Navigating the Digital Landscape: Mastering Online Customer Reviews for Your Restaurant

by Marylise Fabro

How to manage restaurant reviews for restaurant owners and managers

In today's digital age, when diners have the ability to do a simple web search to find out whether a restaurant is a good option, online customer reviews can significantly impact a restaurant's reputation and success. Whether they are glowing testimonials or critical comments, these reviews wield immense power in influencing potential patrons' dining choices. 

As a restaurant owner or manager, it's crucial for you to understand how to handle online customer reviews gracefully and effectively. Let's dive into some actionable strategies to navigate this digital landscape and make the most of customer feedback.

1. Embrace Feedback with an Open Mind:

Customer reviews, both positive and negative, offer valuable insights into your restaurant's strengths and areas for improvement. Instead of viewing negative feedback as a setback, consider it an opportunity to grow. Approach reviews with an open mind, acknowledging that no establishment is flawless. When you learn from your weaknesses, you have a chance to grow as a business.

2. Monitor and Respond Promptly:

Regularly monitor review platforms such as Yelp, Google My Business, TripAdvisor, and social media sites to keep track of customer comments. Timely responses show that you value your customers' opinions and that you don’t just ignore their feedback. Craft personalized, courteous, and empathetic responses to both positive and negative reviews. A prompt reply demonstrates your commitment to excellent customer service.

3. Stay Professional and Positive:

Maintain a professional tone in your responses, even when addressing negative feedback. Thank the reviewer for taking the time to share their experience and express your regret if their visit didn't meet their expectations. Avoid being defensive or confrontational if the reviewer becomes nasty, as this can escalate the situation. Remain calm and professional, because potential customers will definitely be turned off of your restaurant if you respond rudely and unprofessionally. Remember: once you post something publicly, there’s no taking it back. Even if you delete a frustrated knee-jerk reaction of yours, the reviewer may share a screenshot of it on social media.

4. Address Negative Reviews Constructively:

When responding to negative reviews, acknowledge the specific issues raised by the customer. Apologize sincerely and offer a solution or explanation if appropriate. If the problem was a one-time occurrence, assure the customer that it doesn't reflect your restaurant's usual standards. Invite them back for a better experience, possibly with a special offer. Sometimes all it takes to win back a disappointed customer is to make them feel “heard” and to let them know you’re making efforts to fix any problems.

5. Highlight Positive Changes:

If you've made improvements based on previous feedback, share them in your responses. This shows that you're actively working to enhance the dining experience and that you listen to your customers' suggestions.

6. Encourage Positive Reviews:

Don't shy away from encouraging satisfied customers to leave reviews. You can include a subtle note on the receipt or have a sign near the exit inviting them to share their thoughts online. Remember, happy customers can be your best advocates. Don’t forget to check social media channels like Instagram for mentions and tags of your restaurant in pictures. If someone is posting a photo and talking about what a great meal they had, share it in your own restaurant’s Instagram story and thank them.

7. Monitor and Manage Fake Reviews:

Unfortunately, fake reviews are a reality in the online world. If you suspect a review is fraudulent, flag it on the respective platform and follow their guidelines for reporting. Always address such situations professionally and avoid engaging in public arguments.

8. Seek Offline Resolution:

If a customer had a negative experience, consider reaching out privately to discuss their concerns further. Provide them with a direct contact to a manager or owner, offering to make things right. Sometimes, this proactive approach can turn a dissatisfied customer into a loyal one.

9. Learn from the Reviews:

Spot trends in the feedback you receive. If multiple customers mention the same issue, it's likely an area that needs attention. Use these insights to refine your offerings, staff training, or overall service quality. Trends include things like time of day, day of the week, or even specific special events. If the Valentine’s Day special deal didn’t strike the right cord, you may want to reconsider how you handle these kinds of offerings.

10. Focus on Consistency:

Consistency is key in the restaurant industry. Strive to offer exceptional service, delicious food, and a memorable experience every single time. Positive reviews will naturally follow when customers can rely on a consistently satisfying dining experience.

Ultimately, online customer reviews can either be a powerful ally or a formidable challenge for your restaurant. By embracing feedback, responding thoughtfully, and continually improving your offerings, you can harness the potential of online reviews to build a positive reputation and attract loyal patrons. Remember, it's not just about managing reviews – it's about using them as stepping stones toward excellence.