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How to fix a restaurant’s bad reputation

by Staff Writer

rating food on a smartphone

Reputation management is crucial for any business in this day and age, but for restaurants, it’s even more essential that you avoid racking up a bad reputation. Everyone needs to eat, and if patrons are reluctant to come and try your food, you won’t be in business for very long. With the average U.S. household dishing out more than $3,000 a year on restaurant dining experiences, you will want to build an excellent reputation so you can capitalize on this business at your own eating establishment.

Effective reputation management isn’t always about building a strong reputation among consumers; it is sometimes about recovering from a bad one. If your restaurant is battling against a poor reputation, then you will need to take every step possible to fix it.

Why does a bad restaurant reputation matter?

Whether you have received poor online reviews or patrons have been spreading bad word of mouth in the community, gaining a negative reputation can have an immense impact on your restaurant. Once your restaurant gains a poor reputation, it can be hard for the establishment to fully overcome such negative press.

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According to the 2014 BrightLocal Local Consumer Review Survey, consumers take businesses’ reputations seriously when deciding whether to visit or not. 46 percent of respondents to this survey claimed that reputation mattered the most to them when choosing a local restaurant. Interestingly enough, these consumers considered the reputation of a restaurant to be almost equally as important as the reputation of their doctors or dentists, at 47 percent of respondents.

Today, the majority of restaurants build their reputations online. In the same BrightLocal survey, 57 percent of consumers said that they search for local businesses on the web at least six times per year. Of this total, a staggering 88 percent of consumers peruse through a business’ online reviews to determine whether it is worthy of their patronage or not.

In a society that has moved far past the newspapers, magazines, and other media that once influenced the success of businesses, the online review has become the most significant influence that shapes a restaurant’s reputation. The more positive an online review, the more consumers are likely to trust a business. Only 72 percent of consumers are willing to patronize a business if it has a three-star review online. This number only dips further if your restaurant has a worse reputation. Two-star reviews only entice 27 percent of consumers to do business with you.

How can I use reviews to improve my restaurant’s reputation?

Restaurants are among the most susceptible businesses when it comes to bad online reviews. Facing comments such as these can be a difficult task for business owners, who don’t have the freedom to control any online content that they don’t post themselves. Despite this, customer comments on sites such as OpenTable, UrbanSpoon, TripAdvisor, and Google can make a serious mark on your restaurant’s reputation.

See your business's reputation the way your customers do. Get your free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan

If your business has taken a beating around its reputation thanks to poor reviews, the most important thing you can do to begin repairing your restaurant’s poor reputation is to address these comments. There are a number of strategies that you can use to this end, including the following:

1. Assess each of your reviews

While it’s never fun for you to read negative comments about your restaurant, it’s necessary to do so if you want to gauge how your customers are feeling about your business. Even more importantly, assessing your establishment’s online reviews will help you understand how to improve those bad comments. You will, inevitably, find some reviews that are rude and abusive for seemingly no reason, but there will be plenty of others that will offer key insight into the way your customers see your restaurant.

If you look closely, then you will find patterns in your online reviews. Are people experiencing issues with your staff? Is a certain dish not going down well with your customers? What are the more general concerns that you are seeing? Only by understanding and fixing areas of concern within your establishment can you begin to repair its negative reputation. Your online reviews present an excellent opportunity for you to see if there is anything that you can change that might make your unhappy customers happier with your business.

2. Look into removing abusive reviews

Depending on which review site you are browsing, you may be able to contact site administrators to petition for the removal of the most abusive reviews. Read the terms of service for each review website you’re on, and if you feel a review violates them, flag it for review or contact the site directly. This doesn’t, however, guarantee that the site will take the offending review down. Still, bringing the comments to the site’s attention will allow you to address your restaurant’s poor reviews and give yourself a better chance of improving your online rating—even if only by a little bit.

Are online reputation issues hurting your business? Find out with our free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan

3. Post replies to poorer reviews

When it comes to more reasonable online reviews, you should reach out to the original poster to respond to his or her criticism and see if there is anything that you can do. Thanking your reviewer for his or her comments, apologizing for the poor experience, and agreeing to make improvements is important to any reply. Though you may not always be able to rectify every negative visit, it is still crucial that you touch bases with these critics.

Taking this step can elicit one of several positive outcomes: first, making the situation right often encourages consumers to revises their ratings or completely remove their negative reviews. You should leave this choice up to the customer, however.

Second, replying to bad reviews helps improve the overall tone of the review page. With frequent back and forth between yourself and your customers, your page will be filled with more than the occasional negative review. Moreover, this will demonstrate to potential diners that you care what they think even after they’ve left their tables.

4. Encourage customers to give positive reviews

You can ask patrons to review you, but you should never post good reviews yourself. This can seem suspicious to potential customers, it can get you blacklisted from review sites—and it’s also illegal. Instead, you should make it easy for your patrons to leave positive feedback of their own.

See your business's reputation the way your customers do. Get your free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan

Leaving survey cards by the register is one great way to encourage feedback in person. This information will enable you to make more immediate changes that could improve your reputation. If you are looking for online reviews, then you should post notes around your restaurant or on your receipts that direct your customers to review sites. You can even link online users to review sites through your social media handles and website. With more opportunities to leave a review, your patrons will be more likely to leave positive feedback.

Once you receive positive reviews, you should share them with your customers through social media. Customers will not only enjoy that you’re paying attention to them, but they will also like to know that their favorite eatery cares what they think of it. As you drive your positive reviews, your reputation will improve and you will see more customers flocking to your restaurant.

5. Incentivize future feedback

To minimize your bad reviews and boost your reputation, you should find a way to incentivize your customers to post feedback on review sites. However, you should treat this process with complete impartiality so that it doesn’t look like you are bribing your customers for their comments and reviews. Don’t offer discounts or any other rewards with monetary value that could be perceived as bribes.

Getting professional help

It isn’t always easy to fix your restaurant’s reputation on your own. Hiring an expert reputation management company such as ReputationDefender can help you combat a negative public image and comments that unhappy customers have posted online.

Our suite of reputation management tools can make you aware of any complaints, concerns, or negative comments about your establishment. With our assistance, you can quickly react to negative reviews, as well as encourage satisfied patrons to post positive reviews that drown out the bad with the good.