How to Make Your Restaurant Successful on Yelp

Find Us on YelpFaced with large amounts of competition, businesses are constantly fighting for their customers’ attention. Word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful driving force in today’s society and has the ability to sway decisions like what to buy and where to eat. This type of marketing may seem difficult to harness, but with programs like Yelp, businesses have a way to engage with customers and help mold their opinions.

Yelp is a great way for small businesses to compete with larger chains by showcasing what they have to offer. In Q2 of 2016, Yelp had a monthly average of 23 million unique visitors who went through Yelp’s mobile app and another 69 million unique visitors who visited Yelp via the web. A Nielsen study reports that 78 % of users rely on Yelp to find restaurants (out of all categories), capturing the highest percentage of the categories. Needless to say, Yelp is a well-used resource for restaurant-goers whose importance is often under-estimated by restaurant owners.

How It Works

Imagine you’re on vacation and it’s your first time at a destination. Up and down your hotel’s strip, there is dinner option after dinner option. As a consumer, the choices are overwhelming. How do you even begin to choose? You could just waltz into the first place you come to and take your chances.  Or, you could leverage the experience of thousands of Yelpers that have visited before you and have left reviews of just about every restaurant in town.  Without the uncertainty and risk of visiting an untested spot, you and your family can get down to the business of enjoying your vacation.

According to their website, Yelp’s purpose is to “connect people with great local businesses”. Their automated software program scours the top reviews that are written by users (“Yelpers”) based on quality and helpfulness, and it ranks businesses according to a proprietary algorithm. So how does your restaurant get the highest ranking? Typically, a larger number of reviews lead to a higher ranking in Yelp search and many other search engines.  The strategy then with Yelp is to get your restaurant as many good reviews as possible.  In this article, we are going to show you how to get started.


Yelp Ads
Claim Your Business

Claiming your business is the starting point for all businesses on Yelp. To be proactive with a Yelp strategy, you must claim your business to have control of that page. After you claim your page, you can then personalize it to help distinguish it among other pages. The goal of this page is to drive traffic to your own site. Optimizing this page will help your restaurant appear, not only in yelp searches, but also in search engine queries like Google.

It is interesting to note that according to a Boston Consulting Group study, businesses that simply claimed their Yelp profile generated incremental revenues of $8,000 annually just from being on Yelp.  Wouldn’t it be nice if your business could bring in an additional $8,000 per year by spending a small amount of time setting up you page and managing your reviews?  By the way, according to the same study, those who claimed their profile AND advertised on Yelp through PPC campaigns (more on that later) generated additional revenue of $23,000.

Rack Up the Reviews

Although it is the core function of Yelp, many businesses may wonder how customers will know to leave a review. Be cautious of how you approach this topic.  Yelp prefers “organic” review, which means reviews that have not been solicited or, worse, paid for.  It’s understandable if you think about it.  Most businesses only ask for reviews from their happiest customers, not those who have had a bad experience.  That might be great for the restaurant, but it damages the overall credibility of the review system. Yelp wants your restaurant to earn great reviews through exemplary business practices, not through solicitation and/or reward.

Even though Yelp discourages direct solicitation, they do leave the door open for more subtle ways of generating reviews.  The first, and most obvious, is to make sure that your customers know you actually have a Yelp account. You may have a customer that comes to your restaurant every single day for their morning coffee, but if they don’t know you’re on Yelp, how will the world know that you have nurtured and cared for this customer, so much so they visit your business every day? Make customers aware that you use Yelp by using this form to receive a window cling for your business. Also, remind customers to visit your Yelp page with a link in your email signature and/or a badge on your website.

To attract customers that are in the decision stage, use a Check-In Offer to entice them. A Check-In Offer is a reward a customer receives when they check into a business on Yelp. This reward is redeemed by mobile device at the place of business. After a checking in from a mobile device at a restaurant, the user is later asked to write a review of where they checked in at. Be careful not to offer incentives to customers who give better reviews, which is against Yelp’s policiesCheck In Offer

While the tactics above are handy with a new restaurant or during a slow time to jazz up reviews, you should always try and go above and beyond for customers. Have the mindset of what kind of experience you want your customers to walk away with, and then double it. What sets your business apart from the competition? Is your atmosphere, food, staff, or price point? Find what makes your restaurant original and makes for a memorable experience for your guests. Inspire people to choose your restaurant, enjoy themselves, and then right a smashing review because their experience was just that good.

Take a look at this improvement calculator to see how many reviews it will take to attain a certain rating for your restaurant.

Interact with Customers

You’ve put the work into claiming your business, spruced up your Yelp page, and the reviews are pouring in. All of a sudden, your first bad review comes in: a piece of coal in your carefully cultivated glittering diamond mine of positive reviews. Your first instinct might be to ignore the review, hoping it gets lost in the sea positive reviews. Maybe no one will see it?  That is a big mistake.  You should always respond to a negative review, even if the response is private.  The last thing that you want is an already upset customer feeling like you’re ignoring them.  You’ll definitely want to reach out to that Yelper in a way that lets them know that their concerns have been heard and you will take their input into consideration when shaping future decisions.

Whether you handle bad reviews publicly or privately is up to you, but maintain consistency – don’t respond publicly to the reviews where you feel like a customer is wrong, and privately to the reviews where you know you messed up. The flow chart below outlines Yelps best practices for responding to reviews publicly or privately.

Review Flow ChartFinally, remember that your public responses will be seen by existing and potential customers so always be courteous and understanding. Practice up on your PR skills and don’t isolate customers. You don’t want jeopardize your future business with a poorly worded response.

Free Assets for Business Owners

Yelp has many free resources for business owners to use, making it effective and easy on a budget.

Yelp for Business Owners app is the most comprehensive of these resources. With the app (available in the App Store for iOS and Google Play Store for Android), businesses track engagement, leads, and clicks to their site from Yelp. The app also has the capability to track the number of check-ins to a business, calls (from clicking the phone number), and the reservations made off of Yelp. Not only do these factors help you gauge your success on Yelp, but could justify an increase of foot traffic in your restaurant. Through the app you also have the capability to respond (publicly or privately) to messages, upload photos, and report reviews or messages. For a busy, on-the-go restaurant owner, the Yelp app is extremely valuable in managing your presence on the site.

Again, you don’t want to come right out and ask for reviews. But if you want another, more discrete way to remind customers about giving you a review, place a Yelp review badge on your website. By placing a review badge on your site, your customers can see that people have a reviewed your restaurant and prompt them to check out your Yelp page. Potential customers will be more inclined to visit a restaurant with many positive reviews, which the badge helps them see at a glance. Every time your business is reviewed, the counter clicks up and/or reflects in the stars. Per Yelp’s brand guidelines, there are only two badges allowed on a business’ site that shows their association with Yelp.

Web Review Badges

It is important for business owners to stay up to date on ways to effectively use Yelp. Yelp offers free 30 minute webinars that improve upon your existing Yelp knowledge. Topics range from how to respond to reviews to becoming a 5-star brand. These webinars help clarify how your restaurant can use Yelp as a sustainable, effective strategy for the long term.

Yelp Ads

While Yelp has plenty of free resources for businesses, there are also advertising packages to enhance your profile even further.

Yelp’s advertising packages operate on a cost per click (CPC) basis and could be beneficial for your particular niche. There is no pre-determined set cost because the cost depends on the competition and relevance of your advertisement to the user’s search. Yelp Ads can help your business with targeted local advertising and a more prominent placement on search and competitor pages.

If you want to upgrade your Yelp experience by paying for advertising, the Call to Action button may be one you want to take advantage of.

Whenever potential customers have searched and found your business on Yelp, what is the next steps you want them to take? The best way to provide a specific direction for these customers is to have a Call to Action button. When set up, this button appears towards to the top of your business’ page, underneath the location and uploaded photos.
When narrowing down what your Call to Action should be, think of what your desired end goal is. The button will take customers to more information in the form of a specific page of your website or coupon.

Call to Action
In the example above, Olive or Twist’s Call to Action button promotes their happy hour and links to their specials section on their website. Make sure your button is labeled with a broad, but relevant statement. You don’t want to give away all the information on your Yelp page, because then there is no need to click. This button provides a next-steps for potential customers to take part in.

Compare the different products that Yelp Ads has to offer with this chart.

Please note that just because a business advertises on Yelp does not mean they automatically get better ratings. A business could be rated two stars and advertise, leading to more people seeing that rating. On the other hand, a business that does not pay to advertise can have a five-star rating. For more information on Yelp’s advertising policy, feel free to check out their FAQ page.

If you own a restaurant that has never used Yelp or only as a consumer, go claim your business. Doing a simple Google search will leave you with endless results on how to optimize Yelp and best practices. But the best way to use Yelp is to jump right in! There are so many free resources and options for a business getting started on Yelp. Don’t think the only way to be successful on Yelp is to shell out a portion of your advertising budget. Let your customers know that you have a Yelp presence, respond thoughtfully to their reviews, and keep providing excellent experiences to make Yelp work for your business.

Does your restaurant or business currently use Yelp as a strategy? If so, what’s your experience with having a page? If not, what are your reservations about it? Let us know!

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7 Best Practices to Achieve Success in the Restaurant Industry

Why did you decide to open your restaurant?  Has it been a dream of yours that you’ve finally been able to act on, or is it just in your DNA to provide a service to others?  Regardless of your answer or the reason you opened your doors, your intent is to be profitable and successful.  Do you know anyone who owns a business who doesn’t want to succeed?  Probably not.

To provide you with resources that will assist you in achieving this success, we occasionally attend educational sessions at trade shows for the restaurant industry.  In our recent attendance at the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, we found a session called the “7 Best Practices of Highly Successful Restaurants” and we knew it was a session we had to attend so that we could pass along this information to you. The presenter for this session was Jim Laube, founder and president of RestaurantOwner.com which is a website that offers restaurant owners membership into an abundance of “resources to turn your good restaurant into a great business.”  Jim began his 30 year career in the restaurant business as a server, moving into positions as a bartender, then manager and even into a controller and CFO for a regional restaurant chain.  Jim now serves as an advisor to thousands of independent restaurants and foodservice professionals providing presentations and training programs to assist with growth and improvement in the restaurant industry.

In your quest to be successful, here are the 7 best practices that Jim recommends you follow:

  1. Focus your marketing on existing customers through the use of a customer database.

Restaurant Customers

According to the National Restaurant Association, over 60% of sales in fine dining restaurants and 80% of sales in casual restaurants come from repeat business.  Knowing this, your marketing plan should be aimed at this audience so you’ll want to know who these customers are.  Building a customer database is the best way to do this so that you can communicate with these individuals regularly.

In order to build a customer database, you’ll want to collect the following information:  name, address, birthday, anniversary, and e-mail address.  You can collect this information through a birthday or anniversary club, VIP club or other loyalty program, comment cards, and/or through staff incentives.  With this customer information, you can send an occasional e-mail to introduce a new menu item, send coupons or special offers, or announce a special event.  Whatever your marketing strategy is, communication with existing customers will encourage more frequent visits in addition to the possibility that those customers will tell their friends or bring them in.

  1. Have a birthday club.

Group of young people celebrate happy birthday with cake and festive hats.

According to Jim, having a birthday club is the most effective marketing practice and he has the statistics from restaurants he works with to prove it.  When sending birthday and half birthday postcards, Jim shared that 78% of these postcards are redeemed on the customer’s birthday and 96% are redeemed on the customer’s half birthday.  He found that even with over a thousand members, birthday clubs provide the restaurant with a 90% redemption rate.   He also shared some important points: everyone enjoys getting a deal especially on their birthday, customers like something better than nothing ($10 versus $0), and the idea that birthday clubs build customer loyalty.  In addition, birthday mailings often get a good response and great customer feedback.

To prove this idea, Jim told the attendees about a success story of a quick service restaurant in a suburb of a major metro area called Golden Chick.  In the first four years of business, marketing was done through newspaper ads, money mailers, Valpak, and a shopper’s guide which totaled $18,000 to $20,000 per year with poor results.  It was documented that although the yearly annual sales improved over those four years, the impact wasn’t as great as the company had hoped.  After implementing a birthday club program which they started with a “cold” list that led to the gradual building of a customer database, those results changed.  Over the next four years, Golden Chick’s annual sales increased by 52% from the time that the birthday club was implemented.  In addition, their marketing costs went from over $18,000 per year to around $100 a month.  Sounds like a strategy that could make a huge difference to any restaurant aiming for success.

  1. Have and use systems.

Drawing of a process chart

Think about a situation where you have had consistently extraordinary experiences at a restaurant.  Then, ask yourself this:  what did they do to make your experience extraordinary?  How did they do it?  Likely, it boils down to systems.  Systems are procedures, processes, or a series of actions designed to achieve a desired result.  If you think about it, restaurants are built upon the concept of systems because they are following certain steps repeatedly over and over again.  It’s not just with food, but also with hiring, training, cleaning, purchasing, storage, preparation, ordering, reservations, service, scheduling, payroll…and this list could go on.  With effective systems in place, restaurants are offered consistency and predictability.  There’s often higher productivity and morale, in addition to fewer surprises and less time needed from the owner to manage the daily operations.

In Jim’s presentation, he talked about a system that is easy to create, easy to understand and follow, effective, and helpful in training new employees.  The system he is referring to is a checklist.  Checklists can be formed to confirm that tasks are done or they can be formed to guide tasks that need to be completed.  Either way, any implemented checklist should offer characteristics that Jim stated are necessary in order to be effective.  Checklists should be short, precise, and fit on one page, include key items only, have an ease of use for both busy and non-busy times, and should be viewed as helpful reminders rather than a “how to” guide.  You can either develop these on your own to customize a system in your restaurant or you can find already developed restaurant checklist templates here, all from the RestaurantOwner.com website.  The checklist templates that are offered on the site include but are not limited to a bartender checklist, a cleaning checklist, a manager opening checklist, a manager shift-change checklist, a new employee orientation checklist, a purchasing checklist, a preparation checklist, a service checklist, and a storage checklist.  There may be costs involved in obtaining these checklists but they can offer you a great starting point if you don’t already have a system in place.

  1. Be serious about your mission.

mission

Let’s jump back to why you decided to open your restaurant.  With that in the forefront of your mind, think about why your restaurant exists, what you want to accomplish, and what your employees would say if you asked them those questions.  These answers can help you create a mission statement that will give meaning and purpose to the everyday activities of your restaurant.  It will become the basis for standards and accountability.  It will help you recruit and retain the right people and pull all of these individuals together as a team.  In addition, it will enhance the effectiveness of your leadership and make it easier to manage and coach your employees.

When you are creating your mission statement, Jim communicated the importance of considering four important elements in a very clear and succinct manner.  They are:

  • What your company does
  • Who you do it for
  • How you want to do it
  • Results you want to achieve

In addition to these elements, Jim stated that every mission statement should include the following components:

  • A performance challenge or goal
  • Who we do it for
  • How the goal is achieved
  • Desired outcome or result

To showcase these elements and components, Jim offered an example of a mission statement that included all of the recommendations above.  Union Square Hospitality Group, a “family of businesses” that opened their first restaurant back in 1985 and now hosts 13 restaurants, a full-scale catering and venue hospitality business, a jazz club, and an organizational consulting business, developed this mission statement:

“Our mission is to thoroughly delight our guests through such unparalleled hospitality, service and culinary experience that they will rave about their experiences and have no choice but to return.”

This statement clearly includes all of the elements and components from above.  You too can have a mission statement that sounds as great as this.  When doing so, remember that you’re not only creating your very own mission statement, but that you also need to communicate it.  Both of these are equally important to the success of your business.  Some avenues to communicate your mission can be through interviews, orientation and training sessions, handbooks, management meetings, pre-shift meetings, decision making discussions, and any other time that an opportunity arises.  With all of this considered, you and your staff will have a clearer vision as your proceed towards obtaining success.

  1. Track and monitor your prime cost weekly, not just monthly.

Tracking weekly costs

If you’re the owner of a restaurant, it’s likely that you know what prime cost is.  If not, this is the sum of the total cost of sales added to the total payroll costs.  The total cost of sales includes the cost of food, beverage, and paper and the total payroll costs include management and hourly employee costs in addition to taxes and benefits.  Jim communicated that the rule of thumb for prime costs should be 65% or less of sales for full service restaurants and 60% or less of sales for quick service restaurants.  He also stated that it is important to calculate prime costs as one number rather than food costs, beverage costs, and labor costs separately.  When figured together, your prime cost will give you a much more meaningful and valid indication of your restaurant’s unit economics, potential for profit, and your management’s effectiveness.  For information to assist you with calculating your prime cost, RestaurantOwner.com has already developed templates that you can use to get your costs organized.  Again, there may be a fee involved but worth it to keep you informed.

In addition to the actual calculation of your prime cost, Jim offered the recommendation to compute it weekly with his reasons why this should be done so frequently.  First and foremost, he stated that this is something that all chain restaurants do.  Second, it brings about greater staff awareness and accountability, and there is faster recognition and response to problems.  Finally, it is a tool that will allow owners to see how well management is managing.  When done on a weekly basis, Jim shared that it is possible for your prime cost to go down 2-5 points.

  1. Keep a running inventory of “key food products.”

Spices are a part of food cost.

Every restaurant has a running supply of food to fill the plates of their customers and some sort of process to keep track of what is in inventory.  But, do you know what your key food products are and how much of them you have in inventory?  Jim recommends identifying your key food products by looking at your food inventory and finding 10-15 items that drive your food cost; the ones that make up 60%-70% of these costs.  Once you identify these items, begin to keep a running inventory of each of these specific items.  You may have an inventory system already in place where this is done but are you doing it daily and keeping a running inventory?  If not, now is a great time to start!  When you keep a running tally of your key food products, you will be able to order more when needed, less likely to run out of something that a customer wants, and you’ll be able to identify when food is being wasted, burnt, or eaten by your employees.  We all know that in our industry food is money, so having a running inventory can help you save money rather than spend it.

  1. Teach your employees “basic restaurant economics.”

Teach employees basic economic concepts of cash flow and expenditures

Here’s a question that any restaurant owner may chuckle at: how much money does your typical employee think you are making?  Likely, you along with many other restaurant owners would answer this question the same way; your employees think you are quite wealthy with instant access to money anytime.  Employees are the front runners of your business and they only see the money that is coming in.  But, do they really know anything about the money that goes out?  In order to educate your employees so that the wrong assumptions aren’t made, Jim states that this calls for what he refers to as “Restaurant Economics 101.”  This is where you educate your staff on where the money that comes into the restaurant goes, so that there is a better understanding of the economics of your restaurant.

A great way to demonstrate the economics of your business is by using the 100 pennies activity in an employee meeting.  Here is what you do:  give each employee 100 pennies and say that this represents all of the money that comes in to the restaurant.  Then, explain where the money goes.  For example, maybe 35% of your sales goes toward purchasing food and beverages so ask your employees to take out 35 pennies for food costs.  Maybe another 30% of your sales are spent on labor costs so ask them to take out another 30 pennies.  Continue doing this with additional costs that your restaurant has to give every employee a visual of where all of the money that they see comes in goes.  When they see this, they are offered a better understanding of the economic status of your restaurant which may lead to better care and upkeep, less waste, and a deeper interest in your business.

Success is defined on the Merriam-Webster dictionary website as “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.”  Isn’t that what you want as a restaurant owner?  If so, following recommended best practices by professionals who have been in the business for years is in your best interest; an interest that will determine how closely you come to that success.

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