Review platforms like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google and have democratized the once exclusive role of the restaurant critic. Thanks to smartphones, diners can snap a few photos and share their thoughts about a meal from their table in a matter of seconds.
Two types of customers are most vocal in the world of online reviews: customers who have had a great experience and want to sing your restaurant’s praises and customers who have had a bad experience and want to make sure that everyone else knows about it.
Today we’re focusing on your cheerleaders: the happy customers who evangelize your restaurant online. Here’s how to make the most of positive restaurant reviews in your marketing and operations.
In this article we’ll cover:
- Online reviews as a restaurant marketing tool
- 5 ways to promote your restaurant’s positive reviews
- Takeaways from maximizing positive online reviews
- Why you shouldn’t buy reviews
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Online reviews as a restaurant marketing tool
First, let’s clarify why online reviews are a powerful marketing tool for restaurants.
Online reviews serve as social proof because people are inclined to copy others’ actions. When a potential customer checks out your restaurant’s Yelp profile and sees raving reviews from satisfied customers, they’ll feel inclined to see what the buzz is about and patronize your restaurant. Positive reviews attract customers.
When taken off of Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, and other review platforms, customer reviews can be turned into powerful user-generated content and used in conjunction with your restaurant’s marketing efforts. Keep reading to find out how to transform user-generated content into convincing assets for your marketing efforts.
5 ways to promote your restaurant’s positive reviews
1. Amplify reviews as user-generated content on social media
Transform positive online reviews into user-generated content for scalable word-of-mouth marketing.
You could turn reviews into graphics. Start by selecting the best reviews your restaurant has gotten online: ones where you can sense the reviewer’s passion for your restaurant and its food. Then use a graphic design tool like Canva to create a quote graphic to share on social media. Include highlights from the review and give credit to your reviewer by tagging them if they made their social media profiles publicly available, or by mentioning them by name (“Joanna C. from TripAdvisor”). Choose a simple background in an on-brand color to keep the focus on the words.
You could also share customer photos on social media. If a reviewer shares an exceptional photo from your restaurant alongside their review, share the photo on social media and include an excerpt of their review in your caption. Make sure to give photo credit to your customer. You could even reply to the review on the review site and link to your social media post to let them know that they were featured on your profile.
Turn customer reviews into social media content to maximize their impact.
2. Respond to positive reviews to turn visitors into regulars
If you’ve been responding to your restaurant’s reviews, we bet you’ve been focusing on the negative ones. While it makes sense to prioritize responding to negative reviews, you should also make an effort to respond to positive reviews.
Why? Customers who leave positive reviews don’t expect to hear back from restaurants. Thanking satisfied customers for leaving a review will delight them, and make them admire your restaurant even more, which will make them more likely to become repeat customers. With more than half of all small business revenue coming from regulars, it makes good business sense to invest time into responding to positive reviews.
Want to go a step further? Set aside a few prizes (gift certificates, meal vouchers, etc.) each month to give to customers who leave good reviews. Send your lucky winners a direct message on TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc. to inform them of what they’ve won and tell them how they can redeem their prizes.
Respond to positive reviews to turn happy customers into repeat customers.
3. Keep up with online reviews to attract new customers
According to TripAdvisor, 94% of US diners rely on online reviews to decide where to eat. Potential customers will be checking you out online, so make sure they like what they see and that it’s accurate. While you can easily control what’s said about your restaurant on its own website, you can’t control what customers say about you on Yelp and its competitors.
However, if a potential customer’s first touchpoint with your business is your Yelp page, you should make sure that it’s up to date. Make sure that your business information – hours, menu, phone number — are correct to leave a great first impression.
4. Leverage positive reviews to recruit top talent
With more than 660,000 restaurants in the United States alone, it can be difficult for restaurants to stand out when looking to hire top talent in the field. Reviews can help differentiate you from the competition.
Use positive customer reviews in your recruiting materials, like the “jobs” page on your site, to make yourself rise above the competition. Include testimonials from satisfied employees in your recruiting materials, but also pepper in positive reviews that mention customer service from satisfied customers when hiring for front-of-house roles.
When servers are happy, they do great work and make customers happy. Potential employees want to know that they’re applying to work for a restaurant that treats its employees well. Leverage stellar reviews to attract the best talent in your area.
5. Use reviews as feedback to improve your restaurant
As a restaurateur, it’s easy to get wrapped up in day-to-day operations and not see what your customers see. Use reviews — positive and negative — to gain insight into your restaurant from the customer’s perspective. Pay attention to reviews to learn more about your restaurant’s:
- Food: are customers constantly praising a certain dish you serve at your restaurant? Consider highlighting it in your menu. You could even place some review excerpts in your menu!
- Service: does a certain server or bartender’s name keep appearing in reviews? Consider customer feedback while conducting performance reviews and rewarding bonuses.
- Ambiance: are customers raving about your Insta-worthy wall art? Place hashtag signage in front of it to boost your restaurant’s marketing efforts.
Online reviews are a powerful source of customer feedback.
Takeaways from maximizing positive online reviews
Negative reviews on Yelp and its competitors can be the bane of a restaurateur’s existence. Positive reviews, however, can be a source of joy and a powerful restaurant marketing asset. Maximize positive online reviews to:
- Scale social proof by turning reviews into social media content
- Turn happy customers into regulars by responding to positive reviews
- Attract new customers by keeping your review site profiles up to date
- Recruit top talent by making your restaurant stand out with customer testimonials
- Gain customer feedback by studying reviews
Why you shouldn’t buy reviews
One strategy that some businesses use to combat negative reviews is by buying positive Yelp reviews. Yep, you can actually purchase positive Yelp reviews—just type “buy Yelp reviews” into Google and a variety of websites offering just that will pop up. For a small fee, any of the Yelp review services that pop up will fill your page with positive reviews from people who seem like random customers.
The thing with buying paid Yelp reviews, though, is that Yelp has become really good at detecting paid reviews and then leverages penalties against the businesses that shelled out for them. This is just one of the reasons that buying Yelp reviews is something that restaurants should avoid at all costs—it’s a bad decision when it comes to restaurant reputation management.
Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t buy reviews:
1. They won’t get seen
Yelp is not keen on the idea of people trying to cheat their system. They have extremely selective filters set up to keep fake reviews from showing up to the general public.
They pay special attention to how many reviews the person has written in the past, and whether someone writes a five-star review for one business and a one-star review for a local competitor. They also have special algorithms that watch for certain wording.
If you get flagged for buying fake reviews, the negative light it will cast your restaurant in just isn’t worth it. One easy assumption to make is that your place isn’t great and that you can’t get great reviews otherwise. Even if you’re just looking to balance out some unfounded negative reviews, this isn’t the way.
2. There are better ways to get real positive reviews
Several businesses around the country have tried offering a discount to customers who leave them a good review. All they need to do is bring in a printed copy of their review or show it to their server on their phone to earn the reward. This is a good strategy for incentivizing good reviews but you need to be careful with wording your request—it’s all about authenticity.
The key is rewarding customers for leaving any review, not just positive ones. Rather than touting “20% off for a good review,” you may be better off with a promotion that says something like, “Did you love us on Yelp? We love you too! Just show us your Yelp review and get 20% off!” That way you’re not asking for a positive review, you’re just rewarding your loyal customers.
3. You don’t have to!
The truth is that you shouldn’t have to pay for Yelp reviews. If something out of your control came up in a Yelp review, contacting the offending Yelper directly to see what went wrong and how you could fix it for them now and in the future is a far superior approach than responding by buying fake reviews.
Did they have a bad meal? Offer another one on the house. Was their meal delivered 45 minutes late? Consider fixing it by delivering another meal yourself with your personal apology.
Whether you like Yelpers or not, there will be a time when the fate of your business may lie in their hands. Just like back in the old days when a vocal customer would tell the whole town that she found a fly in her soup.
Make positive online reviews a routine
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