Reviews and Your Restaurant: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Why Reviews Matter

Whether you consider it to be a good or bad thing, the food retail world is controlled by the consumer, and your restaurant is just living in it. If your customer has a bad experience and chooses to tell others about it, your operation could be in trouble. Word of mouth is extremely important for the perception of your restaurant, so it’s crucial to know how to handle reviews of all kinds.

Where do customers leave reviews?

You may say ‘I’ve never seen a review of my restaurant before’. More than likely, you’ve just never seen the reviews. The most common places to look for reviews of your restaurant are Facebook, Google, and Yelp.


Because of its user-friendliness, Facebook is popular with customers and restaurant owners alike. Your restaurant’s business page is a great platform to have pictures of the day’s specials, hours, and social interaction, all in one place. When it comes to reviews, Facebook creates a star rating that denotes the quality of the reviews left, with five stars being the best. You can also change how you want to filter reviews: most helpful, most recent, and star rating. Because of how often it is used daily for news, photos, and checking up on friends, it’s only natural that Facebook restaurant reviews are taken seriously. Potential customers can trust the words of their mutual friends and can even see if others they know have reviewed the restaurant.

Facebook Business Page

Facebook Reviews Page

Learn how to find and interact with your Facebook page reviews.


If you look up your restaurant on Google’s search engine, you will see your business name off to the right side, along with categories like directions, website, and an overall star rating. This star rating is determined by an average of the reviews left. If you click into these reviews (and there are some) you will be able to see the individual reviews. Google is a super important facet of customer reviews because whether people are searching for your menu, hours, or directions, they’re most likely typing it into the Google search engine. This will bring up the sidebar with the star-rating and reviews front and center.

Google Search Reviews

Find out how to respond to Google reviews.


One of the most common review sites, and the thorn in the side of many restaurant owners, Yelp helps future customers narrow down their choice of where to do business. It also gives customers that have visited the business an outlet to review the quality of services and their expectations of that business. Yelp has its own algorithm when it comes to displaying reviews. Like Google and Facebook, Yelp also uses a star ranking system, calculated by reviews left. Yelp tends to display a frequent Yelper’s reviews over a new user, making it more difficult to see reviews chronologically.

Yelp Business Page

Yelp Reviews Page

Learn how to use Yelp to the fullest potential with these tips for your restaurant.

What do I do if someone leaves my restaurant a good review?

Congratulations on your restaurant’s hard work! Here’s how you can make the most out of your patron’s compliments:

Respond Back– Before you do anything else with your positive review, you need to write back! Good reviews deserve just as much attention as bad reviews, plus you can promote them without having to come up with an apology statement. Thank the customer for their review and acknowledge that they went out of their way to pass along kind words.

Give Credit Where Credit It Is Due– After you pat yourself on the back, make sure to bring the review to your staff’s attention. If it is about the service, recognize your bartenders or wait staff at the next shift meeting. If it’s about the food, congratulate the cooks on a job well done. While credit should certainly be served to those that were mentioned in the review, you can commend all moving parts of your restaurant. This success is the result of teamwork in your restaurant.

Show It Off– Publish the review on your social media channels, have framed testimonials (do it yourself with Small Thanks), or even include it into your next menu design. Reviews are a great way for your restaurant to tout its successes and would be a shame to not promote them!

What do I do if someone leaves my restaurant a bad review?

Don’t panic! A bad review can become an opportunity for your restaurant if handled correctly. The process below can help streamline how you or your staff deal with negative reviews.

Study Up–  You’ll need to do a little research before answering the review with your emotions flying. First, take note of the date the review was posted and, if it gives details, who (if anyone) was involved. This can help you gain some perspective on how to respond to the review.

It’s Not Too Late to Say Sorry– Apologizing is crucial. Even if it was the weather. Even if it was a fluke in your well-oiled staff. Even if it was the way your restaurant is decorated. Say you’re sorry. That person is not leaving a review for no reason (usually) and wants their feelings validated.

Be a Problem Solver– After your apology, be sure to offer up a solution that’s related to what the customer was concerned about. If there was an issue with the food, reach out with a free meal or appetizer. If there was a problem with the staff, communicate that it will be brought up during a team meeting to prevent it from happening again. Also, if the incident has since been addressed and solved, let the reviewer know of the policy change.

When dealing with a bad review, it’s important to acknowledge the reviewer’s feelings and empathize while also offering a solution. Be sure to touch on each of these points and tailor the response to the reviewer’s experience. Canned responses quickly lose candor and don’t win you any points for originality.

As with positive reviews, be sure to bring up bad reviews with your staff. Walk through the situation with them and provide a process for how to deal with similar situations. You can even use them as motivation for your staff by putting bad reviews in their break area, especially if they are unmotivated by tips.

Why does brand management matter?

Having fresh reviews, engaging with those leaving reviews, and monitoring your social media channels may sound like it will take a lot of time and energy. But without good brand management, it’s extremely difficult to stay on top of customer reviews. In doing these daily tasks, you can quickly pick up on these channels’ review components and see what people are saying about your restaurant. It’s important to keep an eye on these as much as possible to create the highest amount of engagement, and ideally, new reviews.

When making decisions, customers are searching for recently posted reviews, as it should be the most up to date information. Unfortunately, the barrage of five-star reviews you received early last year just isn’t going to cut it. According to Search Engine Land, “69 percent of consumers believe that reviews older than 3 months are no longer relevant”. In other words, a review’s usefulness depreciates in value for bringing in new business. Constant flow of reviews show that your restaurant is staying relevant and can be used for customers to make more informed decisions.

By successfully managing your brand, you can incite more reviews by guests, encouraging others to come see what the fuss is about. To help you stay on top of your restaurant, try setting up a Google Alert to easily monitor possible reviews or comments.

Reviews can stand as a welcoming beacon or caution sign; handling them properly can make all the difference. By staying on top of good and bad reviews with attentive brand management, your restaurant can create a quality experience for all guests.

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!


Does your restaurant need a website?

5 Reasons Facebook Isn’t Enough

With the growth of social media and the dependence on sites such as Facebook and Twitter to keep consumers in-the-know, many new restaurants are asking if they need to have a website these days.  While the landscape of the worldwide web and the manner of how people surf the ‘net surely has changed in recent years, my gut instinct is to answer, “yes.”  But it’s not just that simple.  Ten years ago, new restaurants only needed a website.  Today, you need to have a more involved online presence.  Sure, you probably should have a website, Facebook page, Twitter account, Google+ presence, and be managing Pinterest boards.  Not to mention a strategy for Yelp. But here are my reasons why having a Facebook page alone won’t cut it.  (These points can apply to any social network, really.)

1. Not everyone is on Facebook. You can spew the jaw-dropping statistics to me all day long.  I know Facebook is huge. The number of Facebook users continues to grow.  But the truth is, not everyone has a Facebook profile. Not everyone wants to use Facebook. And not everyone uses Facebook to search for restaurants when they’re hungry.  Sure, your Facebook page will probably pop up on a Google search if you’ve set it up correctly, added your name in the URL, and used your restaurant’s keywords throughout the page.  Can you guarantee a non-Facebook user will click on that Facebook result, though?  I didn’t think so.  I will absolutely argue that Facebook is a must-have for restaurants, but it won’t replace your own corporate website.  At least not this year.

2. Facebook controls Facebook. Remember the timeline adoption that rolled out a few years ago? When Facebook changes, its users just have to go along for the ride and adopt.  You are only one page on this gigantic network of pages, and Facebook owns every single one of them.  I recommend branding your pages as much as possible through the cover photo, profile image, photo albums, and of course the messages you post via your status updates, but I also recommend linking your Facebook page back to a fully-branded site that you can design and control.  Don’t forget, you’re going to need a mobile version of that same branded site.  As a side note, depending on your account settings, your fans (and foes) can post information on your Facebook page.  You can reply (or delete, which I don’t recommend), but it’s one less thing you can control on Facebook.

3. Facebook content is limited. A robust restaurant website should include: hours of operations, contact information, a map with directions, current sales or promotions, a complete menu, a photo gallery with pictures of food and ambiance and people, details on involvement with community or earth-friendly service projects, testimonials and reviews, an ever-changing blog, online reservation form, catering or takeout details, a little bit of history, the mission and vision statements, and key staff bios.  If you sell bottled spaghetti sauce, branded t-shirts, or gift certificates, you are also going to want to implement an e-commerce shopping cart and payment processor.  That’s a lot of info to cram into the ‘About Us’ section on Facebook.  You can create custom-designed tabs and a Facebook store, of course, but that can get costly with so much info to share, and not every developer offers Facebook tab/store design.  Besides, Facebook users don’t often look through the tabs, or even land on your Facebook page. If this info isn’t showing up repeatedly in users’ news feeds, there is a good chance they aren’t seeing it.  With recent changes to how all information and posts show up in news feeds, with more opportunity for selecting the type of news a user sees, this even becomes more limiting to restaurant brands.  Plus, if you aren’t already popular on Facebook, getting your content seen, liked, and shared is a challenge.  Facebook insights don’t currently share the impressions your ‘About Us’ section or tabs are receiving, whereas you can measure the traffic to your website with easy integration to Google Analytics.

4. Facebook content is hard to navigate. I mentioned Facebook tabs above, but not all the tabs are prominent from the home screen of your Facebook page. And those posts you share?  Well the timeline goes on and on forever, but Facebook doesn’t archive those posts in easy-to-find navigational menus.  There’s a search bar on Facebook, but it’s going to search the entire network (and web) for results, not just your page.

5. Facebook replaced MySpace. Well, that’s not true.  MySpace is still around, believe it or not.  My point here is that if you invest entirely into Facebook as your main online presence, you’re going to really feel the negative impact when Facebook usage starts to dwindle or the next big social media platform comes around.  I think Facebook does have staying power (for now), but again…you don’t have control of that.  In fact, neither does Facebook.

I want to reiterate that Facebook should definitely have a place in your restaurant’s marketing strategy.  It offers a great way to build community and generate fans.  However, it’s my opinion that you also should invest in a corporate website.  Only there can you control all the content, design, and properly promote your restaurant.  Your Facebook and website pages should link to each other and support the same overall branding of one another.  Being social and socially engaged is vital to the success of any restaurant (or business of any kind) in today’s real-time, interactive, socially demanding world.  Your own website is a great place to start!

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