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(Photo: Courtesy of &pizza)

A small Italian restaurant in California called Botto Bistro has an interesting Yelp strategy. It wants to be the worst-rated restaurant on the popular online review website. Of its 250 Yelp reviews, more than half come with a one-star rating.

Let’s face it: some reviews are not trustworthy. Some Yelpers are not fair. But it doesn’t change the fact that reviews, in general, are incredibly important: they are part of consumers’ lives, and as the new standard for customer feedback, they give customers the ability to voice their own opinion and be heard.

Reviews can help your restaurant operation — as long as you make the commitment to listen and respond to what your customers say online. Here are three ways customer reviews can grow your business and save your restaurant:

Reviews Bring in New Customers

Stephen Fofanoff, owner of seafood restaurant Jig and Lure Fish Company in Port Angeles, Washington, said that on average, three to four of his restaurant parties indicate they found him on Yelp each day. The guests read the reviews and the management responses and then come in to try the restaurant.

Fofanoff said a family found his fish and chips restaurant on Yelp through word of mouth from another local business.

He said, “They were told by the business, ‘I don’t think any place has that in town.’ So they checked Yelp — they found us by searching reviews for fish and chips — and then came in as a result. Without Yelp, they wouldn’t have come in.”

Reviews Build Community and Increase Revenue

Michael Lastoria, founder and CEO of &pizza, said Yelp gives him opportunities for community building. &pizza has 15 locations in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Each location is rated at 4.5 stars on Yelp.

“We trust the Yelp community to always give us an authentic pulse on what’s happening in our restaurants,” he said.

Lastoria said the “tribe” members, who are the employees, at &pizza treat Yelpers like they would treat their friends, and the online review website has helped his team build relationships with many of the customers on Yelp.

“We read and respond to all reviews – imagine being in a conversation and not responding to a friend’s question or general point view.”

Lastoria said he estimates that Yelp has brought him at least $1.5 million in revenue in just four years.

&pizza puts experience at the center of their business, and each location is different, reflecting the people and culture of the specific neighborhood.

ALSO check out: 5 Dead Simple Ways Restaurant Brands Can Cater to Solo Diners

Reviews Provide Insight Into the Customer Experience

David Bumba, owner of YUZU in Lakewood, Ohio, said Yelp is a communication channel for less-than-positive guest experiences.

“For example, we recently had a customer complaint about an over-salted dish,” he said. “Without Yelp, the customer may not have ever left feedback for us to adjust our performance in the kitchen. In addition, we would have lost a customer without knowing it.”

While restaurants like Botto Bistro may succeed to some degree at subverting online review sites, there is no denying that reviews and customer feedback are good for business. By embracing reviews, you position yourself to bring in new customers, increase revenue, and understand the customer experience.

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Megan Wenzl

Megan is the Content Marketing Specialist for ReviewTrackers. She's a writer who is committed to finding useful information to help your business succeed. Megan holds an M.A. in journalism from Columbia College Chicago.

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