Thinkstock
Managing your restaurant reputation is vital to its success.

A Comprehensive Strategy to Manage Your Restaurant's Reputation

Underline Image
These tactics help you keep the customers coming
By Tejas Mehta November 2016 Vendor Bylines

A study by Berkeley economists showed that a half-star improvement on a restaurant’s rating makes it 30-49 percent more likely that a restaurant will sell out its evening seats. In today’s digital age, a restaurant's online reputation can mean the difference between success and not surviving. The first step to building a solid reputation is coming up with a comprehensive strategy, and the best way to formulate a winning strategy is to think about all the different factors that can affect your reputation—namely online listings, reviews, and customer experience.

Here are four key ways to manage your reputation:

1. Polish Your Online Listings

Customers are increasingly searching for new restaurants on the web. Not existing on the web is equivalent to having a 'closed to new customers' sign on your door.

Having enticing photos and comprehensive menus is more important today than ever before. Yelp found that people spend two and a half times as much time on a business page with photos as opposed to one without. If a publisher doesn't allow you to add a menu, listing your website would be a great alternative. Informative listings have the added benefit of automatically bumping up your SEO the right way.

We suggest you decorate and maintain your listings on your customers’ favorite websites, like Yelp, Google, OpenTable, Foursquare, TripAdvisor, and Zomato. By doing so, you make sure to have your listings work for you and not against you.

2. Leverage Positive Online Reviews to Get New Customers

BrightLocal found 88 percent of consumers consider online reviews to be equally as trustworthy as personal recommendations. Think of positive online reviews as your existing customers speaking about their experiences at your restaurant to each of your potential customers personally.

Positive online reviews help to significantly expand your customer base through two different ways:

1.You show up higher on search results that matter

2. Once a customer lands on your listing, glowing reviews about your food convince them to give your restaurant a shot

In reality, while most satisfied customers don't post online reviews without encouragement, disappointed customers swiftly express their dissatisfaction on review websites. A solution to this would be to use digital tools, such as an on-site kiosk, to collect feedback and automatically request your happy customers to write an online review.

3. Respond to Reviews to Increase Customer Conversion Rate

Replying to reviews, positive and negative, can bump up your customer conversion rate and increase revisits. While initially it might seem responding to positive reviews won’t help, there are several key advantages of doing so:

1. It improves the search rankings of positive reviews

2. It focuses potential customers’ attention on the positive

3. It increases chances of a revisit

4. It creates an opportunity for subtle marketing

Use the following three-step strategy to respond to positive reviews:

1. Thank the customer

Example: “Thanks for the awesome review. I will pass on your message to the chefs. It will make their day.”

2. Reinforce the positive comments about the specific food items mentioned by the customer

Example: “I'm glad you liked our chicken enchiladas—they're the best!”

3. Add in subtle marketing by asking the customer a question

Example: “Have you tried our beef enchiladas? I think you will love them too!”

There are three different ways to respond to reviews:

1. Respond personally

The key advantage here is the responses would be highly informative, as no one knows your restaurant as well as you do. The disadvantage of this, however, is that you will end up spending a lot of your time crafting responses and oftentimes, wouldn’t be aware of best practices.

2. Hire a marketing firm

You could save some time by hiring a marketing firm. On the downside though, their responses would be generic, as they wouldn’t have first-hand knowledge of the specific issues faced in the day-to-day activities of running your restaurant. Also, they tend to be quite expensive.

3. Use an automated platform

Alternatively, you could use a platform that gives restaurants suggested responses to their reviews automatically. Restaurants could, thereby, post the 'marketing firm' responses after incorporating their personal experience without spending a lot of time or money. A drawback of this approach would be restaurants might need to spend up to 15 minutes a month posting the responses.

4. Provide a Solid Customer Experience to Build Your Reputation

Needless to say, your online reputation can only get customers through the door the first time. Providing a stellar customer experience is the best way to make sure those customers keep coming back to your restaurant and recommend you to their friends & family. In order to do so, the first step is to understand your restaurants' strengths and weaknesses—what people like about you and what the most common complaints are.

Formulating an integrated understanding of the customer experience is a two-step process:

1. Ask customers to give you feedback.

2. Analyze this feedback data from hundreds of customers to convert it into actionable insights

The second step is as important as the first step in order to formulate a complete understanding. If there are only a couple of people who complain about a particular aspect of the customer experience, it is likely that either it was a once-in-a-blue-moon thing or a person-specific problem; however, if there are a lot of people who complain about the same issue, it is likely to be a real, high-impact problem that should be resolved as soon as possible.

There are two ways to convert your customers’ feedback data into actionable insights:

1. Gather structured feedback through comprehensive feedback forms

While, in theory, such forms can be very useful in getting comprehensive feedback, there are two drawbacks of this approach:

  • It can't utilize the data already available in the form of online reviews.
  • Customers do not like to fill in long forms and therefore, it would be significantly more difficult to get them to give you feedback.

2. Convert free text from reviews and feedback into structured information using Natural Language Processing (NLP)

NLP technology can be used to identify common issues raised by customers, as well as identify food items they like or dislike by making computers read reviews & feedback. A higher level approach is also used to formulate an understanding of the key aspects of a restaurant, helping answer questions like how important is my service and ambience compared to my food?

Conclusion

With fierce competition, a solid reputation can be the factor that differentiates the winners from the losers. It is no surprise that an eMarketer report found 68 percent of restaurants already actively manage their reviews.

Some restaurants get concerned that managing their reputation proactively will take up a lot of their time or be very expensive. Fortunately, that is not the case anymore. By spending only a couple hours a month, restaurants can now execute the above outlined comprehensive strategy using affordable, automated reputation-management software. Considering the huge gains that can be made through building a winning reputation at practically no risk, wouldn't you agree that it is a no brainer to start building one?

Tejas Mehta
Tejas Mehta is the founder of Reputicity—a Silicon Valley based startup building an Online Reputation Management Platform for restaurants. He has significant experience solving difficult business problems through strategic thinking, and building innovative products through highly scalable, powerful software solutions.