For the fifth year in a row, the restaurant and food service industry stands to experience unprecedented growth, possibly reaching over $800 billion in sales. The economy is experiencing significant recovery, and geographical mobility appears to be the norm.
This means new restaurants will be opening in areas with significant job generation opportunities. If you are among those looking into opening a new restaurant, or exploring the possibility of going from one location into multiple locations, then we want to help you set the stage for a successful reputation management strategy that takes into account what really matters from the moment you conceive the idea to the day you open the doors, and beyond.
Why Managing Your Restaurant Reputation Matters from the Start
Online reputation does not happen overnight. It takes time, effort, and intentionality to create profiles and encourage consumer reviews that put your venue in the best possible light. Taking the time to ensure all your ducks are in a row when it comes to online presence on your site, and on other relevant sites, is the first step to begin review acquisition and give shoppers a point of reference when trying to determine if your restaurant is a good fit for their dining needs.
Consider this: more than half the current Internet users check online restaurant reviews prior to dining out. Furthermore, positioning your restaurant on review sites from the very start will help when a potential patron is conducting a location-based search or a niche-based search: for example, someone looking for an Italian restaurant in close proximity to his or her current location.
Another key reason you want to be in control of creating your profiles on sites like Yelp is if you don’t, then somebody else will. Don’t let your first review entry be customer-created. While it is true that it will trigger a home for new reviews, the landing page will not necessarily have sufficient information to best represent your business. Take the time to create profiles for the top generic and food service-focused review and social sites. Here are a few sites that we suggest you consider:
- Google+ Local
- Insider Pages
- Yahoo Local
- Groupon My Pages
- Twitter (not a review site but a common tool for customer service escalations)
How to Conduct Pre-Opening Competitive Analysis Using Review Sites
Review sites are immeasurably valuable when it comes to understanding the business climate you are likely to encounter upon opening your doors. If you are still in the planning stages of your new restaurant or new location, then take a moment to understand what drives the food and beverage industry in your region.
Identify what the most popular venues are doing right. Study the type of venues available and their offerings, and seek to introduce something new to the mix in hopes of reducing friction as a market entrant. When considering your restaurant’s name, review the names of popular venues in your niche, and make sure your choice is memorable and not likely to be confused with another existing venue. Take time to understand market saturation and, if possible, identify a location where you will gain a competitive edge simply by having minimal competition. Alternatively, study areas of high traffic where locals are likely to congregate, and become one more player likely to stand out purely by the quality and strength of your product.
When getting started, you should also use the reviews and profiles of other restaurants to get ideas and best practices before you draft your own profile. Look at their photos and videos, and hand-pick what you feel will add value to your organization; discard the ideas that simply won’t work.
In short, there is no need to learn from your own mistakes when you can learn from the mistakes of others at little or no cost to you. Taking time to conduct review-based, competitive analysis will give you a strong footing from the beginning and save you from common newbie mistakes.
When Should You Create Your Online Profiles with Key Review Sites?
This is a question that we hear often and one that requires careful consideration. If a profile is posted and activated too early, without clear indication that the venue is not yet open, then you stand a chance of getting negative feedback simply by having frustrated a potential patron.
On the other hand, restaurants need to begin creating buzz and gaining reviews pretty early into the game. A good rule of thumb is to have your profiles ready when you are ready to host private, pre-opening events. Encourage the attendees at pre-opening, exclusive events to leave reviews on popular sites as a way to introduce the community as a whole to your offerings.
On the other hand, if you are not planning to have pre-opening events, then consider having your online profiles ready one week prior to opening. Note that your business site should be ready significantly earlier, and generally speaking, you will need a two- to three-week buffer to activate your mapping capability via Google My Business. On a final note, be sure your own site includes callouts to popular review sites from the very start. This will help your customers have increased recall when it comes to leaving reviews for your dining venue.
How to Create Online Profiles That Rock
First, let’s focus on the essentials. Your online profiles must be complete and accurate. Your goal as a restaurateur is to paint a full picture of your offering that is appealing but truthful. Focus on the facts. Inflated descriptions often result in expectations not met. A good restaurant profile will include important operational facts such as hours of operation, adult-beverage availability, or BYOB options and complete menus. Additionally, it is wise to include details such as parking availability, or schedules for specially priced promos such as happy hours.
When building your first online profile, it is always better to under promise and over deliver. Let your first reviewers be the ones that give accolades. Self-accolades can be very destructive, particularly when your venue is still experiencing the common operational challenges that take place during soft opening and the first weeks after your grand opening.
Building Multimedia That Brings People in the Door: Learn Top Industry Tricks
When it comes to photos and videos, your goal is to convey the two most important aspects of a food-service venue: food and vibe. When it comes to food photography, your best bet is to hire the services of a food stylist. A food stylist can take your menu and review-site images to the next level, and help you create a visual balance to counteract bad user-generated photos.
If you decide to take photos on your own, then consider lighting, and make sure the food you are presenting has contrasting garnishes and interesting colors. As far as videography, consider short videos that highlight ambiance. Include people (nobody wants to see a video of an empty restaurant), but dim the sound of human interaction and replace it with music. Consider a voice-over, and pay special attention to your intro and outro.
How to Snowball Engagement and Get Your First Reviews
While there are some review sites that frown upon direct review solicitation (Yelp, for example), others, such as TripAdvisor, equip businesses with tools to encourage review submissions.
The first step toward creating customer loyalty conducive to great reviews is, of course, great products and services. The second step is to get to know your customer at a personal level. From the very start, you should establish processes designed to capture customers’ email addresses. Don’t hesitate to send newsletters, and include text that either highlights portions of great online reviews or points your new customers to the sites where you have active profiles. Going back to sites such as TripAdvisor, where you are allowed and equipped to invite customers to review you, by all means, use it!
You may also take a passive offline approach by creating grassroots internal campaigns that encourage customers to “be the first.” Keep in mind that some sites reward first reviewers with special badges following their gamification model, making it very appealing to consumers to give you a review. Another simple way to snowball your review activity is by pushing promos on sites such as Foursquare. Someone who engages in a promo is twice as likely to submit a review.
Who Needs to Know About Your Restaurant First and Why?
While conducting research pertaining to your market, take time to identify influencers within review sites and the Web as a whole. Consider hosting a pre-opening party, and invite local foodies and those involved in community development such as members of the local chamber of commerce. In addition to online influencers, you also want to create awareness based on proximity. Reach out, both offline and online, to those within a five-mile radius of your location. Consider a Groupon as an introductory tool, with the idea of creating awareness with local customers.
Now that we have shared some of the best tips for opening day, don’t forget to put in place a reputation management and review monitoring process to ensure real-time engagement with your clientele. Take a moment to tour ReviewTrackers, one of today’s best reputation management software platforms available to small and medium businesses.