Keeping information up to date and accessible is critical.

In early October, Tripadvisor launched a Menu Connect feature that enabled restaurants to publish, update, and mange menu and business information across a network of sites. Why was this so vital? Today’s COVID-19 arena is never static. What was once simple and, generally, lasting information, like operating hours and menu items, can adjust by the day instead of season now. And often times, the reason a customer picks one restaurant over another is due to who’s open and who’s not. Those vitals are critical for restaurants to get across to guests. Especially given lower-capacity dining rooms and how it might look from the outside to a bystander.

If consumers are leaving the house less often, they’re probably planning dining choices in advance. There isn’t as much spontaneous foot traffic as before. Also, customers might drive by a restaurant and have no idea if it’s open. This is why outdoor signage has taken on even more relevance. Another Broken Egg, for example, is having employees park in front of the restaurant to show business is happening. Full-serves don’t typically enjoy the herd effect quick-service chains do at the drive thru.

There’s also little question review sites factor in. In a contactless environment, it’s one of the more effective channels to communicate with potential guests. In particular, new and wary ones. If they’re not email club members or loyalty users, there’s a good chance they’ll browse a restaurant’s online listing before considering making the leap. Probably before they even head to the brand’s website.

Martin Verdon-Roe, Tripadvisor’s general manager of hospitality solutions, chatted with FSR about how to win the online review battle in COVID times, where to start, and what best practices restaurants need to implement to earn new business.

Let’s start with some best practices in pandemic times. What are some musts for restaurants when it comes to their online listings? How has this changed from pre-COVID-19 days?

It’s always been important for restaurants to have accurate information online, but in today’s dynamic environment we see the shift to digital happening much more quickly. Restaurants are looking to strategically empower takeout and delivery, as well as catering and gift card services. Owners are then making sure that these services are promoted on their website and social channels to appeal to dinners wanting to experience their business in these new ways as they may not be able or comfortable returning for dine-in service right now.

It’s also important to update the various places where diners may seek out information about a business. It’s likely that a restaurant’s hours, menu, or services have changed as a result of the pandemic. Making sure these updates are reflected online are key to winning back business and providing a great experience.

And of course, we know cleanliness and safety are now top priorities for travelers. In fact, more than a third of consumers (35 percent) say they will put an emphasis on dining at restaurants that keep customers safe. Implementing new hygiene measures AND showcasing them to potential guests will be key to maximizing demand for the restaurant’s services.

TripAdvisor Menu Connect Screen Grab

Menu Connect is an online listings management solution that enables restaurants to easily publish, update and manage their menu and business information across an expansive network of sites—inclusive of Google, Yelp, OpenTable, and more.

Search traffic on Tripadvisor, specifically, has been on the rise since July. How can operators ensure they’re taking advantage?

Consumer behavior is changing rapidly, and the trends are far from static. Staying up-to-date with the very latest market insights is crucial so that restaurateurs can adapt their plans at speed and capture the valuable demand that their business needs. At Tripadvisor, we have been sharing tangible insights from our own site data via free webinars and industry trend reports.

Using insights about future customer demand can help restaurateurs target marketing spend much more effectively, so when diner demand jumps up, you can quickly invest in solutions like Tripadvisor Ads for Restaurants to capture that returning demand ahead of your competition.

Additionally, consumer expectations are changing as a result of COVID-19. Restaurants should focus on what they can do to make customers feel confident about visiting. One easy way to do this is to ensure business information is up to date online. This is now more important than ever as restaurants are trying to attract new diners.

At the same time, they need to reassure customers of the steps they are taking to keep those customers safe.  

Are there particular ways for restaurants to use the platform to share safety protocols and get the word out?

Yes, as a matter of fact, Tripadvisor rolled out a suite of Travel Safe tools in June to help consumers find, filter for, and validate important health and safety information about hotels and restaurants.

Businesses can select all the safety measures they have in place at their property by accessing the checklist in their Tripadvisor management center (for free). They can also add a text description of the steps they are taking to protect customers, including links back to safety information on their own websites.

There are over 120,000 properties on Tripadvisor using these tools so far. These properties are building trust by highlighting the concrete actions they are taking to keep their customers safe, while providing consumers with the information and reassurance they need when they travel or dine out.

Cleanliness and safety are themes that are likely to remain high priority for diners for the foreseeable future. Showcasing the steps you are taking to mitigate risk, whether on social media, advertisements, or via this free tool, will make more and more diners feel safe to visit you.

Answering reviews was always one of the top recommendations before the crisis. Have you seen that take on even greater importance of late?

With hundreds of millions of monthly users, the benefit of Tripadvisor is that it truly showcases the “wisdom of the crowds.” Recent reviews are vital now more than ever as diners build up the confidence to eat out again. Fresh review content helps other diners confirm what the experience is like at a property now within these COVID times—after all it is likely there have been changes since the start of the year.

We also know from research that management responses to reviews have a significant impact on consumer perception of a business. In fact, 89 percent of Tripadvisor users said a thoughtful response to a negative review improved their impression of a business, showing the effectiveness of owners responding to all types of reviews.

Now, management responses offer a further way to communicate what, how and why a restaurant has introduced specific new safety measures.

Talk about Menu Connect. What inspired the product, and how can it help restaurants?

With the abundance of day-to-day responsibilities restaurant owners face, marketing and updating business information online is the last thing on owners’ minds, yet it is often the deciding factor for diners looking for somewhere to eat. We know that the majority of diners check menus online before they choose a restaurant, so it is crucial that their information is up to date everywhere online, especially now so that they don’t miss out on vital returning customers.

Menu Connect is an online listings management solution that enables restaurants to easily publish, update and manage their menu and business information across an expansive network of sites—inclusive of Google, Yelp, OpenTable, and more. Now, restaurateurs can use this product to (1) save time by updating information just once instead of on every individual listing site, and (2) increase their visibility to diners searching from various sites around the web. Diners often don’t search by name, but search by type of food. The best way to come up in a search like that is if a restaurant has their menu published wide, up to date, and findable.

TripAdvisor Menu Connect Screen Grab

It’s key today to keep guests up to speed with menu changes.

Elaborate on the breakdown of new and returning customers in the past 30 days. How can operators use this to their advantage?

Once a restaurant sets up Menu Connect, they also gain access to unique insights such as the total volume of menu views across all websites where their menu is featured, including a breakdown of new and returning customers in the past 30 days.

Both new and returning customers are amazing to have. Returning customers are special because they have seen your menu before and know where to find you. New customers on the other hand, prove that these diners are finding you from different sources. Without having accurate menus everywhere diners are searching, restaurants would miss out on a huge opportunity to reach new customers.

In fact, we have one example of a restaurant who saw an 82 percent increase in menu views each year since they began using the platform. With 84 percent of those views coming from new searchers, this means they’ve reached over 27,000 new potential customers annually. This demonstrates the value of having an accurate menu published across the web.

Knowing how and where diners are finding you can help inform business and marketing decisions.

What are some other tools Tripadvisor has rolled for restaurants during the pandemic?

In addition to Travel Safe, earlier this year, Tripadvisor added a feature enabling gift card purchases directly from the site. Gift cards serve as much needed microloans to help operators pay their rent, continue to pay employees and fund benefits like healthcare, as well as fund other critical expenses.

Tripadvisor also made it easier to identify restaurants that are open for takeout and delivery, as we know those services have soared in popularity and, in some cases, been the only form of business restaurants are offering.

Tripadvisor has also called on members to write reviews and create guides that highlight their favorite restaurants, bars and cafes. These small gestures of support make a meaningful business impact. The rank of a business on Tripadvisor is based on the quantity, quality and recency of reviews, with a recent Cornell Study finding that as the number of reviews increase, the ratings in these reviews tend to be more positive.

And just last month, we launched a Contactless Menu tool for restaurants to download a QR code of their menu directly from their Management Center. We know menus are one of the most handled items in a restaurant. As restaurants have begun welcoming guests back, many have begun implementing single-use menus and QR codes, like this one.  This is just one small (and free) way to mitigate that contact.

How has Contactless Menus in particular been received?

So far, nearly 5,000 restaurants around the world have already used this tool, just one simple way we can help keep both staff and customers safe. The owners that use it seem to love it, we are certainly pleased to see the service saving them money and helping create a more contact-free restaurant experience. I therefore encourage more owners to give the solution a try percent it is after all free and saves you money!

What kind of feedback have you heard from operators? Are there some common threads emerging in terms of what they need from a digital review site to help their business?

With many having to heavily decrease capacity, owners are primarily concerned about lack of customers, specifically in areas that target tourists.

We know that delivery and takeout have been increasingly important for restaurants as well as diners. We have an online ordering button on Tripadvisor, which has certainly gained more traction this year. As I mentioned before, we added delivery and takeout options on Tripadvisor to facilitate this service.

We also know that owners want to continue to hear from their guests. Reviews are more critical than ever as future guests want to hear from other diners what the experience is like.

Do you think the review customer has changed? What does it seem like they’re looking for now from restaurants in terms of information? Has that changed?

Diners are still hungry for information. They want to know what a restaurant is doing and they want to be able to easily find that information. Diners may lose trust in local businesses if they see incorrect or inconsistent information posted—so it’s crucial to put business information front and center.

Research shows that over 90 percent of diners say restaurant reviews matter when choosing a place to eat, showing how important it is to pay attention to what customers are saying online. Online reviews not only show the experiences of past customers, but also allow owners to show the best of a business to potential future customers looking for a place to eat. Tripadvisor has a new platform called Review Hub that allows restaurant owners to view consumer reviews of their business across sites like Tripadvisor, TheFork, Google, Facebook, and Yelp, and quickly respond to them all from one convenient dashboard. This is one way to ensure restaurants can keep up with questions and feedback from diners, now more important than ever. 

Moving forward, how will Tripadvisor continue to support restaurants?   

With nearly five million restaurants on our site, the dining industry is a large part of Tripadvisor’s consumer and B2B business. Now, the global pandemic has fundamentally altered business as usual for many of these restaurants, and they need our support more than ever.

That prompted us to reinvent our day to day as well, scrapping any plans that did not solve the new challenges that our partners are facing. As the world’s largest travel platform, we have both the global reach and the connection with businesses that allows us to recognize what the industry needs and drive significant impact.

I think we have come a long way in a short time, and the launch of Travel Safe, Contactless Menus and Menu Connect serve as proof of that. We will continue to listen to our partners and customers to enhance our offerings and create new solutions that not only help them navigate the current challenges posed by the pandemic, but also position them to be ready for when customer demand recovers.

Feature, Leader Insights