Yelp reports that their second most reviewed category is restaurants, with 17% of the contributed content going towards it, second only to shopping which garners 21% of reviews on the site. But for some reason, restaurants usually don’t respond back.
No, we're not talking Guy Fieri restaurant reviews where he goes cross-country to stuff his face with all all the traditional and weird delights this country has to offer. We're talking online reviews. Last year we looked at the review response habits of 500 businesses in six different industries—food and hospitality industries, home cleaning services, travel, healthcare, real estate, and automotive—across the country’s four corners—west, midwest, southeast, and northeast. Restaurants took the cake for businesses least likely to respond to a review, as 88% of those surveyed didn’t respond to any of their online reviews.
Top sites for restaurant reviews:
That, of course, is ridiculous. They’ve got a captive audience at their fingertips! It’s stuff like this that we lose sleep over, let me tell ya!
One Denver, Colorado restaurant, Linger, is a beautiful spot perched atop a hill in one of the city’s neighborhoods to the west. On the deck patrons get one of the best views of the city around. The food is inspired from regions all over the world and downright delicious. To keep it short, the place is a hotspot and they’ve got a ton of reviews:
That’s missed opportunities of customer engagement.
A couple miles away there’s a busy and well-known auto repair shop that’s got a fraction of the reviews, but they’re responding:
Facebook: don't even have a page
Why SHOULD Restaurants Respond to Reviews
Perhaps you’re thinking, that Linger place already has a bajillion reviews, why do they need more? Why do they need more business? They are doing just fine. What business owner has ever said that?
Responding to restaurant reviews is a great way to engage with customers outside the shop, which can lead to an increase in revenue by bringing in more customers regularly, attracting new ones, and having the opportunity to turn around a customer's negative experience.
One Gallup report highlights this very point. While it doesn’t speak about online reviews, it does state this pertinent tidbit:
“A study Gallup conducted of casual dining customers found that those who are fully engaged make 56% more visits per month to that restaurant than actively disengaged customers.
Fast food customers who are fully engaged make 28% more visits per month to that restaurant than actively disengaged customers.”
And restaurants get so many reviews! Of course not all of them do, but there is the potential. Regardless of the amount, that’s a captive audience just waiting for the great communicator.
What about new restaurants? They need all the reviews they can get! Preferably they are positive, but a negative one of course isn’t out of the question. The startup phase of any business, let alone a restaurant, is an important time to build and solidify a brand in a community. Monitoring and responding to online reviews can help with this endeavor. Time equals money, two commodities an entrepreneur may be low on, but responding to your restaurant's reviews can be an easy task to facilitate, something that can be done in the establishment for a small chunk of time everyday, and the rewards can be monumental.
California restaurateur Andrew Gruel opened a new Slapfish restaurant and learned about negative restaurant reviews the hard way. He got a string of complaints on Yelp, knocking his star-rating way down. He started fighting back, emailing the customers and asking them to come back as he tinkered with prices and the menu. His star-rating started creeping back up.
As he got into the groove of responding to reviews, Gruel was using two smartphones and an iPad to respond to 50 online reviews everyday, himself, according to the New York Times story, “A Bad Review is Forever: How to Counter Online Complaints.”
“You can get buried by bad reviews,” Gruel told the Times. “So it’s a race to stop the bleeding.”
Simply Put, It’s Good For Business
Five years ago, well before online reviews had yet to be a major driving force in consumer spending, the National Restaurant Association, ahead of the curve, released a 28 page PDF about the importance of online reviews for restaurants. The report Online Reviews: The New Word of Mouth (I know, our line, the modern day referral, sounds better, but they got the idea!) talks about how to use restaurant reviews as a tool.
In the intro of the report the claim is made that consumers read restaurant reviews more than they read reviews for any other business. It continued:
“Simply put: Online reviews can help make or break your business. Harvard Business School Professor Michael Luca found that a one-star increase in a Yelp rating leads to a 5 percent to 9 percent bump in revenue. Luca’s findings are based on the sales of Seattle restaurants in 2003, before the emergence of Yelp in 2004 through 2009. The impact is greatest for independent restaurants, with their market share increasing as Yelp usage increased. The research seems to indicate that online reviews can raise the profile of independent eateries, spreading the word about little-known gems.”
In one section they talk about how to use reviews for the benefit of the restaurant:
“Tracking your reviews is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of your restaurant,” the section starts.”Online feedback — both positive and negative — provides insights never available before.”
It goes on to talk about how one New Orleans restaurant group was finally able to get enough data via online reviews about how their business was doing. One of their restaurant’s dishes got so much positive online feedback they decided to feature the item. Then when they noticed a slew of comments talking about how noisy the New Orleans BBQ joint was, they took steps to fix that.
It just goes to show that even just monitoring restaurant reviews can prove to be time well spent to better understand trends, downfalls, and more.
The Sunday Sermon
It’s what we preach day in and day out: Responding to online reviews pays. It’s a way to engage customers, get those who have had a negative experience to come back, and it shows the public that the business is actively working with customers online.
This story cited a Harvard Business Review study which found that when a business’s Yelp star-rating goes up by one star, their revenue increases along with it 5-9%. It’s not uncommon for a business to work closely with a customer who has marked them with a one, two, or even three-star review to get them to update their review.
It’s key to not get all Chef Gordon Ramsay on them and go yelling at the customer online, insulting their intelligence and calling them names like pasta buffoon. Instead, acknowledge their negative experience, apologize, offer any and all lines of communication and work to fix the issue. Once it’s resolved, ask that they update their review. Even just one, one-star review can hurt a reputation, and bad!
To the restaurants out there: It's time to start responding to reviews. Don't get bogged down in the negative ones, and don't forget to say thank you to the customers promoting you online.
Matthew Van Deventer is a content creator for WebPunch. As a dealer of words he dabbles in journalism and loves a good story, whatever the medium. Matthew lives outside of Denver, CO with his wife, daughter, and pup, Chewy.