Two female diners clink wine glasses at a restaurant.

pexels/Bruce Mars

While responding to reviews provides an opportunity for restaurants to right wrongs, it also serves as an opportunity to re-engage diners who had a positive experience.

Leveraging Reviews to Win Over Diners

Restaurant operators have to keep tabs on a multitude of different platforms.

In today’s digital era, online reviews can make or break a business, with 91 percent of 18-34 year old consumers trusting online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends. This is especially true for the restaurant industry, which thrives on curating memorable experiences that people want to share. With 30 percent of diners looking to online reviews for new restaurant recommendations, one bad review can steer potential diners away from your restaurant and through the doors of your competitor.

With the proliferation of review sites, restaurant operators have to keep tabs on a multitude of different platforms from Yelp and Google Reviews to social media in order to stay on top of guest feedback. In the fast-paced restaurant industry, most operators don’t have the time or resources to constantly monitor and respond to every review, losing out on valuable diner feedback and more importantly, a crucial opportunity to re-engage guests. Reviews can give operators direct insight into areas for improvement as well as aspects of the dining experience that really stand out. Restaurants that don’t take the time to monitor and respond to these reviews miss out on an organic way to better understand their guests, and potentially turn a one-time visitor into a devoted regular.

Righting wrongs and creating regulars

Acknowledging reviews often has a direct impact on the bottom line, with 9 in 10 consumers less likely to purchase from a business that ignores complaints. In fact, following up on negative reviews can actually reverse a diner’s less than positive experience. Surveys have found that responding to a consumer’s negative review with an apology makes them 44 percent more likely to share their positive follow-up experience and 30 percent of consumers are more likely to turn around and recommend the brand.

While responding to reviews provides an opportunity for restaurants to right wrongs, it also serves as an opportunity to re-engage diners who had a positive experience. Consider thanking positive reviewers for sharing their feedback and potentially luring them back with a free glass of wine or inviting them to an upcoming event. These touchpoints outside of the dining experience can cement a guest as a valuable brand ambassador.

While monitoring and responding to reviews is an important way to engage your diners outside of the restaurant, it can also help improve operations internally. Beyond managing reviews online, restaurants should also elicit diner feedback directly after a reservation. This can help staff identify operational or quality issues before they go live to a public platform as a negative review. Having an automatic feedback loop in place lets you send emails based on reservation statuses being marked to left, and it lets you measure customer sentiment on a rolling basis. If reviews are largely positive, it’s equally important to recognize staff for what they’re doing well, ensuring that you provide guests with the same level of high-quality service.

Fitting reviews into the guest data puzzle

As technology within the hospitality industry continues to evolve, review history and sentiment can be added to guest profiles as tags, providing a more comprehensive look at each diner. This allows restaurants to aggregate key information, like whether a guest left a public review or internal feedback for the restaurant and its context—whether positive or negative—to tailor services accordingly. For example, if a return guest left a positive review about the sommeliers red wine recommendations, the waiter can offer them a complimentary glass of the red wine they enjoyed last time. On the other hand, if a guest complained they were offered two steak recommendations despite being a vegetarian, a waiter can tailor future recommendations to the guest’s food preferences. 

Guest data from reviews can also provide valuable information for restaurants’ marketing efforts. Automated email marketing tools allow restaurants to segment customers so that guests can receive specially tailored offers. For example, if a diner’s positive review mentions the restaurant’s family friendly atmosphere and gluten free options, operators can invite that guest to a family style night for the kids rather than a VIP-only wine tasting or an all you can eat pasta night. These subtle details show that not only are you listening to guests, but you care about them and what they have to say.

While restaurant reviews can have a direct impact on business—with positive reviews luring people to your establishment and negative reviews causing diners to second guess their reservations, restaurants don’t have to be at the mercy of reviewers. Having an easy and efficient way to address guest reviews offers restaurants the opportunity to foster positive diner relationships, no matter whether the guest had a positive first experience or not.

Joel Montaniel is the CEO and co-founder of SevenRooms, a reservation, seating and guest engagement platform, where he leads business strategy and sales. Prior to founding SevenRooms in 2011, Montaniel served as the Chief of Staff at LivePerson, leading strategic, operational and cultural initiatives. He started his career at Credit Suisse within the Real Estate, Finance & Securitization Group. He graduated with a B.A. from Georgetown University.

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