Do you remember the days of food critics that could make or break a restaurant? 

While there are still a few well-known, and respected, food critics holding sway over many restaurants’ futures, they’re not the only ones with powerful voices. Now, we have social media and review sites where everyone is a critic and their opinions, once shared, are out in the world forever. 

If you’re like many of the restaurant owners I know, despite outward appearances, you find the thought of anyone and everyone being able to publicly critique your restaurant rather… alarming

While you can’t control someone’s opinion, you can control, to some extent, what goes along with it. The key to marketing, besides consistency, is to control what you can and mitigate what you can’t. That’s as true as ever when it comes to reviews and listings for restaurants.

In this article, I’m going to explain: 

  • How to take control of your restaurant listings
  • How to mitigate negative reviews
  • How to give positive reviews more strength

Get the tools and guidance you need to find new customers and keep your regulars coming back for more.

Take control of your restaurant listings

When it comes to your restaurant, the first step in controlling what people are seeing online is to claim your business listing.

It’s your listing — own it

For restaurants, it’s imperative to claim your business on every food or travel-related review site you can find. According to restaurantclicks.com, the top 11 restaurant review sites are:

While not all of these sites will pertain to your particular restaurant, it’s a good idea to check each of them out to see if your restaurant is already listed on them. If it is, claim that listing and if it’s not, create your listing yourself. 

Control the information

Once you’ve claimed your business on any of the platforms mentioned above, you — and only you — can populate that listing with the information that you want people to know about your restaurant.

The important thing to remember is to keep it consistent. Your listing should be the same no matter what site it’s on. This not only makes it easier for search engines to find you but it also lets those same search engines know that your restaurant is a legitimate business.

How to stay consistent

Before you start to fill out your restaurant’s information on a listing site, I recommend that you take a look at what you’re currently doing with your other online marketing. 

Check your website, your email marketing, and your social media marketing. You want to make sure that every piece of your online marketing stays on-brand. So, taking a few minutes to check all of your online efforts for consistency is always a good thing to do.

If your online marketing efforts are not matching up with your brand, it may be time to learn about revamping a brand.

Once you’ve made sure that the rest of your online marketing is consistent, and consistently on-brand, then write down — or better yet, type up — the information that you want your potential customers to know. This includes things like:

  • Restaurant name
  • Location(s)
  • Directions
  • Specialties
  • Hours of operation
  • Carry-out and delivery options and availability
  • What makes your restaurant unique

Having this information in front of you as you claim each of your listings will help you to be consistent. And when I say consistent, in this instance, I mean even down to the punctuation, including the period after “Ave.”

Everything needs to be the same on each listing site. Something as seemingly small as spelling out “Avenue” on one site and shortening it to” Ave.” on another can cause the search engines to dismiss, ignore, or shove your restaurant’s listing lower down on the page than it otherwise would be.

Another way to control the information that’s on reviews and listing sites is to monitor and respond to the reviews left by your guests.

How to mitigate negative reviews

Let’s face it, we all get negative reviews every once in a while — it’s what we do with them that matters.

The first thing to keep in mind is that a negative review is an opportunity to not only learn but to let your great customer service skills shine.

When someone leaves you a negative review, I suggest you take a deep breath (to let the sting of it go) and then take another look at the review.  Ask yourself:

  • Are they telling you the service was bad? 
  • Do they describe why they thought so? 
  • Did they not like what they ordered? 
  • Or was the restaurant closed when they arrived, didn’t have what they wanted, or gave them something else altogether?

These are all opportunities to improve. And by letting you know there’s a problem, your customer is giving you the opportunity to fix it, which in turn will improve your business — which can very well affect your bottom line.

So, remember to be apologetic for their negative experience and grateful for their feedback. Let them know that thanks to their feedback you’re going to make some changes — be as specific as possible — and ask them for the opportunity to make it right.

When you let someone know how you’re going to fix the issue that they had with your restaurant, they’re more likely to give you a second chance. And, chances are, when they give you the chance to make it right, if their experience is better than they’re last, they’ll either amend their first review (if that site allows it) or create another more positive one.

How to give positive reviews more strength

When it comes to reviews, so often people give so much weight to the negative reviews that the positive ones get left on the table — like dirty dishes waiting for a busser.

Don’t let that happen to your positive reviews.

Use a positive review to start a conversation

Most positive experiences never get mentioned, so if someone took the time to write a positive review, then they must have really enjoyed their experience at your restaurant.

There’s nothing wrong with leveraging that positive experience into further online exposure.

When someone leaves a positive review, don’t just be thankful. Thank them. Respond to their review thanking them for coming to your restaurant. Show them that you’re glad they had a good experience. You can even go so far as to ask them what they ate (if they didn’t mention a dish by name) or what specifically they liked about their experience.

If they respond to you, it supplies more information to prospective guests about the kind of experience they can expect at your restaurant. It also shows that you care, not just about the negative reviews, but that you care about all of your guests and about each of their experiences at your restaurant.

The key to reviews and listings for restaurants

When it’s all said and done, claiming your listing in as many places as possible is always a positive thing. Having said that, I know that you’re busy running your restaurant and trying to keep up with the list of eleven sites that restaurantclicks.com says are the top is… well… a bit much.

That’s why we recommend you focus on the top three or four:

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Yelp
  • TripAdvisor (if you’re located in a seasonal area)

As it’s mentioned in our online marketing guide for restaurants, “The key is to tailor your message to the audience you are reaching.”

This means on sites like Google and Yelp, you might want to focus your attention on pointing out what makes your restaurant different from those around you. While on TripAdvisor, you may focus on things that would appeal to travelers, like your proximity to a travel destination, local shopping, or even free WiFi or complimentary charging stations. 

As with all online marketing, with some forethought, a little time, and plenty of consistency, you can master the reviews and listings for your restaurant.

Don’t forget to ask your guests to leave you a review on your preferred site!

Now you have another piece of the online marketing for restaurants puzzle. To read up on the other pieces of the puzzle, check out our articles on:

Or view our guide to online marketing for restaurants.