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Make the Most of Online Reviews

By: Stephanie Ganz of the
Apple Cart 

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, online reviews through apps like Yelp and Urbanspoon and sites like Google and Facebook are here to stay. And they can have a big impact on your bottom line. According to BrightLocal's 2017 Consumer Review Survey, 97 percent of customers read online reviews for local businesses, with 85 percent trusting online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

No matter what you think of online reviews, one thing is certain: they present an opportunity to gain insight into customer experience, and that’s an opportunity you can’t afford to miss. Here are a few practical steps restaurant owners can take to manage online reviews — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Many online review apps allow business owners to claim their pages, and doing so allows the owners to set the record straight, at least as it pertains to business hours and other essential details such as the correct address, phone number, and website and social media links. Claiming your business can also allow you to provide other relevant details, including whether or not your restaurant is kid- or pet-friendly, the parking or valet availability, a price range, and the option for delivery or online ordering. Typically, the more information a consumer can get from these websites, the more likely they are to choose one establishment over another that provides less information.

Several apps also offer additional bells and whistles, such as video content or the ability to make special incentive offers for a fee. For the platforms that allow advertising, you can also pay to keep competitors’ ads off of your listing and to, instead, have your ads featured on the pages of your competitors. Because many of these sites provide analytics that allow business owners to track views and clicks to your website, it may be useful to track that information over the course of a few months before making the decision to move forward with paid services or advertising.

Sites to check include:
  • Yelp
  • OpenTable (also for reservations)
  • Urbanspoon
  • Zagat
  • Google Places
  • Facebook
  • Trip Advisor

Everyone loves a positive review. It fills us with happy endorphins and feels like a long-distance high five, greatly appreciated in an industry with tight margins and tough hours. But it can be difficult to take constructive criticism, especially considering that online reviewers can often say some snarky, sarcastic, or downright nasty things. Take a deep breath, and approach all feedback with an open mind. It’s easier said than done, but it’s essential if you want to use these reviews to the advantage, rather than the detriment, of your business.

If you know that you are especially sensitive to negative reviews, assign someone on staff to look at them. That person might be able to do so with a clearer head, and can then brief you on the relevant takeaway. That way you won’t get bogged down in the tone and can instead focus on the message.


Check online reviews on a weekly basis. Some sites will send email notifications of new reviews, which are very helpful; but set reminders to check the other sites as well. Part of responding meaningfully is to address issues in a timely manner. This is a task that can be assigned to a manager or to your marketing team but, whoever does it, make sure it gets done regularly. Third-party sites like Heartbeat, Main Street Hub, Bazaarify, Sprout Social, and Womply can also be useful when managing accounts for multiple locations. These sites will send weekly reports and email updates letting you know when your business has been reviewed.

With each review, you have an opportunity to either thank a guest or to follow up in a way that solves a problem. For that reason, it can be advantageous to respond to both positive and negative reviews. Responding only to negative reviews is short-sighted because it ignores the good and highlights the bad. On the other hand, responding only to positive reviews seems like
ignoring the elephant in the room. Take constructive criticism as such and offer to address issues regarding service or food via email or, better yet, over the phone. When the mask of anonymity is lifted, most people are much gentler in their approach, and it may be possible to get to the heart of the matter, turning an unsatisfied guest into a return customer and improving guest experience overall.

Remember, if one guest takes the time to make a comment, they could be speaking for many other guests who have had similar experiences.

Once you’ve identified the truth behind a guest’s criticism, use that information to help your staff. Whether you’re getting comments that the fish is too salty or the hostess is too, well, salty, feedback should be seen as a potential training tool. Read good and bad reviews at staff meetings and discuss the possible outcomes with your staff, asking “how could this have gone another way” or “how can we bring more of this to the guest experience?”

Never, never, never complain about your guests publicly. Don’t do it in your restaurant or on social media (even your personal page), and don’t tolerate staff who do it either. When responding to a guest complaint, make sure to stay objective, factual, and clear. While some guests may never be satisfied, your response is something that speaks to your character, and ultimately other app users and potential guests will be able to sniff out a reviewer who has unrealistic expectations or simply a bad attitude. If a review is libelous, profane, or accuses you or your staff of criminal activity unjustly, report it to the site's administrators. Some reviews may be taken down if they’re found to violate that site's terms of service.


Keep your own records of your interactions on these sites, both positive and negative. Even after you claim your business page on an app, you still don’t own that information. Create a folder or document where you can add content on an ongoing basis so you can use the information for months and years to come. And don't forget to share your victories! If you have a great review online, share it to your social media so that others can see the great things people are saying about you.

Contributed By: Stephanie Ganz.
Stephanie is the co-owner of The Apple Cart, a Richmond, VA-based company that helps food businesses start and grow.