There’s a false belief that Yelp, one of the most popular online review sites, is only useful for local businesses. But this certainly isn’t the case: restaurant franchise owners are risking their brand reputation by not paying attention to online reviews.
There’s also the belief that most online reviews are negative, since people are more motivated to complain about a bad experience than to mention a good one. This makes some restaurant franchise owners hesitant about getting involved with online review sites. If you’re one of those owners, you’ll be happy to know that statistics from Yelp, TripAdvisor and other online review sites all show that the majority of online reviews are positive so there’s no excuse not to start.
Here are some best practices that restaurant franchisees should know about online reviews:
- By simply acknowledging a negative experiencing and offering to fix the situation, a lost customer can be turned into a loyal fan. Most negative reviewers don’t expect a response, so you can give them a pleasant surprise.
- Responding to both positive and negative reviews serves to humanize the brand.
- Look for trends in what people are saying. This will help you identify recurring problems that need to be addressed.
- Online reviews are a source of information about your customers and the competitive environment.
- Having a few negative reviews won’t hurt the brand, in fact they help to reinforce that the positive reviews are authentic.
Important To Know: Customers can leave reviews for your business on Yelp even if you never signed up and created a profile, so there’s a good chance that you already have a Yelp page based on your location. To take control of your page, search on Yelp for your location and select “Claim this business”. It’s free and allows you to update the company information, respond to reviews, add photos and more.
Getting started with your Yelp restaurant profile
Firstly, update all company information (address, contact information, store hours, price range). The “More Business Info” section below store hours allows you to specify things like whether you offer delivery, accept credit cards, if parking is available, and other frequently asked questions so be sure to fill it out.
The photos section is where you have the opportunity to make your listing stand out. Yelp released a feature exclusively for restaurants that classifies your photos (and those uploaded by reviewers) by category, including food, interior, outside, drink and menu. Having a large variety of photos makes your location more memorable for readers.
One mistake that restaurant franchise owners make here is to use the chain’s brand photos. Uploading photos that are taken at your own location (whether professionally or simply on your phone) makes your Yelp profile more authentic. Readers will appreciate it and the effort shows that you care. To see the difference, let’s compare two photos.
The first is a professional photo and it looks great. However, it doesn’t say anything about a particular Second Cup location that we’re looking at.
This second photo is clearly lower quality and probably taken on a smartphone but it says a whole lot more about this Second Cup location. We can see that there’s a large selection of snacks, artwork on the ways, a cozy fireplace, plenty of seating areas, and natural light from the windows on the left.
Image via Yelp
Finally, determine who will manage your profile (adding new photos, responding to messages, etc.) and how often they will do so. It could be a weekly task that you assign to the location manager, or something that you dedicate 5 minutes to every other day. Ideally, your policy for responding to Yelp messages should be the same as for customer emails (such as within 24-48 hours).
How to respond to negative online reviews
It’s common sense in the service industry that when a customer submits a complaint (in person, over the phone, or via email) the right thing to do is to acknowledge it, apologize, and offer to make it right. Yet thousands of reviews on Yelp are met with radio silence.
Ignoring feedback online is a dangerous thing: potentially hundreds of people can read it and assume that the restaurant owner never resolved the issue. By leaving a public reply, you’re not only making things right with the reviewer but you’re also letting everyone else know that you care.
Leaving a response to both positive and negative reviews also serves to humanize the brand, and people are more compassionate and forgiving towards a human being than towards a corporation. This is your chance to turn a lost customer into a loyal fan.
Keep this in mind when responding:
- No matter how negative or even exaggerated a review is, don’t take it personally. Always respond in a calm and rational way. Remember that there’s a person behind that review and you don’t know the context or state of mind they were in when they left it.
- The service industry is one of the most humble professions so even when a situation was out of your control, apologize for it and invite them back so you can make up for it.
- Often an apology and re-invite is all it takes, but depending on the situation you could also offer a discount or refund. Think of it as an operating cost.
- Don’t copy and paste the same “we’re sorry to hear this” message. Take a few extra minutes to write individual responses.
- Use language that fits your brand and sounds human. For instance, you can use “howdy” instead of “hello”, add a smiley face :), or create a custom signature. If other employees will also be responding to messages, you can create a language style sheet that they can reference for consistency.
- Finally, don’t forget to respond to positive reviews! Let them know that you appreciate their business.
Here’s a template to get you started:
First line: Greet and let them know you appreciate the review.
Second line: Apologize and acknowledge the problem/sympathize
Third line: Explain what action you will take
Fourth line: Invite them back
Hey there Megan- Thank you for taking the time to review our restaurant.
I’m sorry that your order took so long to prepare. I know how pressed for time everyone is on their lunch break so we want to make sure you can get your food on time.
I’ll be looking into this with my staff since service speed is one of our top priorities.
I hope you’ll visit us again for lunch so we can make it up to you. If I can be of any assistance, you can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Use online reviews to improve restaurant franchise performance
A side benefit of online reviews is that they are full of information about your business, customers, and competitors. Look for trends among what reviewers are saying, as opposed to focusing on individual opinions. You’ll be able to identify recurring problems and improve your ratings over time.
By now you should be convinced that even as a restaurant franchise operator, you should take advantage of Yelp and other online review sites to improve service. It doesn’t take much time to set up and manage your profile, but the potential return is huge.