Like it or not, your customers are reading online reviews of your restaurant before they walk in the door. They might not be trained restaurant critics but reviewers on a number of hugely popular online platforms are reporting on the quality of their dining experience. But rather than wishing it away, you could make this phenomenon work for your restaurant and draw in the crowds.

Online review spaces are a double-edged sword for restaurants – they can harm your business or help it flourish. Think of it as word-of-mouth supercharged. Instead of relying on the reports of neighbours and friends, customers are now going online to decide where to eat and counting the number of stars you have.

How much do online reviews count?

The impact of online restaurant reviews has only grown steadily over the years since the likes of TripAdvisor and HelloPeter first appeared, and Google ensures that customer ratings are hard to miss, even if you’re only looking for the address of a business. So what kind of impact does that have?

Professors Michael Anderson and Jeremy Magruder at the University of California, Berkeley, established that positive reviews do indeed correlate directly to an increase in foot traffic during peak trading hours. Their research found that just a half-star increase on a restaurant’s rating led to a 30-40% increase in dinner bookings.

Professor Michael Luca at the Harvard Business School took a slightly different angle for his study, which found a correlation between positive online reviews and revenue. He concluded that a rating increase of one star led to an increase of between five and nine percent.

Managing your online reputation

There’s no need to feel powerless about your reputation in these online spaces. There are steps you can take to control the narrative about your business beyond delivering a flawless experience for every customer (and in truth, you’re never going to please everyone).

First, take control of your profile on these platforms. If a listing already exists, you will need to claim it. That may require a simple verification process but it’s important to do this to gain visibility over what’s being said and to give you the ability to reply.

Then publicly reply to reviews as often as you can and not only the negative ones. If they have nice things to say, thank them. If they don’t, be understanding and apologise even if you feel the complaint is unfair. Make an assurance that the matter will be addressed and/or take the conversation offline by inviting the customer to chat with you directly.

When would-be customers see that you’re taking negative reviews seriously, they’ll be encouraged about your restaurant’s standards of customer service and reassured with the impression that even if there is a problem, the matter will be swiftly addressed.

You can garner more positive reviews by growing your online presence through social media. Ask customers to visit your pages to rate their experience and make it easy for them to find you. And be sure to have a profile on all the major review sites.

A powerful payoff

Because of the power of online reviews, a little effort to control the conversation and address negative feedback goes a long way. So go and see what your customers are saying, take their criticism seriously and respond appropriately. Doing so will help lift your star rating, which could see your restaurant outshining the competition and becoming seriously hot property.

There’s a lot more that you can do with technology to help your business succeed. Learn more in our guide, 5 Strategies to Future-Proof Your Restaurant.

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