A restaurant’s online reputation is increasingly the key to success as consumers look to Google and Yelp reviews to pick a spot for lunch and Friday night dinner. Today’s hyper-digital world levels the playing field for any customer to become a restaurant critic, which means it’s more important than ever for operators to pay attention to reviews on multiple channels and have a game plan for how to respond accordingly.
Case in point: “ghosting”—when companies ignore online feedback—costs U.S. restaurants over $14 billion in lost revenue annually, estimates SOCi. The marketing platform recently conducted an extensive study evaluating the online reputations of major casual-dining restaurant chains.
Using data science, SOCi analyzed over 100 different signals measuring online performance and engagement (including reviews, questions, and rankings) across Google, Yelp, and Facebook. Each reputation score was calculated based on five key parameters: the rate of new reviews, average number of reviews per location, mix of positive and negative reviews, response times, and average ratings. Thousands of restaurant locations were analyzed, and and one brand emerged on top.
The Cheesecake Factory dominated its casual competitors with a score of 75 out of 100, though Olive Garden came in a close second with 74. Outback Steakhouse (64) and Applebee’s (60) followed.
Meanwhile, the lower half of the ranking included California Pizza Kitchen, Buffalo Wild Wings, Denny’s, and Chili’s Grill & Bar, all with scores of 58, showing considerable room for improvement in online reputation management.
The study also revealed a broader trend: full-service restaurants have higher reputation scores compared to quick-service restaurants, with average scores around 65 versus 45, respectively. Casual-dining chains’ focus on customer service and elevated dining experiences is the likely cause, and is a point of differentiation for chains to leverage in the competitive restaurant landscape.
“Consumers are increasingly turning to online reviews not only to make in-person dining decisions, but also to discover new places to dine,” said Monica Ho, CMO of SOCi, in a statement. “A restaurant’s online reputation, therefore, has a profound impact on its success and its local visibility—how prominently it features in local search results and the likelihood it gets discovered by potential customers. As such, effectively managing online reputation becomes a strategic imperative for enhancing local visibility and driving business growth.”
Ho also emphasized the challenge posed by “ghosting.” Ignoring online feedback erodes consumer trust, depresses conversion rates, and weakens customer loyalty, she notes. It stands to reason that doing the opposite—quickly responding to consumer reviews and questions and providing solutions to problems—drives customer satisfaction and increases traffic and loyalty.
It’s noteworthy that small differences in management of online reputation can make a significant difference in standing.
“The key to building and maintaining strong local visibility lies in being responsive to customers, acknowledging their feedback, and addressing their concerns in a timely manner,” she adds. “By fostering an environment of engagement and dialogue, restaurants can drastically improve their online reputation, ultimately driving customer satisfaction and business growth.”