He quotes mentor Danny Meyer who once said: “The customer isn’t always right, but the customer always needs to be heard.”
He’d prefer customers speak to him face-to-face about their feedback, and then he could do something about it directly, not anonymously, and turn a negative into a positive if need be.
Burt Flickinger, president of Strategic Resource Group, a New York-based retail consulting firm, says that online sites have exerted a “transformational effect, particularly for independent-owned restaurants. It puts a single-owned restaurant and a national chain on a level-play field, particularly those that invest in quality and doesn’t offer high prices.” People know what to expect from Olive Garden but will search out an innovative local eatery online.
Flickinger advises restaurant owners to assign a staffer to monitor online reviews daily to keep pace with them. “Look for opportunities, what they can do to improve, and also what competitors are up to,” he says. See what customers want when they write their online reviews and deliver it, he says. Since most diners won’t speak up in the restaurant, but will online, these are opportunities to exploit.
Flickinger consulted for a restaurant in Ithaca, New York, whose owner read the Yelp reviews diligently and spotted some feedback about the lack of desserts. It expanded their dessert offerings, emphasized local pies, and spiked dessert sales.
Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s manager of Local Business Outreach, based in San Francisco, says that restaurateurs view it as “an opportunity to identify trends and have eyes and ears everywhere that you can’t physically be.” To get more engaged with Yelp, she implored owners to take advantage of its free features including displaying options for carryout, delivery and reservations that help spike business.
It also offers free options such as business analytics, which enable owners to see Yelp listings over the last two months and see how many consumers have taken action. It also features Yelp Reservations, No Wait, and Yelp Wifi that help “run floor management, accept reservations directly through Yelp, and host virtual waitlist or manage consumer loyalty programs,“ Washcovick says.
Asked about the perception of many restaurateurs that Yelp reviews are extremely subjective, idiosyncratic, and sometimes surly, Washcovick said that 80 percent of all reviews are laudatory and the site has more 5-star rated reviews than 1, 2 and 3-star reviews combined.
Washcovick emphasizes that these reviews impact business. “We know in today’s society consumers trust online review as much as personal recommendations,” she says. As of the second quarter 2017, Yelp had generated 135 million reviews and averages 102 million unique monthly visitors on mobile and 83 million on desktop.
Though many restaurateurs grumble about fictitious reviews written by overzealous publicist and competitors, Washcovick says Yelp’s Review Recommendations Software studies a user’s profile and where reviews originate to eliminate the fabricated ones.
Washcovick underscores that Yelp’s strengths revolve around reviews from local eateries. “We’re a local driven site and have community managers who work in every major market,” she says.
Because of its breath and scope, TripAdvisor, which attracts a whopping 415 million unique users monthly and reviews 4.5 million restaurants globally, serves as a “massive, powerful marketing channel for their business,” says Heather Leisman, its vice president of industry and marketing.