templates online to get you started in raking in those five-star reviews.
Asking for reviews will be enough for some of your guests, especially those loyal regulars. But even after you’ve made it as easy as possible to leave a review, you might still need to incentivize it for some. Some good ideas might include offering a certain percentage off a customer’s next meal or a free app or dessert if they leave a review. You can run this incentive on social media platforms or you could incorporate it into your marketing materials like table tents and flyers. These small incentives can reap big rewards on review platforms.
Respond to reviews
Finally, after you’ve made getting reviews as easy as possible, and you’ve asked your guests for reviews, you should respond to the more notable ones. Your guests are more likely to trust another guest than they are your own marketing, so incorporating glowing reviews into your marketing plan can make your reviewer feel like an appreciated part of your business, show your customers you care about what they think, and help promote your restaurant.
But not all reviews might be glowing.
Responding to bad reviews is an important part of managing your online reputation. When dealing with a disgruntled Yelper, talking with your staff and getting as much information as possible may help. Additionally, you’ll want to respond to the review with a sincere and honest apology. An apology can go a long way, not just for the original reviewer, but for anyone reading your Yelp and deciding on their next meal. Responding to bad reviews shows that you take your guests’ opinions seriously and that you want to provide the best experience possible.
As you go, you’ll want to check in with your online reputation on occasion to measure the success of your efforts. But if you follow these simple steps, you’ll be on your way to raking in those reviews, improving your restaurant, helping you climb the Yelp or TripAdvisor ladder, and making your restaurant easier to find on Google and Google Maps.
Mark Plumlee is the Sr. Editor for MustHaveMenus, a DIY design and digital marketing service for restaurants, and has written for CRFN and many foodservice publications on food industry trends and technology.