The importance of reviews and responses

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In Kamila Sitwell’s new book ‘Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation’ she discusses how you can manage online reviews and responses in order to maintain your venue’s reputation. 

Reputation is all or nothing in the digital age, and a restaurant or bar’s online customer star ratings can either make or break it. Managing ratings and reviews and dealing with any negative responses are vital parts of your ongoing marketing efforts. Sometimes customers won’t speak to you in person about something they disliked – or even liked – during their visit to your venue, but sit them in front of a screen with a wi-fi connection, and they’ll bring all manner of things to public attention. 

Below are some guidelines as you navigate the cyber world of the customer. 

What are customers saying? 

The first step you need to take, even if your venue doesn’t have its own web or social media presence, is to check out what others are saying about you online. From booking platforms and customer review sites to blogs, there will be opinions out there about your offering, even if you’re currently unaware of them. 

No matter whether you discover something positive or negative, treat all feedback as a valuable insight into the customer experience of your brand. The smallest of details can be reported – some of which might surprise you – and each needs your attention. If you spot a pattern emerging, such as comments about unhelpful staff or poor hygiene, then you definitely need to sit up and take action. Your customers will soon notice any positive changes you implement, and they’ll be quick to point these out online to counter any negative feedback left by a previously unhappy customer. 

Be positive 

Nobody likes a bad review, but you’ll solve nothing if you simply panic. Keep a cool head and read all the reviews, take in everything they say, and think carefully about how you’d like to respond. 

When reviews appear on a website you’re not currently registered with, sign up and create your venue’s official profile so that you can engage publicly with your reviewers – both good and bad. Always be polite: thank reviewers and apologise, without grovelling, to people who post negative feedback. Where a poor review is justified, promise to make changes to improve the standard, thank the reviewer for bringing the problem to your attention, and invite them to return and enjoy

the excellent hospitality you intended to deliver in the first place. 

Ask reviewers you invite back to contact you directly via email so that you can offer them a gift (bottle of wine, free main course etc), but avoid posting these offers publicly otherwise you’ll encourage a bandwagon of freeloaders. As long as you are genuine in your response (customers really don’t like stock responses), your venue will be perceived as one that really cares about its customers’ opinions. Remember, it’s not just the unhappy reviewer you want to reach; it’s potential customers searching through all the reviews, too. 

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Say thanks 

Show your appreciation to customers who leave glowing reviews. It’s nice to show your gratitude, after all, and these positive online interactions will help build your reputation further, as well as encouraging repeat business. 

Invite responses 

Never be afraid to ask your customers actively for online feedback. Reward them with an incentive – nothing too lavish, a free drink or discount on their next visit will do – and encourage them to be honest, be their reviews good or bad. Consider all feedback as an opportunity to improve. 

If you’re ever tempted to buy fake reviews from third parties, don’t. You have nothing to gain from these. 

Wi-fi? Why not? 

Free internet access in bars and restaurants is almost a given these days. If you’re not offering it already, then the likelihood is that customers will simply go and use your competition’s hotspot. Customers are frequently tempted to ‘check-in’ on social media if they’re using your wi-fi, which increases the chances of them leaving you an online review. 

The above is an extract from Kamila Sitwell’s book “Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation”.  For more analysis and insights on how to respond in the competitive, changing world of hospitality by creating experiences,  Bespoke will help raise the restaurateur’s  game providing fresh insights needed to steer a course to customer delight, loyalty and ultimately business success.