No Laughing Matter: Restaurants Online Reputation Management

“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!”

That’s the set-up to a very old joke, but if you’re in the restaurant business, there’s nothing funny about it. You’ll apologize immediately and replace the soup, and probably comp the meal. But you know very well that customer is going to pull out his smart phone and blast you on the Internet.

Your restaurant’s online reputation is going to take a hit – and that’s serious. Online Reputation Management in the hospitality industry is more important than ever before: more than eighty percent of restaurant and hotel customers check online reviews, and make decisions based on what they find. Eighty-eight percent said they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family, and restaurant reviews are the single most popular category of Internet reviews; sixty-seven percent of consumers read them. Nearly twice as many people read them over the next-most-popular category, doctors and dentists.

Serving good food is no longer enough. The reputation of any restaurant, from a lowly hotel diner to an elegant, four-star establishment, can be made or broken by online reviews.

Take Control

More than ever before, restaurateurs need to keep a close eye on what is being said about them online. “I strongly believe in monitoring what people are saying about your brand,” says Lori Randall Stradtman, the author of Online Reputation Management for Dummies. “You want to be in a position to take control of your reputation so that a few people with sour grapes can’t sully your name.” It is so important in today’s online world, Stradtman says, that monitoring online reviews should be a part of someone’s job description.

With the potential for so many reviews on multiple platforms, keeping track of it all can be a daunting prospect. You might wonder if it’s even worth it: let the chips fall where they may. But recent research shows that it is worth it: increasing your interaction with online reviews by just one percent can improve your online reputation by as much as twenty-five percent.

Customer Satisfaction

Restaurants are part of the hospitality industry, and they are its biggest sector. In the hospitality industry, it’s all about customer satisfaction: the ability of a restaurant or hotel to keep its clientele happy. Businesses go to great lengths to measure customer satisfaction, using surveys, focus groups, and other methods to evaluate the customer experience. Why? Because satisfied customers are the ones who write positive online reviews.

But try as you might, unsatisfied customers are going to happen – it’s just the way it works. No one is perfect. And that’s why it is so important to monitor your reviews – to pay attention to what they’re saying about your restaurant.

A Special Breed

By now, you’ve got the message: it is imperative to stay on top of what your customers are saying about your restaurant online.

There are a lot of rate-and-review sites out there, and they are a special breed of social media. “Most people have thought of social media as a tool for the marketing professional to advertise and create more demand for their brand or their product,” said Susan Ganeshan, the Chief Marketing Officer at newBrandAnalytics. But social media is much more than that, she says, because it provides, as never before, a way for business owners to interact with their customers.

In the restaurant business, the top social media sites include:

  • Zomato. Formerly known as Urbanspoon, Zomato allows users to find and rate restaurants. You can also search by cuisine. Where’s the best Thai food? Just ask.
  • OpenTable. OpenTable provides online restaurant reservations in real time. The site also ranks the “100 Best Restaurants in America,” as rated by site visitors.
  • is one of the Internet’s oldest rate-and-review sites, dating back to 1994. In addition to reviews, restaurant owners can get a custom URL for their establishment, and include lots of details in their listing.
  • Yelp. Yelp has plenty of business categories, but many people consider it the go-to site for restaurant reviews.

And then there’s Facebook, that most ubiquitous of social media sites. While primarily a social network, Facebook as enhanced its local business reviews feature.

Most of these sites allow you to claim your listing. When you do, be sure to include:

  • restaurant name, and the type of cuisine featured
  • complete, up-to-date contact information
  • your menu, making sure to update this with any specials and new menu items you have

When the inevitable bad reviews appear, respond to them promptly and politely. Make it clear you value the feedback, and are willing to listen to and address all legitimate customer concerns. If, in spite of your best efforts, the negative reviews are proliferating, there is always professional help. Experts at companies like BrandYourself and Defamation Defenders provide Online Reputation Management services and review management for restaurants and other businesses that can raise your rating and improve your bottom line.

We asked in the beginning, what’s that fly doing in my soup? It looks like the backstroke.

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