On the Internet, everyone’s a potential restaurant critic. There’s no shortage of sites and apps that let guests rate, review, recommend, or otherwise critique your experience anywhere. (Some even give them points for it.) While the average consumer probably doesn’t judge within the same criteria or reach as, say, the New York Times, first-person reviews and recommendations are read and used by other potential customers.
In fact, even the most “traditional” of restaurant reviews aren’t immune to the internet’s influence. Just last week, Thomas Keller responded, via his website, to New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells’s two-star review of Per Se in New York — something the public seemed to be waiting for. While not every review is as high profile as 1,500 words in the country’s most respected journal of record, the sheer fact that Thomas Keller could respond publicly had us waiting with bated breath.
Online reviews have been around for a while, but the popularity of social media makes reviews and recommendations instant. With a seemingly infinite number of ways to communicate online, there are a whole lot of places, beyond the usual suspects, where reviews of your restaurant might be hiding. Here, how to find them, and tips on responding.
How do you find them?
Check review sites where you know your restaurant is listed (OpenTable and TripAdvisor, for example). Most of these sites allow you to “claim” your restaurant and respond to comments as the official business owner.
Set Google Alerts for your restaurant. Google will send you an email whenever your restaurant is mentioned, and you can set them to show up as often as possible (in real-time) or just once per week. You can also tell Google to send you everything (which is, to be honest, a lot) or just the top results.
A Twitter search helps you find when your restaurant is mentioned on Twitter, either by your own Twitter handle or just by name. You can search Twitter even if you don’t have an account — though you won’t be able to respond to anyone until you sign up. If your restaurant has a common name, try adding your city to help narrow the results. Look for the search icon on Twitter.com.
Instagram search is useful in a few different ways, but again, you’ll need to create an account to respond. If you do have an account and use it to post photos, check comments on your own photos first. Use the search function (by tapping the magnifying glass) to search by restaurant name. Perhaps the most useful way to discover images posted from your restaurant is to search by location. (Select “places” in the search menu and enter your restaurant’s name.)
Facebook reviews are a part of your restaurant’s page. To find them, look for the “Reviews” section on the left side of your page. Best of all, you can respond directly to Facebook reviews.
You can see Foursquare tips by searching for your restaurant both in the app and on the web at Foursquare.com; unfortunately you can’t respond to them directly.
Once you find where your customers are talking, monitor these channels. (This is also a great way to choose which social platforms are best for your restaurant, if you don’t have the time or resources to dedicate to all of them.) The beauty of these “informal” social reviews is that they invite conversation. Responding is a fast way to reach the customer directly to address concerns or show thanks for a great review. When responding, remember the following:
Which reviews or comments do you respond to?
If you’re overwhelmed by the volume of comments and reviews, decide on a number or frequency to address and remain consistent. Responding to every critique is unreasonable and can make you look defensive. Replying to only positive reviews or comments gives the impression you’re purposely ignoring negative feedback. A serious issue, like allegations of staff misconduct or food-borne illness, requires a fast and personal response.
Where do you respond?
Social sites are inherently social: most make it easy to join the conversation as it happens. Generally, you should respond via the same medium — tweets on Twitter, comments on Facebook. But sometimes, especially for the kinds of reviews and comments you feel require direct follow-up, you can certainly take the conversation offline. Asking for contact information or messaging the person directly (as opposed to responding publicly) are both appropriate.
How do you respond?
Ideally: fast and personalized. The response should fit the review. A paragraphs-long rant deserves different response than a tweet or an Instagram comment. Thanks to the casual nature of a lot of platforms, there’s a lot of room for creativity.
Perhaps one of the best examples of creatively addressing online reviews comes from ChefsFeed’s video series titled “Chefs Read Bad Reviews.” In it, chefs read, often for the first time, comically bad reviews of their restaurants. They’re great to watch if you’re having a particularly frustrating day, dealing with reviews that just don’t make rational sense, or need a laugh. It’s also a great example of chefs fighting back, taking control of the situation, and often responding to unbased criticism with real feedback and explanations.