If you think restaurant reputation management only matters for hole-in-the-wall diners or new-to-the-block brands, you may end up eating your words for dinner.
With the rise in mobile-everything, social media use, and the popularity of turning to peer reviews for purchasing decisions, restaurant reputation management is more important than ever. Whether your restaurant has one location or a hundred, growth is dependent on a healthy brand strategy. Competition among restaurants has always been fierce, and you’ll no doubt have a few fires to put out… and a few others to stoke (metaphorically, of course — we’ll leave the real fires to your kitchen staff).
This guide will cover:
- 1) How do we establish a restaurant reputation management strategy?
- 2) Which review sites work best for restaurants?
- 3) How important is adding photos and menus to our review and social media pages?
- 4) How can we make location-based actions work for us and not against us?
- 5) What restaurants are excelling at online review management?
- 6) What does the future look like for Restaurant Reputation Management?
If you’ve never tackled restaurant reputation management, the task can seem extremely daunting. Where do you start? How can you leverage their contents to your advantage? What about brand alignment? How do social media and marketing factor into all of this?
For restaurant reputation management, a strategy is key. To optimize your chances for success, lay out a foundation first. Committing to the process will not only help you improve your business; it will also get attention from growling stomachs everywhere. At the end of the day, your task is to feed hungry people, right? Your reviews can help you do that.
“When it comes to restaurant reputation management, a strategy is key.”
As chains grow, it can be increasingly difficult to maintain order when it comes to online customer feedback. Yet collecting review data and controlling your online reputation is so often the missing puzzle piece in a restaurant’s social media management.
1) How do we establish a restaurant reputation management strategy?
Start With Your Review Site Pages
Online reviews carry colossal power in the restaurant industry, and having a strong supply of positive reviews is like opening a Willy Wonka chocolate bar and pulling out a golden ticket. Reviews can do amazing things for your restaurant! Make sure you claim all the profiles you can and optimize them for your audience.
Review Websites Give Independent Restaurants a Competitive Edge
The first thing to note about online review sites is that your customers can and will review you, even if you never claim your page or spend one moment managing your account. Because people will check you out on review sites regardless, you should spend some time dressing up your pages. These sites should work for you, not against you, and having a proactive approach to managing them is the first step.
Claim your profile and add as many details as you’re able, such as:
- Hours of operation
- Price Range
- Lots and LOTS of photos
- …and any little extras you think might be enticing to customers (patio dining, happy hour, kid-friendly, television, etc.)
Once you’ve equipped your page with all the relevant information, the work has just begun. The other key piece of reputation management comes with how you handle customer feedback.
This is often one of the most challenging aspects of reputation. Answering all customers reviews can take a lot of time and resources. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the top reputation management companies who can manage the day-to-day of reputation management.
Always thank your reviewers for their feedback, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. Set a standard of responding to negative feedback politely and professionally. There’s a host of information available about how to respond to negative reviews that could prove useful going forward.
But to break it down to bare bones, if you’re responding publicly, consider T.A.P.:
- T: Thank the reviewer for their feedback.
- A: Apologize for the incident.
- P: Promise future improvement.
- Then FOLLOW THROUGH with your promise.
You may also want to privately contact the reviewer for additional information regarding any negative experiences. At this point, you can consider offering incentives in the hopes of getting these individuals back through your doors for a second chance to prove your worth.
This tactic has proven to be successful for many businesses. Reviewers walk away from a negative experience with a positive one. They know their opinion is valued and the restaurant is working to improve its performance.
Monitor Your Social Media Presence
Social media strategies are a necessity.
Offline strategies, like menus slipped under doorways and coupons tucked in a windshield wiper, just aren’t going to cut it. Nowadays, restaurants with the strongest presence on social media end up faring the best, and in such a competitive industry, ignoring this aspect of your restaurant’s marketing plan could end poorly.
You’ve probably already created a Facebook business page and a Twitter account. But are you using these to their full potential? Are you posting your positive press, sharing exclusive discounts and special coupons, and whetting the appetites of your followers with photos of new menu items?
As you can see, setting up these social media hubs is only half the job. Consider turning to social media management tools, such as HootSuite, to help you keep tabs on all your networks, and to schedule posts and share content across every platform with the click of a mouse.
- Your cover image is free ad space! Take full advantage. When you sign up for Facebook, you’re essentially given a FREE 851×351 pixel banner to market your restaurant. Capitalize on this space by including mouth-watering food photography or shots of folks enjoying themselves over a delicious meal with friends. Change out the image whenever you have a notable menu change to market new items or specials. Or think seasonally and showcase limited edition dishes special to the holiday or time of year.
- Example: Olive Garden often switches out their cover images to highlight the season and new specials. Usually coupling a shot of a recognizable and tasty dish with an identifying seasonal item, such as a heaping plate of rigatoni with marinara sauce next to an equally cozy wool scarf, cultivating feelings of warmth from both the seasonal outerwear AND the plate of pasta…perfect for the dropping temperatures their Facebook fans are experiencing.
- Show off those plates! Make sure you’re frequently adding photos of your restaurant’s food to your page. After all, the most shared posts on Facebook are images. The restaurant business should be all about food and because most food is incredibly visual, this works in your favor. Brainstorm ways to use images of your food in ANY post you’re thinking of uploading, even if it’s just alerting followers of a change in hours of operation or wishing them Happy Halloween. You may even want to consider creating albums of all your current menu items so customers can scroll through and find all your mouth-watering dishes in one place.
- Example: Here’s an example of a tasty looking lineup of burrito bowls at Chipotle. Not only does the food look enticing but the photographer has set the scene in an identifiable way. Facebook fans of Chipotle will recognize that familiar counter! Using context in this way allows customers to imagine themselves as part of the image and are thus more likely to feel inspired to purchase.
- Embed videos! Take the visual sensations of food up a notch and post some videos, embedded directly on an update. Shoot some footage explaining how a certain dish is made or interview a special loyal customer. Your fans won’t be able to help themselves from watching, especially now that Facebook has begun to play videos automatically when users scroll through their newsfeeds.
- Example: KFC has been having a field day posting comedic videos of their famous Colonel. And to great effect! These posts receive likes, comments, and, most importantly, shares, in much greater quantity than any other type of activity on their page.
- Tell a heart-warming story! Make altruistic efforts to influence your community and share these efforts on your page. Whether helping out during a major natural disaster in your area or spearheading a fundraiser for a local community member in need, your efforts will not go unnoticed. Including these details on your page will paint a more holistic portrait of who you are as a brand and who you’re striving to be.
- Example: Recently, Pizza Hut teamed up with Amazon for their “Book It!” program, which promotes children’s literacy by incentivizing reading and offering free and discounted books for those who may otherwise be unable to afford reading material for their children.
- Take advantage of trending hashtags! In order to increase visibility for your Instagram profile AND your overall brand, make sure to include relevant trending hashtags along with your photos. If it’s #NationalCheeseburgerDay and you happen to have burgers on your menu, post a photo of one and get in on the trend!
- Engage your customers to upload their favorites! Invite your patrons to upload their favorite menu items. Not only will this help build the amount of images of your items on the platform; it also creates a stronger bond with your customer base. User-generated content helps get your customers involved socially and works to establish great customer loyalty. They feel like an integral part of your overall story!
- Example: By using a unique hashtag you can keep track of all the new uploads and re-gram your favorites. Something like #YourRestaurantNameMenu or #YourRestaurantNameFavorites is easy to remember and easy for fans to follow along.
- Bank on seasonal trends! Once the calendar pages turn to September, you can’t throw a rock at Instagram without hitting some pictures heralding the return of a pumpkin spiced item. This trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Do your research. Find a few similar trends by having a scroll through some feeds and work a little #PSL magic of your own!
- Include links in your tweets! If you’re tweeting about a dish or a daily special, why not include a link to your full menu? Perusing your menu may just help them tip the scale towards a decision to dine with you tonight!
- Example: This tactic is especially effective for restaurants that deliver, such as popular pizza joints like Domino’s and Papa John’s, as followers can be shepherded from tweet to menu to ORDERING in one fell swoop. Both places capitalize on this notion and link to their website and menu often.
- Tweet at meal time! Schedule your tweets to post during the breakfast, lunch, and dinner hours. Unlike your Facebook posts, tweets will show up in your follower’s feeds in REAL time, allowing you to play with peak times and cater to growling stomachs.
- Example: Outback Steakhouse frequently tweets around the middle of the day with a quirky one-liner, a stylized food shot, and the simple hashtag: #lunch. This tactic showcases that they successfully think like their customer while also making it very easy to find their restaurant on a Twitter search.
Publish Your Restaurant on Online Guides
Managing your restaurant’s online presence means you should also consider securing listings in the most important online food guides. Just like your social media efforts, this makes it that much easier for a potential customer to find you.
While it may be easy to increase your visibility for those customers who know your name, what about those customers who haven’t heard of you yet? It is becoming increasingly standard for consumers to seek out dining options on reference guides like TripAdvisor.
On these guides, you can search by type of food, location, price range, and any number of specialized filters to help customers find the kind of dining experience they’re after. A customer looking for sushi in Dallas just has to turn to one of these guides to get a host of options right at his fingertips. If your restaurant isn’t listed as one of those options? Talk about a missed opportunity!
Share Positive Press and Praise
Whenever your restaurant receives positive press, be it from your local newspaper’s food writer or a tweet from a celebrity fan, be sure to show off the good publicity on your website and social media. Your followers and customers will want to align themselves with this good press, no doubt spreading the word. Folks new to your offerings will also feel encouraged to visit in person when they see recognizable sources celebrating your restaurant.
- Set up Google Alerts to notify you when your business name (and any other designated keyword term) appears in new content online. This will make it exceptionally easy to keep tabs on WHAT people are saying about you and WHO is doing the talking.
- Reach out to food bloggers to help generate reviews and hype up special menu items, new deals, or a grand opening of a new location. Often these sites have a huge following and since they’re interested in driving traffic, sharing their content through YOUR online channels could be mutually beneficial for both parties involved. Win-win!
2) Which review sites work best for restaurants?
There was a time when everyone in the restaurant business could spot a food critic amongst a crowded dining room’s clientele with ease. Usually on the payroll of the local newspaper, they would write detailed columns about restaurants new and old and leave chefs, maitre-d’s, and managers quivering in their wake.
Now, every diner you seat has the potential to become an amateur food critic and is likely to broadcast his or her review online for the world to see.
There’s a multitude of platforms available, acting as megaphones for these armchair critics to get their voices heard. However, it’s important to focus your attentions on the review sites which serve your segment well.
A few of our favorites:
Claim your restaurant on Yelp – Visit https://biz.yelp.com/ OR check out the ReviewTrackers guide on claiming your Yelp page.
About: Founded in October 2004 in San Francisco, California, Yelp is the premier site for customers looking to find new dining experiences. While the site has a range of business categories, those in the food and drinks sector have allowed Yelp to really make a name for itself.
Create or edit your restaurant listing on Google – Visit www.google.com/business or check ReviewTrackers guide on how to claim your listing.
About: With the title of world’s largest search engine under its belt, Google is picking up steam as a frontrunner in the restaurant discovery engines category as well, connecting the hungry masses with new restaurants every day. When these same masses are searching for fine eats, they’re also greeted with reviews and ratings by past happy (or not so happy) customers.
About: One of the leading online restaurant reservations platforms, Opentable isn’t just for making sure you get a table at the hippest spot in town. It’s also a great place for folks to turn to when figuring out WHERE to eat in the first place. And there are plenty of public reviews to help them navigate this decision. Opentable users write more than 400,000 reviews each month!
Hop on over to Facebook and take a look OR check out our Facebook Reviews guide for more detailed information.
About: Local business reviews are also plentiful on the world’s leading social network platform: Facebook. Recently enhancing and updating many of their review features, Facebook is making it easier than ever for anyone to share their thoughts about their favorite watering holes.
*You may also want to claim your page and monitor reviews at any of the following: Eat24, Gayot, Zagat, Zomato, MenuPages, TripAdvisor, Foursquare, and Yahoo! Local.
3) How important is adding photos and menus to our review and social media pages?
In a word?
A vast majority of diners today consult the Web before making a decision on where and what to eat. And one of the first things they look at is a restaurant’s menu. Besides making your menu available on your website, include your restaurant’s offerings on other key points of contact a potential diner may turn to before visiting your establishment. Think of it like scattering breadcrumbs across the web. Folks can easily follow the trail and maybe you’ll whet their appetite along the way!
If you’re looking for a larger reach when scattering your breadcrumbs, check out this helpful list detailing where you can post online menus. It will help you get started and you’ll have hungry masses following your trails in no time.
A decade ago, a customer asking their waitress for gluten-free options would have been met with blank stares at most places. Today, many restaurants are doing their homework on popular dietary trends and passing this info along to its staff while providing suitable options for their diners with special diets. And jumping on board with these food fads pays off.
Consumers spent $8.8 billion on gluten-free foods in 2014 and market research group Mintel predicts the trend will keep expanding over the next few years. Their recent report predicts consumers will spend around $14 billion on gluten-free foods in 2017. Web sites, like Foursquare, are featuring information about locations which cater to specific dietary needs. Whether you’re vegan-friendly, proud to serve paleo, or simply offer a gluten-free bread option for your sandwiches; getting recognized for serving special diets can generate sales.
- Use hashtags when posting about your menu items on Twitter or Instagram so followers can easily find what you’re serving up in the way of #glutenfree, #vegetarian, #paleo, #raw, etc
Did you know that people searching Yelp for dining options spend 2 and a half times as much time on a business page with photos as opposed to one without? If that’s not reason enough to start uploading a few great visuals of what your business has to offer potential customers, consider the following:
Businesses who have 1-5 reviews and 10 photos get 200% more user views than businesses with the same number of reviews and no photos.
4) How can we make location-based actions work for us and not against us?
According to the Restaurant Social Media Index, 65 percent of location-based traffic on social media comes from restaurants. This is great news. These location-based actions connect a customer’s social experiences to their experiences in-store. Plainly put, mobile isn’t just about where the customers are; it also includes where your targeted audience actively engages with others.
This is the power of the location-based action or “LBA.”
LBAs work like a crystal ball, allowing you to see where consumers are and what they’re doing. For restaurants, LBAs can assist in tracking return on investment and measure in-store customer visits.
What LBAs are our customers taking?
A customer “checks in” to your establishment on Facebook, Foursquare, or another social media site. This is the most common example of a location-based action. This “check-in” ties together a social consumer action with that of a real-life visit to your restaurant.
Other location-based actions, like “return and refer” and “intent to visit” are understood to be more ambient. Meaning, your brand hasn’t driven these actions; instead, customers’ organic conversations with their personal networks have created them. For example, a tweet announcing a positive dining experience at your restaurant and a recommendation for followers to check you out would be considered a “return and refer”. While a tweet proclaiming a craving for one of your unique dishes would be an example of “intent to visit”.
Here are a few tips to maximize location-based actions:
- Embrace platforms that allow your customers to easily and quickly share content. Twitter, Vine, and Instagram are great places to start. Maintain active accounts on these social media sites so you’re easily found and followed.
- Encourage your guests to share their experiences when dining with you. Let them know the best ways to tag you or otherwise involve your brand in the action: hashtags, contests, etc.
- Track down your location-based actions across the Web to get a clearer picture of what people are saying about you. Find a tweet, photo, or heart-warming story you love? SHARE IT!
5) What restaurants are excelling at online review management?
When two of Mei Mei Kitchen’s employees were featured in Zagat’s 30 Under 30, the restaurant heralded these members of their team on social media and publicly congratulated them with lots of fanfare. Putting real faces to their food humanized the brand for followers and allowed for customers to get in on the celebration. Social media lit up with Mei Mei mentions as fans of the restaurant worked to align themselves with these employees’ accomplishments, directly touting their loyalty while indirectly proclaiming positive reviews for the establishment across a wide scope of social media followers.
The chain does a phenomenal job responding to online reviews while also interacting with customers on social media. Here’s their Yelp page for a Miami location. Representatives respond to a nice mix of negative AND positive reviews, all met with a casual, realistic voice (even employing slang terms and emoticons). Unflattering experiences are guided to a less public forum, by way of an email address, coupled with a promise to make things right for the unhappy customer.
When it comes to food reviews, a picture is definitely worth a thousand words. Catch 122 wanted to get images of their dishes in front of the masses.
So, they turned to Instagram, the perfect platform for amateur food photography.
Encouraging guests to share photos of their meals alongside the hashtag, #Catch122Menu, the restaurant compiled an exhaustive list of menu items. Then they shared the gallery on their website for more people to see. Catch 122 knew that a lot of hungry eyes would see their creations, but they also banked on the positive things their new photographers would have to say about them, knowing that, if a customer was willing to upload the photo, they probably were happy with other parts of their experience as well.
REMEMBER: Many restaurants use a Net Promoter Score survey as a way to measure customer satisfaction. With NPS, they are able to turn to this data to catch issues BEFORE they become a negative review. NPS users capture customer feedback with the goal of sustainable business growth and reduced expenses. They can also be successful in parsing the best customers to turn to when asking for reviews.
6) What does the future look like for online reviews and restaurants?
It’s unlikely that your restaurant is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s also unlikely that you’re able to constantly stand by a phone (or pay someone to do so). This is why a shift towards online booking systems is so prevalent and so important.
OpenTable is the number one place to book a reservation online. According to their study, 88 percent of their users prefer making dinner reservations online. Allowing a customer to reserve a table after you’ve closed for the night or smack-dab in the middle of a busy service is a game-changer for many establishments.
If you’ve yet to adopt an online reservation system, it’s important to note that this feature is actually expected by your customers.
Beacons are the key to allowing companies access to important data and websites have been reaping the benefits for awhile. For example, by utilizing Google Analytics, you can know how many people are on a website in real-time or have visited in the last hour, week, or any number of custom date ranges. You know what pages they visited on the site AND in what order. You know where on the Web they came from and where they landed. You even have demographics. This is priceless information and it’s not a surprise that we want to bring this to the physical world.
While beacons are a great fit for retailers, they also could be indispensable for the restaurant industry as well.
Here are 6 future applications:
- Deliver custom menus to VIP customers.
- Deliver custom pricing based on customer.
- Offer better insight into restaurant traffic.
- Alert customers to how busy you are before they even arrive.
- Allow for mobile payments.
- Trigger sharing opportunities to bank on the network of your visitors.
With a groundwork in place, we hope to have illustrated how powerful online reviews can be in growing your business. Whether your restaurant is a chain or independent, you stand to gain so much by engaging in a proactive reputation management process.
Doing so will garner attention for your brand, from the very people you’re seeking to feed. You’ll tap into immediate leads by harnessing the power of location-based actions and you’ll proudly quote your newly earned star ratings. It’s not often one can capitalize on real-time business intelligence? Why waste this opportunity?
Now, who’s hungry?