Q&A: How Restaurants Should Respond to Online Reviews

online-reviews-1-300x196  1.  How should restaurant owners respond to online reviews that are both positive and negative?

Restaurants must respond to any review that same day, and that’s especially true for a negative review. The restaurant business is all about positive word-of-mouth, so if a restaurant owner ignores a negative review, it sends a message that he or she doesn’t care about that patron’s experience. It also makes it more likely that someone reading that review will be hesitant to visit the restaurant. It’s important that restaurant owners respond with humility and a desire to make things right when they respond to a negative review. The best way to do that is to ask the reviewer questions such as: “How can I make things better?” “Would you be willing to revisit for a free meal of your choice?” Those types of questions show the restaurant owner’s commitment to making patrons happy.

It’s also important to respond with kind words to a positive review, because this increases personal connections with patrons, and makes them more likely to become repeat customers.

2.  Is it bad to ignore reviews?

In most instances it’s a bad idea to ignore reviews, because the lifeblood of a restaurant is happy customers. If happy customers post good reviews, it’s important to thank them and to encourage them to return. It’s also an opportunity to quickly talk about upcoming menu items or specials. If unhappy customers post bad reviews, it’s important to address the things that made them unhappy, fix them if possible, and…convert them into satisfied customers who want to return.

3.  Why are reviews important?

Reviews are one of the biggest factors in whether a potential diner will visit a restaurant. A number of good reviews is a seal of approval that is hard to beat when it comes to generating goodwill. The problem is that one negative review can do more damage than five positive reviews, which is why it’s so important for restaurant owners to do everything possible to address the problem, fix it, and then encourage that customer to leave a second review that is much more positive than the first.

4.  Is it bad to defend yourself?

It’s not bad to defend your restaurant if there is factual error in the negative review. But defending a restaurant against charges of bad service, or against accusations that food wasn’t cooked properly is not advisable. Unless the review is so beyond the pale negative that it borders on trolling, the goal should always be to offer to address the problem and if the customer is local, to encourage the customer to return and to speak to the head chef or owner in person.

5.  How can you encourage customers to leave positive reviews?

Whether diners eat in or take the food to go, restaurant owners should thank them for their patronage and encourage them to leave a review if they enjoyed the meal. One easy way to encourage positive reviews is to write them on a receipt so that it’s something that customers can see after they’ve left the restaurant. Another way is to encourage positive reviews through email marketing.

6.  Any other tips for reviews?

It’s bad form to offer discounts or freebies for positive reviews, because patrons will post that offer on the review site, which can dent a restaurant’s reputation.

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