If you are a CMO in the restaurant industry, few things keep you up at night like your online reputation. A handful of negative reviews can counter hundreds of positive interactions in the digital age. But effectively encouraging, monitoring, responding to, and leveraging guest feedback online is complex. With fierce competition, restaurant reputation management becomes vitally important.
That’s why taking a proactive, strategic approach to managing reviews and amplifying authentic earned advocacy is now mission-critical. This playbook explores proven ways restaurant marketers can use data, processes, and creativity to turn any review into five stars.
Strategically Solicit First-Party Reviews
Don’t leave review generation to chance. Proactively collect feedback from delighted guests through:
- Review links on receipts and emails surveys to lower barriers. Make it quick and easy for customers to leave reviews. Also, track your restaurant’s reviews online and point customers toward the sites that would help the most with your restaurant reputation management efforts.
- Thank you follow-ups checking on the experience, offering review links. These can be done via a newsletter than also offers coupons on future purchases.
- Occasionally offering a free dessert in exchange for a review. I am subscribed to Olive Garden’s newsletter, and they will occasionally offer a free dessert in exchange for my feedback.
- Manager outreach to VIPs asking for reviews based on their satisfaction. VIPs can be identified by membership in your loyalty program, or by managers and staff simply identifying a frequent customer. Frequency of business obviously signals satisfaction with service and product, so your restaurant should encourage reviews from frequent guests.
Empower your happy customers to sing your praises via stellar reviews.
Leverage Servers to Solicit Reviews and Feedback
Your servers are in direct contact with your restaurant’s customers, and as such they have the best sense of how their meal is going. Servers need to remember to:
- Praise in public, criticize in private. If a customer is pleased with their meal and experience in your restaurant, the server should encourage them to leave a review, and steer them toward the sites where a positive review would be the most beneficial to your restaurant.
- If a customer is unsatisfied with their meal and experience, the server should encourage the customer to leave feedback or to even talk with a manager. This gives the restaurant an opportunity to address the customer’s problem, without it going public. Obviously, the customer could still leave a review online or tell others, but if they are unsatisfied, you want to know why so you can address their concerns.
- Train wait staff to recognize if a customer is satisfied or unsatisfied with their meal and experience. Your staff will pick up on cues from the customer naturally throughout the course of the meal as to whether they are satisfied or unsatisfied with their experience. At the end of the meal, if the server believes the customer has been satisfied with their meal, ask them to leave a review and encourage them to review on the site that best helps your restaurant. If they appear to be unsatisfied, then ask them to leave feedback on their experience. If the customer does leave feedback, but it is positive, you can contact the customer directly and thank them for their feedback, then ask for a review at that time.
- Have managers observe customers and check in with them. When doing so, the manager can also pick up on cues from the customer as to whether they are satisfied or not with their meal, and address appropriately.
Praise in public, criticize in private. Empower your servers to help create positive word of mouth for your restaurant.
Activate Brand Advocates
Happy, frequent customers are your best source for positive reviews and the frontline in your restaurant reputation management efforts. Empower them by:
- Offering incentives like loyalty perks for shares and reviews. Tie this into your existing loyalty program. Remember, happy customers WANT to sing your praises, you are just giving them the tools to do so.
- Making it effortless to post through review widgets and social media links. Offer to collect reviews on your site, and ask for permission to repost on your social channels. Communicate how this can help your restaurant, and true fans will jump at the chance.
- Have staff help in identifying frequent customers. So a few years ago, I got on a serious kick for Pizza Hut breadsticks. Every time I was running errands in town, I would stop by my local Pizza Hut and grab some breadsticks. The staff quickly recognized me, what my order would be, and how I liked them made. They would then ask me while I was waiting if I would please fill our a survey for them, and then inform me that I could win a $10 credit toward a future order. I would do the survey while waiting for my order, then when my order was ready, the staff would let me know it was prepared the way I wanted it, and I would let them know I had filled out the survey. The staff was smart enough to recognize that I was a happy customer, so they encouraged me to offer reviews.
- Spotlighting top advocates as “VIPs” on your digital customer wall of fame. Treat your happy customers like they are rock stars, because they are. Put the spotlight on them, it encourages them to give you more reviews and feedback, which is exactly what you want.
Proactively activating your biggest fans maximizes their impact. Oh, and read the best book on the topic, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans.
Monitor Third-Party Review Sites
Actively track guest feedback using tools like Hootsuite (Perch is another option) to:
- Get alerts when new reviews are left. When a new review happens, it’s vital that you know about it ASAP. For instance, let’s say your server followed the above advice and encouraged a happy customer to leave a review. The customer did as soon as they got home. If you have their contact information, you can contact them personally and thank them for the review. This encourages them to not only return to your restaurant, but to spread more positive word of mouth about you both online and offline.
- Identify recurring themes and systemic weaknesses. Actively tracking reviews and customer feedback helps you identify themes versus isolated experiences. Whether it’s a positive review or a negative one, you need to understand what triggered the review. If there’s a problem with service, that needs to be addressed. Likewise, if customers are happy, you need to understand why so you can replicate that experience for other customers.
- Keep pulse on your average ratings compared to competitors. If possible, set up monitoring alerts for select competitors. Just as you want to identify recurring themes in your own restaurant, you can do the same for competitors. Perhaps another local restaurant has added a feature that customers are raving about. Could your restaurant offer something similar? Once you know what their customers are excited about, then you can evaluate if a similar feature could work for your location.
Proactively monitoring online reviews empowers you to act quickly and appropriately.
Respond Skillfully to Negative Reviews
Negative feedback is inevitable in hospitality. Yet if handled correctly, a customer’s negative experience can be defused, or possibly even converted into a positive. Here’s some tactics to employ:
- Reply promptly, calmly and avoid defensiveness. Make sure that the member of your CS team that responds does NOT take the criticize personally, because it isn’t.
- Do NOT admit fault UNTIL it has been clearly established that the customer’s negative review is a direct result of unsatisfactory service from your restaurant. You SHOULD communicate to the customer that you are sorry they are unsatisfied with the service they received, as this communicates empathy for their concerns. But wait on apologizing for an error until you have established that an actual error was made.
- Offer to move your exchange with the customers OFF THE REVIEW SITE or social channel. Give them a way to contact you or your staff directly. Emphasize that you value their privacy and the privacy of your staff, and can better address and server them in private.
- If you find that the customer has a legitimate complaint, clearly communicate to them that their feedback will be addressed and let them know how. This communicates that you are taking their feedback seriously.
- Share improvements made to address broader issues raised. Followup with the customer to let them know what you found and how you are addressing their feedback. This will also communicate to the customer that you value their feedback.
- For false claims, politely correct with facts. Do NOT argue with the customer, especially if the exchange is happening online, in public.
- Consider inviting unhappy reviewers back to improve perceptions. This is another way to illustrate how feedback is taken seriously and improvements made.
I’ve worked with clients for over 15 years in helping them deal with angry customers, and I can tell you this from my own experience: Angry customers can often be converted into your most passionate fans IF you handle their complaints correctly. Follow the above steps and you will be on your way.
Continuously Improve Based on Insights
Regularly analyze customer reviews and complaints to:
- Identify recurring complaints and focus training to strengthen weaknesses. Frequent sources of complaints should be flagged by your customer service team and sent to management so it can be addressed at the frontlines in your restaurant by staff and management.
- Identify what’s working. If there are features of your dining experience that are consistently praised by customers, highlight those features to make customers aware of them. This can encourage more positive reviews.
- Set targets for ratings improvements by location and category. Set realistic goals and give management a plan of action to reach those goals. Make sure everyone on staff understands what the goals are, why it’s important to reach them, and how to get there.
- Conduct text analysis of online reviews to detect shifts in sentiment and perceptions. Identify gains and losses and drill down to figure out what triggered the change.
Insights inform operational investments that can help your restaurant reputation management efforts exceed expectations.
Today’s diners heavily factor reviews into dining decisions. With strategy, creativity and commitment, restaurant brands can leverage guest feedback to perpetually improve and manage reputation. Are you ready to turn reviews into five-star raves? The impact on guest acquisition, loyalty and sales makes this effort well worth the investment.