Blog > Online Reputation Management

How to Respond to Customer Reviews and Manage your Online Reputation – The Ultimate Restaurant Guide

Posted by Localyser | Jan 09, 2021

Card image cap

Being the founder of an online reputation management platform, I am often asked by clients of the best practices for managing customer reviews. We see different ways that restaurant owners handle their online reviews across different platforms such as Zomato, Google & TripAdvisor and everyone follows a different approach that best suits them. So, we’ve looked at all of these different methods and put together this ultimate guide to monitoring, responding and analyzing all reviews. We’ll also highlight the different tactics to getting more positive reviews by converting your customers’ compliments into a 5-star rating in order to boost your conversion from online search to offline sale.

Before we get started, I would like to preface by highlighting the objectives that you need to set for your restaurant before embarking on developing and executing on a reputation management strategy. In our opinion, these objectives should be:

  1. Establish an efficient review monitoring mechanism for all key stakeholders.
  2. Claim and verify your locations listings across the different review platforms.
  3. Respond to all reviews in a consistent and effective manner that is aligned with your brand tone and manner.
  4. Derive insight from reviews on a regular basis to improve operations at the location level.
  5. Improve your search engine ranking (e.g., Google Map Search) by increasing, and maintaining, your average star rating and volume of reviews.

Once you have established these key objectives and obtained support from the different units at your organization, it will become clear to everyone on what steps are need in order to deliver on them. Before we discuss each objective in more details, let’s go over the importance of engaging customers through reviews and the impact it has on your restaurant or local business.

Why Reviews Are Important?

There’s no doubt that consumers trust online reviews more than the company’s description. Survey after survey show that 90% or users read at least 10 online reviews before deciding on a restaurant. More importantly, a study by Harvard Business School has found a correlation between increases in a restaurant’s average rating and sales. It found that an a one-star increase in rating leads to a 5-9 percent increase in revenue. Moreover, consumer response to a restaurant’s average rating is affected by the number of reviews. Another US study estimates that on average one negative review will cost you 30 or more customers depending on the size of the market.

undefined


Moreover, a 2014 Mobile Marketing Association study has found that 60% of consumers path to purchase for restaurants is done though a Smartphone. This means that if you’re not discoverable on Google, you are leaving a lot of money on the table.


undefined


One last study worth sharing because it’s relevant to the Middle East that examined the impact of social media reviews on marketing spend in the UAE in 2017 by Anna Yakovleva– University of Wollongong in Dubai. It basically concluded that marketing spend effectiveness increases for restaurants with higher ratings but can also generates more negative reviews when service is poor. This is huge because it proves that if you don’t fix your service and operations and lift your average rating first, then your advertising will have a counter effect and generate even more negative reviews. The good news is that the opposite is true which is good news for marketers who want to increase their ROI on every ad dollar spent.

Monitoring Restaurant Reviews

If we consider that online reviews are part of the social media ecosystem, then we need to better define the different types of social media monitoring. The first is dedicated to brand related social media commenting and feedback such as the ones found on your Facebook page, Instagram account and Twitter. The second type is more at the location level where you get the typical 5-star rating, a recommendation or a tip. Both are important to keep an eye on and engage customers with, but they need to be approached differently.

The brand level social media comments affect the brand as a whole and doesn’t necessarily provide insight on the customer experience at a certain outlet. Typically, the comments focus around the social media post that your community manager is putting out which can range from the latest promotion, new location opening or seasonal plate specials.

Reviews on the other hand relate to the customer experience at a certain outlet and can cover areas from food quality, service level to the ambiance of the restaurant. Most of the time they affect operational issues and can provide insight on what needs to be improved at that specific location. Managing the volume of reviews can be challenging especially in a region like the Middle East because of the high number of review sites that an operator needs to monitor.

undefined


Here's a list of the most important restaurant review sites:

Global platforms:

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • TripAdvisor
  • Zomato
  • Foursquare
  • OpenTable

Middle East platforms:

  • Talabat
  • HungerStation
  • CareemNow
  • ReserveOut
  • Deliveroo

Although some review platforms alert you once you get a review from one of your customers, it can fill your inbox pretty fast if you manage multiple brands and/or multiple locations. This is where a centralized review management platform such as Localyser can save you time. Localyser, and other similar tools, aggregates all of your outlets’ reviews from across the Web into one dashboard so you can monitor reviews easily. These tools typically send you a consolidated email alert with all of the reviews you have received on a daily basis.

How Localyser Reputation Management Tool Works:

undefined


Location Listing Management

Before jumping into responding to reviews, you need to first make sure that all of your location listings across different platforms are accurate and verified. For example, restaurant listing sites such as Zomato can be a straight forward exercise because the website will usually assign you with an account manager that will take all of your restaurant details and upload them for you. This is unfortunately not the case for Google (through Google My Business), Facebook and TripAdvisor.

Why should you claim and optimize your listing you might be asking, well it’s simple, you won’t be able to respond to review if you don’t. Not only that but you want to have control of the information displayed about your brand and various locations. For example, is the address correct with the correct map pin drop. What about your opening hours, phone numbers and website address? Google My Business is especially important to get the information about your location accurate because of the sheer volume of users who use Google search and map apps to find and discover places near them. Therefore, without accurate information, you might be losing foot traffic to your outlets.

Below are the top listing platforms that you need to make sure you have accurate and complete listing for:

  1. Google My Business powers Google search engine and the Map app. It’s the number one destination for users to find and discover places nearby.
  2. Facebook Locations allows users to check-in and leave a recommendation that can be shared with friend.
  3. TripAdvisor is the number one travel review website and it’s important if you care about attracting tourists to your outlets.
  4. Zomato is a popular restaurant listing and review site available in many countries and attracts a certain segment of the market not covered anywhere else.
  5. Foursquare has become more of a database engine providing location information for many 3rd party app such as WhatsApp (share location data source is foursquare).

Responding to Restaurant Reviews

Now that you have claimed all of your location listings, you are ready to start responding to reviews. There are two approaches to this task: 1) centralize approach where you assign one member of the team to respond to all reviews for all outlets; or 2) decentralized approach where you have the individual restaurant manager to respond to his or her outlet’s reviews themselves.

There are advantages and disadvantages for the two approaches. The centralized approaches give you more control over the response time and the actual response itself as individual restaurant manager might veer away from the official response text approved by marketing.

The decentralized approaches give more ownership to the front of the line staff and gives daily insight on what their customers are saying about their recent experience with them. This leads to rapid corrective action by the operations team and fast turnaround to resolving any issues from occurring again.

Once you have established which approach to take, you then need to identify the type of reviews that you usually get and draft several response templates. Typically, though, reviews can be either positive (4 & 5 stars), negative (1 & 2 stars) or neutral (3 stars) and can be grouped as follows:

  • Food related
  • Service related
  • Price and value
  • Atmosphere related
  • Amenities including parking

We recommend drafting several response templates broken down by positive, negative or neutral with the flexibility to address each specific compliment or complaint related to one or more of the groups mentioned above. The key however is to make sure that at the very least you acknowledge the most negative reviews and thank the most positive ones for taking the time to leave one. Even if you don’t have a resolution to their problem, acknowledging complaints is critical to make the customer feel that they’ve been heard and more importantly for potential customers to know that the restaurant cares about customer feedback.

Here are some examples of the wording that you could use for each review group:

Positive

  • Hi {first name}, thanks for the positive feedback! We're always happy to hear good things from our customers.
  • We are glad you enjoyed your experience at {restaurant name}. Please visit us again soon!

Negative

  • Hello {first name}, we're so sorry to hear about your experience. We want to know more, to help resolve the situation. Please do let us know how we can contact you by sending us your contact details at {support email} or {information request form url link}
  • We’re sorry that we missed the mark with your experience. We will have our customer success team look into this immediately.

Neutral

  • Hello {first name}, thank you for your business. If there's anything we can do to help, please let us know.
  • At {restaurant name}, we strive to provide the best service. We'll be taking your experience into consideration as we work to improve.

When handling negative reviews in particular, we recommend considering the following dos and don’ts:

  1. Don’t react right away – take a moment to let the emotions out of your system before responding and start gathering the facts before responding right away.
  2. Do respond promptly – keeping bad reviews unanswered for more than 48 hours has an impact on your reputation. It’s best to at least acknowledge all negative reviews as soon as possible.
  3. Don’t take it personal – your team works hard to make every customer experience a good one, but mistakes happen. It’s best not to get emotional and keep your response professional.
  4. Do show compassion – not only should you acknowledge negative reviews but express empathy and care when responding to show that you are a brand that cares about all customers.
  5. Don’t point blame – sometimes customer expectations are unrealistic but avoid pointing that out and never point blame at anyone including your staff.
  6. Do take it offline – the last thing that you want is a public argument so ask for the customer to reach out offline through a dedicate phone line or a support email.
  7. Do investigate if it’s a fake review – unfortunately some reviews are designed to intentionally harm a brand so look for unnatural language and general accusations that you know are not common for your restaurant. If you suspect a fake review, report it to the review site.
  8. Do share the review with your team – restaurant staff need to understand the issues raised by a genuine negative review but make sure to also explain that you are only sharing the bad review for learnings and to get better at serving your customers better.

Localyser’s Review Response Templates Solution:

undefined


Analyzing Restaurant Reviews

Many restaurant operators and marketers don’t take advantage of the depth of data that can be derived from online reviews. Sure, knowing what customers are raving or complaining about on a regular basis is important but there’s more insight that you can derive from reviews if you have the right reporting tools. Here are some examples of the type of reports you should put together on a regular basis for your outlets:

Location Ranking

If you manage multiple locations for example, you can start comparing outlets’ average rating side by side and see the top performing and low performing locations week after week. We call this report at Localyser as the Location Ranking Report and is ranks outlets by the average rating and volume of reviews received over a specific time. Why is this important, well because you can now dig deeper into the low performing locations to better understand the top 1 to 3 issues that keeps this outlet from receiving low ranking on a consistent basis. 

More importantly, reading the top performing locations reviews, or searching through them via an online tool, will give you great insight as to why these outlets are always over performing others. It could be an enthusiastic staff that’s making a difference or food quality. Regardless of the reason, this report helps you make sure that all outlets are performing at their best to ensure consistent customer experience across all of your locations.

Volume of Reviews

Another way to look at reviews by simply monitor the volume of reviews you receive over time. If they are decreasing organically, this has been proven to be a good indicator of trouble ahead as either you are getting lower foot fall of new customers and in return shrinking your overall pool of customers.

Competitive Benchmarking

Similarly, you need to compare your results with your nearest competitors. For every location, it’s important to tracking the average rating and volume of reviews for at least 3 competitors that are in the vicinity of each of your outlet. Why you ask? Well, not only do you want to make sure that you are providing a better experience than your competitors but having a lower rating and number of reviews pushes you down the Google search result page when customers are looking for your type of establishment online.

Local SEO

Google search algorithm that powers their main online search engine and Map app relies on several signals to rank restaurants and other local businesses. Besides have accurate and up to date local listing as mentioned above in the Location Listing Management section above, Google relies on several other factors that decide who appears first in search results for a specific keyword:

  • Proximity – how far is the user is from your location is a major factor which you don’t have control over.
  • Average rating – this is something that you can control, and we’ll discuss in the next section.
  • Volume of reviews – this refers to not only the total number of reviews your restaurant location has received but also the number of reviews you receive on a regular basis. The latter needs to be consistent and offer original feedback from genuine visitors.
  • Brand engagement – claimed and verified locations give you the ability to enhance your listings with fresh content such as videos and pictures but it also allows you to respond to reviews on a regular basis. This gives Google a signal that this brand is engaged with their customers thus providing a good customer experiences to its users.

There are other signals of course such as if the restaurant is open or not and the above are not absolutes but delivering on them goes a long way to ensuring high ranking on Goggle.

Increasing Your Average Rating

Now that you have taking control of your restaurant reviews and setup a system to monitor, respond and analyze reviews; it’s time to look at how you can keep your average rating as high as possible. One note to keep in mind here is that you should never game the system and buy positive reviews, this will harm you in the long run and you might get blocked by the major review sites. Instead, you should provide your customers with an easy to use tool that makes is super simple for them to share their feedback on their latest experience at one of their favorite review sites.

A good example of this is how TripAdvisor provides hotels with an online widget that encourages guests to leave a review directly from the Website. For restaurants, timing is everything but it’s not necessarily when the customer is about to pay for their meal nor a week after their last visit. The ideal time to ask for a feedback is the day after, preferably in the morning for dinners from the night before and in the evening for lunch goers.

So how do you hit the mark on a daily basis to achieve a consistent flow of reviews from customers. Well, there are several ways:

Ask for reviews

You can simply start asking customers to leave you a review on their favorite platforms, but this doesn’t work all the time because it relies on your staff. So, something more automated is needed.

Feedback landing page

A more reliable way is to communicate with customers via email or sms (if you collect them) or presenting them with a Rate Us post card with a QR code link to the different review platforms. Below is an example of what comes out of the box at Localyser that helps you drive more traffic to your review site for each location.

Conclusion

As you can see, there’s a lot more to reviews than meets the eye. Your digital presence and reviews have become essential extension of your restaurant business and require continuous management for each branch. Of course, there’s more that you could do for your local business and this space of location-based marketing has picked up steam over the past few years here in the Middle East. If you are interested to learn more about it, we highly recommend a book called Get Found Online by Jack Jostes

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Just as an extra, here are some frequently asked questions that have not been covered in the sections above:

Should I respond to all reviews?

No necessarily, it is recommended that start with the important reviews and work your way up. This could be by only replying to negative reviews plus the most positive of them all, the ones where a customer really took their time to write a long compliment. As you get comfortable with it, you should reply to all reviews with text and if time permits, acknowledge every single review.

What if the customer is lying, do I call them out?

Never pick a battle in public unless it’s perjury and where local laws consider it as a criminal offence. Otherwise, take it offline and try to resolve it in private. At which time, you can ask the customer to delete the scathing review.

What do I do if it’s a food poisoning issue?

Contact the health authority and cooperate fully. Take responsibility if it is indeed your fault and show online the proactive steps that you have taken to take care of the sick customer.

Should I use canned response messages?

Canned and templated response messages are fine as long as you have enough drafted that you can rotate them in your different responses. It is recommended however to personalize your response to relate it to the actual review experience of the customer.

I am not able to respond to reviews, what should I do?

This could be because you have not claimed your listing online. Please refer to the Location Listing Management on how to do that for every platform.

Should I use positive review write ups in my marketing material?

Absolutely, these reviews are publicly available so feel free to display them on your website and other marketing material.

Can I delete a review from a customer?

Not automatically, you can either ask the user to delete their reviews if you have solved their issue, or at least change the rating. Or, if it’s a fake review or one that uses foil language you can request the review to be removed from the platform.

How do I handle influencers and celebrities?

In the Middle East, this has become a huge business. If an influencer approaches you and requests money up front, then avoid this practice. However, it’s standard practice to hire an influencer to do a genuine write up about your restaurant so feel free to negotiate terms that work best for you.


Join our community

We'll send you only best practices and training material to help you learn more about how to successfully implement an online reputation management strategy for your business.

Thank you for subscribing. You're in!

Please try again

Join our community

We'll send you only best practices and training material to help you learn more about how to successfully implement an online reputation management strategy for your business.

Thank you for subscribing. You're in!

Please try again

You might also enjoy

Card image cap

Review Generation

How to encourage customers to leave a review and the SEO benefit to your business

Before the digital era, we relied on friends, family and aquatints for testimonials; that’s old news now-a-days especially that we’re surrounded by online review sites such as Facebook, Google, TripAdvisor, Zomato and what have you.

Posted by Localyser | Apr 29, 2020

Card image cap

Responding to Reviews

8 Dos and Don’ts When Responding to Online Negative Reviews

In the age of customer reviews and digital word-of-mouth, how can a business participate in shaping its online reputation?

Posted by Localyser | Mar 17, 2020

Card image cap

Digital Listing Management

How To Better Manage Your Online Listing Presence In The Middle East

In the hectic retail and food and beverage markets of the Middle East, the ability to get discovered in search results is necessary to both build and maintain a successful business or restaurant.

Posted by Localyser | Oct 15, 2019