According to a recent NRN article, despite 2022’s challenges of persistent inflation and labor shortages, this year’s holiday season may be very merry for the restaurant industry. The article reveals that 72% of consumers are planning to dine out at their favorite local restaurant, and have even included a restaurant gift card on their holiday wish list.
In preparation of the season and anticipated increase in traffic, you are beefing up staffing levels, making sure aces are in places, confirming your front-of-house knows the holiday gift card promo and triple checking seasonal menu specs have been rolled out to your back-of-house. But what about your “digital house”? With the hopeful outlook on traffic this holiday season plus the gift card redemption of Q1, it is imperative that your brand has a reputation management strategy that will have you shining bright this season.
Reputation management at its simplest is reviews. Google, Yelp and Facebook are the big three that your business needs to be paying attention to. Your current guests are writing the reviews, and your prospective guests are reading them. In fact, 93% of consumers read reviews before making a purchase, according to research by Dixa. On top of that, a BrightLocal consumer survey found 40% of consumers need to see at least a 4-star rating to even consider going.
So how do you prep your brand for a successful review season? We’ve wrapped up everything you need to know (sans a little bow) in this step-by-step guide below.
- Claim or create all your local pages for the big three channels: Google, Yelp and Facebook. Warning, this can be a tedious and intensive process; however, there are plentiful platforms on the market that can assist you. Yes, that does mean that each physical location has its own Google listing, Yelp and Facebook page. Doing so will unlock several benefits, including the ability to manage all the local reviews and conversations, update key details about the locations including hours of operation, insert specific keywords that are important to your business and even post marketing messages to drive traffic and increase sales.
- Create a response library for the good, bad and ugly reviews. Insert your brand voice so your guests have a consistent experience. Whether your guests are within your physical four walls or your digital ones, they know they are having a brand experience that is uniquely yours. We also caution brands to not be overly salesy or too wordy in the responses. Attention spans have shortened throughout the years, so keep it simple, genuine and on brand.
- Our best-demonstrated practices are replying to every review within 24 hours —including ones with no text. You would not ignore a guest in your store. So why would you only provide service to some guests who write reviews and not others? Every guest, every review matters.
- Now that you’re responding to reviews, you should see some trends that are actionable. For example, maybe there is a team member who consistently is mentioned for providing outstanding restaurant experiences, or there are some serious cleanliness issues that keep popping up. Mine those reviews and see what opportunities and challenges present themselves. You may find some lumps of coal, but that is ok! Act upon your findings (maybe that previously mentioned team member would be a great internal promotion?).
- There is one final step that really creates some magic: Implement a review request plan. Now, you cannot ask for Yelp reviews per their guidelines. However, research by Review Trackers shows a whopping 70% of reviews come from post-transactional review request emails. This is a great opportunity to engage that email list you have worked so hard to build over the years. So fire up that marketing automation platform and request a Google review about your guests’ last experience with your brand. Just a 0.1% increase in star ratings increases conversions by 25%, per an Uberall study, and a Harvard Business School study finds that businesses can enjoy a 5-9% revenue boost from a one-star increase in their Yelp rating.
Reading, responding and reacting to reviews are the 3 Rs of a successful reputation management strategy. And if 57% of consumers say they would be “not very” or “not at all” likely to use a business that doesn’t respond to reviews, the decision to respond is not really a decision at all if you want to maximize your potential guests. Ensure you are on your guests’ nice list and respond to those reviews because they are the gift that keeps on giving (for better or worse).
Susie Ragland is CMO of Gather Media Co., a boutique digital marketing agency specializing in Reputation Management. You can take the girl out of the restaurant, but you can’t take the restaurant out of the girl. Susie’s 15 years of experience working for Applebee’s is the foundation of her career, and then within the last decade, she transitioned to applying her skills and knowledge to other brands of all industries needing a little help navigating the semi-tumultuous digital landscape.