As the industry progresses, review sites provide an opportunity to increase profitability.
In January 2020, review sites were not mandatory to consult before choosing a place to eat. However, after COVID-19 swept across the United States, review sites turned into a necessary means for consumers to understand restaurant protocols. Restaurant patrons had to look online to see if their favorite restaurants were open. They relied on review sites to see if restaurants offered pickup or delivery orders. With fifty-five percent of adults now eating at home, researching and ordering online has become a familiar habit for many. In fact, ninety percent of customers research a restaurant online before visiting a location. Ninety-two percent of diners today read restaurant reviews.
Restaurant reviews are nothing new. In 1979, Tim and Nina Zagat sent surveys to two hundred of their closest friends to get their opinions on New York restaurants. They’ve created a paperback book with hundreds of easy-to-understand reviews from real people. Years later, in 1999, more review sites started popping up to include Rate It All, Deja, Epinions, Citysearch, and Yellowpages. In 2002, Google purchased the intellectual search property of Deja. Then, in 2004, two former PayPal employees raised $ 1 million to start Yelp. In 2010, Yelp raised over thirty million dollars in revenue with over four million reviews. Of course, there are many other review sites that have grown over the years and been involved in some significant acquisitions. The most popular review sites today are Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Zomato.
There are four main reasons customers love to read and leave reviews online.
- Risk deduction. Positive reviews decrease the risk of a bad restaurant experience.
- Efficiency. Finding restaurants with positive reviews cuts down on the time customers spend researching where to eat online.
- Remorse. Giving a negative review can make a customer feel like they are actively helping others avoid negative experiences. Sharing an unwanted experience can improve the buyer’s feelings of remorse.
- Affecting. Some reviewers just want to influence the decisions of others.
With all of this in mind, it’s no surprise that restaurants are focusing more on review sites than ever before. In many ways, COVID-19 has moved the restaurant industry a decade into the future. Digital sharing has become more important than ever. Today, thirty-three percent of consumers would never even eat in a restaurant with less than four stars.
It costs about five times as much to attract a customer as it does to keep an existing one. These costs can drop significantly for restaurants that have positive reviews. According to Harvard Business School, a simple increase of one star on Yelp can increase a restaurant’s profits by up to nine percent. Restaurant owners have even started presenting their reviews as social proof on their websites. This allows the website schema to include both review amounts and average ratings below search engine listings.
So how do restaurateurs increase their positive reviews?
- Question. Only about one in eight customers will post a restaurant review after a meal. To increase this number, at the end of each meal, restaurant staff should ask customers about their experiences. If they enjoyed their visits, they should receive reminders to leave a review. Otherwise, management should take the time to learn what could have improved their experience. Email marketing is a more effective way to ask for reviews. After the guests visit, they should receive an email asking them to rate their experience on a scale of one to five. If the response is less than four, another follow-up email should learn more to improve the experience. Some restaurants even offer incentives to keep customers coming back and give them another chance. If the review is greater than four, a follow-up email should provide a link to share their experience and leave a review on popular review sites like Google and Facebook.
- Track. Evaluating restaurant reviews on a regular basis enables professionals to respond appropriately to both positive and negative reviews.
- To respond. When responding, many restaurateurs succeed with the following sequence: aligning, expressing remorse, admitting responsibility, proposing a solution, then restarting the follow-up. Marketing companies such as Bloom Intelligence can automate this review process.
As the industry advances into 2021, review sites present an excellent opportunity to increase profitability, expand pickup and / or delivery orders, improve customer satisfaction, and build affinity with the brand. With review sites only expected to gain in popularity over the next few years, it has become more essential than ever for restaurant professionals to take a proactive rather than reactive approach to generating reviews.
Shannon Harper is a member of the Bloom Intelligence Marketing Team. Bloom is a restaurant marketing automation platform that saves customers at risk and automates reputation management. She has over fifteen years of sales, marketing and reputation management experience and is passionate about helping brands exceed their goals.