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It was possible, in days gone by, for local restaurants to thrive almost entirely on the basis of word of mouth. One person arrives at your pizzeria or your deli, has a great lunch with expedient service, then goes home smiling. When the topic of great lunch spots next comes up in conversation, the patron says, “Oh! Let me tell you about this new place down the road!” Rave reviews in the local paper are helpful, in this scenario, but not necessarily needed; word-of-mouth reviews are all it takes to fan the flames of restaurant success.
Nowadays, though, the very nature of word of mouth has changed. Just ask the professionals at Brand.com. Brand.com reviews all of the latest research concerning consumer trends, and what the company has found is that, more than ever before, diners base their eating-out decisions on what they read at online review sites, and at Yelp.com in particular. In fact, online review sites carry more weight among consumers than personal recommendations from friends and family members! Truly, Yelp.com represents word of mouth in the Digital Age.
The Problem with Yelp
This is all well and good for restaurants that enjoy positive reviews on sites like Yelp and Urban Spoon—but sadly, this is something that no restaurant can totally count on. Bad reviews and online defamation are looming threats, and no business—no eating establishment—is impervious to them. There are a few reasons why online reviews pose such a terrible threat.
One reason is that sites like Yelp do not actually ask reviewers to validate their experience. Thus, some of the reviews your restaurant receives may be actual words of legitimate feedback, from folks who have eaten at your establishment. However, you may also get nasty, negative reviews from business rivals and from disgruntled employees or ex-employees.
And then there is the threat of reviews from patrons who are simply having a bad day. According to Brand.com, reviews posted to sites like Yelp could result from any number of factors. One of your waiters may have a bad day, ruining a patron experience and landing you with a scathing one-star review. Or perhaps the patron orders something that is simply not to his or her taste. Regardless of the validity or accuracy of a review, the damage that it does to your restaurant’s online image can prove severe.
Ultimately, though, the big problem with reviews is simply that they pack so much wallop. According to Brand.com, reviews posted to sites like Yelp often come up as the top listings for Google searches, meaning they establish the first impression that many patrons get when seeking out a new place to eat. And given the statistics about just how much consumers favor the information found at online review sites, it stands to reason that Yelp reviews are truly make-or-break—and that a bad review profile can lead any restaurant to plummeting sales.
Addressing Defamatory Reviews
The simple fact is that no eating establishment is immune to the dangers posed by online review sites—and accepting this fact is crucial for moving forward. Additionally, restaurants must accept the reality that there is no way to remove unwanted listings once they are on the Web. You can appeal and protest all you want, but sites like Yelp virtually never take down reviews, no matter how defamatory or fallacious they may be. (These reviews are, after all, covered by the broad umbrella of “free speech.”)
It is important, then, for restaurant managers and owners to think through the best strategies for addressing ugly online reviews. According to Brand.com, reviews that are constructive demand an immediate and polite response—but acts of defamation and cyber bullying are better left unanswered.
There are several reasons for this, but the bottom line is that responding to an ugly and defamatory review only makes the restaurant’s online reputation woes grimmer. Responding to a review, sharing a review, even clicking the link to open a review—all of these actions are received by search engines and by the Yelp algorithms themselves, signaling that the review is relevant and valuable, and thereby making it more prominent and visible.
Equally harmful is having a lawyer take on the Yelp team. Not only are these cases almost always lost—again, on the basis of free speech—but they are also further ways to signal to the search engines that the nasty review in question has value and needs to be promoted.
Brand.com Reviews the Best Strategies for Review Suppression
Reviews cannot be removed from the Web altogether, then, and restaurant owners are discouraged from going toe-to-toe with cyber bullies. The obvious question, then, is that of what restaurateurs can do to keep negative online reviews from running them out of business.
There are two primary options here. One is to focus on cultivating positive reviews from faithful clients. This has the effect of counterbalancing, and perhaps even altogether suppressing, those nasty reviews. Asking your “regulars” for their help can often be effective in this regard. Additionally, restaurants can leave links to their online review profile on receipts, credit card slips, and business cards at the front entrance.
Alternatively, restaurants can enlist the services of a professional online reputation management and brand-building company like Brand.com. Brand.com reviews the needs of restaurants from around the world, and is eager and able to assist them in fighting back against online defamation—specifically the defamation that so often comes via online review sites.
Brand.com is the foremost name in online reputation management, and works with restaurant owners and managers to establish their brands as desirable in the eyes (and on the tongues!) of consumers. The company has the resources necessary to help moderate reviews and to generate positive, organic buzz around culinary brands.
The bottom line is that, according to Brand.com, reviews can be the downfall of even the mightiest of restaurant enterprises—but there are absolutely some methods for coping with online attack.