In January 2020, review sites were not mandatory to view before choosing a place to eat. However, after COVID-19 swept the United States, review sites transformed into a necessary way for consumers to understand restaurant protocols. Restaurant patrons needed to look online to see if their favorite restaurants were open. They relied on review sites to see if eateries offered pick-up or delivery orders. Since fifty-five percent of adults are now eating at home, researching and ordering online has become a familiar habit for many. In fact, ninety percent of guests research a restaurant online before visiting a location. Today, ninety-two percent of diners read restaurant reviews.
Restaurant reviews are nothing new. In 1979, Tim and Nina Zagat sent surveys to two hundred of their closest friends to get their feedback on New York restaurants. They created a pocket-sized book of one hundred reviews from real people that were easy to understand. Years later, in 1999, other review sites began popping up to include Rate It All, Deja, Epinions, Citysearch, and Yellowpages. In 2002, Google purchased Deja’s intellectual search property. Then, in 2004, two former PayPal employees raised a million dollars in funding to launch Yelp. By 2010, Yelp raised over thirty million dollars in revenue with over four million reviews. Of course, many other review sites have grown over the years and participated in significant acquisitions. Today, the most popular review sites include Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Zomato.
There are four major reasons why guests love to read and leave online reviews.
- Risk deduction. Positive reviews decrease the risk of a bad experience dining out.
- Efficiency. Finding restaurants with positive reviews reduces the time that guests spend researching where to eat online.
- Remorse. Giving a negative review can make a guest feel like they are actively helping others avoid negative experiences. Sharing an undesirable experience can improve feelings of buyer’s remorse.
- Influence. Some reviewers simply want to influence the decisions of others.
With all of this in mind, it’s not surprising at all that restaurants should have an even larger focus on review sites than ever before. In many ways, COVID-19 has pushed the restaurant industry forward about ten years into the future. Digital sharing has become a larger focus than ever. Today, thirty-three percent of consumers would never even eat at a restaurant with less than four stars.
It costs about five times as much to attract a customer, as it does to keep an existing one. These costs can go down significantly for restaurants that have positive reviews. According to Harvard Business School, just a one-star increase on Yelp can increase the profits of a restaurant by up to nine percent. Restaurant operators have even begun featuring their reviews as social proof on their websites. This enables website schema to include both the review amounts and average ratings below search engine listings.
So, how are restaurant operators increasing their positive reviews?
- Ask. Only about one out of eight guests will post a restaurant review after a meal. To increase this number, at the end of every meal, restaurant staff should ask customers about their experiences. If they enjoyed their visits, they should receive reminders to leave a review. If not, management should take the time to learn what could have made their experiences better. A more efficient way to ask for reviews is through email marketing. After guests visit, they should receive an email that asks for them to review their experience on a scale of one to five. If the answer is below a four, another follow-up email should find out more to improve the experience. Some restaurants even provide incentives to get patrons to come back and give them another try. If the review is above a four, a follow-up email should provide a link to share their experience and leave a review on popular review sites such as Google and Facebook.
- Track. Regularly evaluating a restaurant’s reviews empowers professionals to respond appropriately to both positive and negative reviews.
- Respond. When responding, many restaurant operators have success with the following sequence: Align, express remorsefulness, admit responsibility, provide a solution, and then follow up again. Marketing companies such as Bloom Intelligence can automate this review process.
As the industry pushes forward in 2021, review sites present an excellent opportunity to increase profitability, expand pick-up and/or delivery orders, improve customer satisfaction, and create brand affinity. Since review sites are only expected to gain popularity over the upcoming years, it has become more critical than ever for restaurant professionals to take a proactive versus reactive approach to review generation.
Shannon Harper is a member of the Bloom Intelligence’s marketing team. Bloom is a restaurant marketing automation platform that saves at risk customers and automates reputation management. She has over fifteen years of sales, marketing, and reputation management experience and is passionate about helping brands exceed their goals.