2020 was a tough year for restaurants. The effects of the pandemic resulted in an estimated $240 billion in losses, and restaurants accounted for only 45% of food spending amongst consumers, a 6% drop from the pre-pandemic rates. As of January 2021, the year-on-year decline in consumers eating at restaurants was over 65%. It is estimated that more than 10% of restaurants closed permanently due to the impacts of the pandemic.
As these numbers slowly begin to recover, restaurants are facing more pressure than ever to stay afloat.
One of the greatest assets a restaurant has is its reputation. According to Upserve, 90% of customers go online to research a restaurant before dining. This is more than any other business type, and emphasizes the importance of your online presence and reputation for the success of your restaurant.
To help your restaurant bring in more customers as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, we’ve put together a restaurant reputation management guide to help you understand the steps you can take – and the significance – of improving your restaurant’s online reputation.
What does it mean to manage your restaurant’s reputation?
Reputation Management, often referred to as Online Reputation Management or ORM, is the combination of strategies used to influence the narrative around your business online. ORM can be proactive or reactive, depending on the needs of your business and when you begin implementing your reputation management strategy.
ORM strategies are made up of a combination of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and marketing tactics with the goal of creating a strong online presence to:
- establish yourself and/or your business online and
- create a foundation to combat negative news, reviews, or other unsavory search results about you or your business, should the need arise.
Although SEO strategy is a foundational element of an effective ORM strategy, they aren’t the same. Unlike SEO, which tends to target wider, more competitive keywords, ORM targets branded keywords specific to your business.
When it comes to restaurant reputation management, your strategy will consist primarily of:
- Managing your owned assets (website, social media profiles, Google My Business listing, directories, etc.)
- Monitoring, requesting, and responding to reviews
Reputation management can not only protect your restaurant from a reputation hit or a reputation crisis, but can help you establish your restaurant well online,to help generate new business and improve your relationship with current customers.
Why does restaurant reputation management matter?
Your online presence is often the first impression prospective customers will have of your restaurant. 97% of people go online to learn about local businesses, and 90% of people report going online when picking a restaurant. With search terms like “near me” and “close by” growing exponentially, how your restaurant appears in search results will have a significant impact on your reputation, and whether or not customers will choose your restaurant.
When it comes to restaurant reputation management, the most important factor – besides showing up and standing out in results – is reviews. A whopping 94% of people online choose restaurants based on their online reviews, and it’s important that they like what they see. One-third of users report that they would not frequent a restaurant with a 3-star review average, and nearly 95% of users report avoiding a restaurant based on one negative review.
Hits to your restaurant’s reputation don’t stop with reviews. The impact of any negative results – bad press, an unsavory review, negative social media conversations – is significant. Businesses with one negative article online risk losing up to 22% of prospective customers. And it gets worse – businesses with four or more negative articles can lose up to 70% of prospective customers.
While you can’t control what people say about your restaurant, you can take steps to protect and improve your online reputation. An effective ORM strategy can not only protect your restaurant in the wake of a PR crisis, but can provide opportunities to connect with more customers and help you represent your restaurant well online.
As more people look online to learn about and choose a restaurant, an ORM strategy is not optional. Read on to learn our top 10 tips to improve your restaurant’s online reputation.
Restaurant Reputation Management: 10 Tips to Manage and Improve Your Online Reputation
1. Get Familiar with Your Restaurant’s Results
In order to develop an effective ORM strategy, you need to know where you’re starting and what you’re working with. Search for your restaurant in an incognito browser with a cleared cache in order to get the most accurate results.
Before you begin improving and curating your online presence, you will need to make sure you’re findable. If your restaurant’s website doesn’t show up in branded search results, you need to check if your website is indexed in search. To check this, search “site:[your site]” in Google. If your site is indexed, but isn’t showing up in branded search results, or your other owned assets aren’t appearing, that’s where you’ll need to start. Read here to learn how to optimize your owned assets to make sure you appear in Google search results.
If your restaurant does show up in search results, take stock of what you see. Some questions to consider are:
- What shows up when you search for your restaurant?
- Are the results about your restaurant, or are they unrelated?
- Are the results owned properties (such as your website, social media, etc.)?
- Are they neutral, positive, negative, or a combination?
- Are your competitors also ranking in your branded search results?
Searching for your branded keyword can help you define your goals. Do you need to refine your SEO strategy to improve your visibility in search results? Is there negative press you need to address? Do you need more reviews to improve your overall rating? Are your competitors ranking for your branded keywords? Is any of the information outdated?
Once you know where you’re starting, it becomes much easier to determine where you want to go.
2. Monitor Your Reviews
As we’ve said, reviews are at the core of your restaurant’s online reputation. Same with your branded search results, knowing what you’re working with when it comes to your reviews can help you define what you need to improve. What’s more, reviews make up 10% of criteria for how Google displays results, meaning that your restaurant’s reviews will often have a prominent position in your restaurant’s search results.
Take a look at your reviews and gauge where your restaurant stands. How many reviews do you have? What is the overall rating? Are there more positive or negative reviews? Are there common themes, good or bad, that show up often in customer feedback?
Once you have gotten a sense of your reviews, make a habit to check back regularly. Not only will your reviews and ratings change as more customers write them, but recency is a major factor when it comes to which reviews prospective customers read, with 80% of consumers citing recency as an important feature of reviews, with 73% of consumers reporting that they only pay attention to reviews written in the last month. In fact, 50% – half of online users! – only take reviews as recent as the past two weeks into account when researching a local business.
Stay up-to-date on your restaurant’s reviews will not only help you understand what your current and prospective customers are seeing when they look you up online, but can help give you insight into aspects of your restaurant that are particularly outstanding or harmful to your reputation.
3. Claim Your Google My Business Listing and Leverage Local Results
Local search results are vital for restaurants, as your restaurant serves specific locations depending on where you are located. To show up in local pack results (the map that shows up in results for local queries listing businesses, ratings, location, etc.), you must claim your restaurant’s Google My Business (GMB) listing.
This listing, which populates on the right side of results for search terms related to your restaurant, provides users with important information about your restaurant, including hours of operation, address, takeout and online ordering options, and Google reviews. The average Google My Business listing is viewed over 1,200 times every month – for many new customers searching for more information about your restaurant, your GMB listing will be one of the first places they look for business information, COVID-19 policies, reviews, and more.
To set up a Google My Business listing, the first step is to see if Google has already generated one for your restaurant. To do this, search for your restaurant. If you do see a listing, you can click “Own this business?” to go through the steps to claim the listing. If not, you can create a listing for your restaurant. To learn how to create a Google My Business listing, check out our step-by-step instructions.
In addition to utilizing your GMB listing, be sure to feature the location or locations your restaurant serves prominently on your social media profiles, website, and on any relevant review or directory platforms. Any business your restaurant receives will be from local search, so be sure to target local search terms when optimizing your owned assets.
4. Optimize Your Owned Assets
One of the most powerful tools in your arsenal when it comes to maintaining your online reputation is your owned assets. Owned assets are websites, profiles, blogs, etc. that you control. These allow you to provide customers with relevant information about your restaurant, such as background, operating hours, address, menus, etc., and can rank well in search results for your branded keywords, reducing the impact of negative properties if your owned assets outrank them.
Once you have gotten a sense of how your restaurant appears in search results, it’s time to audit and optimize your website. Your website should provide customers with a positive user experience, accurate information about your restaurant, and any online booking or ordering options if relevant. Websites that have inaccurate or out-of-date information, load slowly, or are difficult to navigate can deter users, hurting your chances that they will frequent your restaurant.
Updating and improving your website should be an ongoing and iterative process. Stay aware of things that can harm your site – broken links, slow load times, outdated menus, etc. – and pay attention to increases in bounce rates or decreases in traffic.
To keep up with how your website performs, register your site in Google Search Console (GSC). GSC has tools that allow you to monitor your website’s traffic and overall performance, as well as ranking factors that can impact where your restaurant’s site shows up in search results. This will help you see in real-time how changes to your site impact user experience, and can help you refine your website for users over time.
While your website is your restaurant’s most essential owned asset, with nearly 60% of customers reporting visiting a restaurant’s site before deciding whether or not to dine there, your social media profiles are a close second. Customers are already familiar with social media platforms, and expect to see businesses that they interact with on these platforms. While people rarely join social media with the intention of researching and interacting with businesses, over 50% of consumers follow a brand on social media.
When it comes to creating and maintaining your restaurant’s social media presence, you must optimize your profile and post regularly. Maintain consistency across your platforms, and link your profiles to one another. Ideally, your restaurant’s social media profiles will all have the same username to make it easier for users to find your restaurant between platforms. Read our social media management tips here to learn how to best use social media for your restaurant.
When it comes to optimizing your owned assets, consider information that your customers may look for. For example, the pandemic introduced a new set of considerations for businesses, with 67% of consumers reporting that they would not use a business if reviews said that COVID-19 health and safety measures were not in place. COVID-19 policies, food allergy protocols and accommodations, and any other information that could impact your customers should be present and easy to find on your website and other assets.
5. Request Feedback from Your Customers
Reviews play a major role in defining your restaurant’s online reputation. Whether you’re working against some negative reviews – and don’t worry, everyone has them – or trying to build out your overall number of reviews, asking for feedback from your customers will need to be a part of your ORM strategy.
Review generation is that simple! 70% of consumers report leaving a review if asked. To increase your chances of receiving a positive review, beyond providing your customers with a positive experience, follow up with customers soon after they’ve dined with you, and make sure your message is specific to that particular customer’s experience.
Review generation isn’t only about improving your review ratings, but can give you valuable insight on what your restaurant does well, and what could be improved. The best way to improve any business’s reputation is to take constructive criticism well, so don’t view your reviews simply as an element of your online reputation, but also as a valuable source of feedback for your restaurant.
When you receive a substantial number of reviews (at least 10 to 40 reviews), begin to feature positive reviews on your website. Featuring reviews on your website can improve your restaurant’s reputation and build trustworthiness of your restaurant with customers. What’s more, positive reviews act as endorsements for your restaurant, and with nearly 80% of users reporting that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family, sharing customer’s positive feedback on your website can help you make an even better impression.
6. Respond to Customer Reviews (and Respond Well)
Responding to reviews can do wonders for your restaurant’s reputation. Not only has Google confirmed that responding to reviews has an impact on your business’s SEO, but responding to reviews can improve your credibility and care to customers. 96% of consumers report reading a business’s response to other reviews when researching a business.
What’s more, responding to negative reviews can turn a bad situation around. Responding to a negative review with a compassionate and helpful response can improve your restaurant’s reputation, and potentially reroute the negative impacts of a poor review.
All that said, how you respond matters. 96% of consumers reported reading business’s responses to other reviews, with 40% reporting reading those responses every time they were researching a business. When considering responding to a negative review, always consider:
- When was this posted? People expect timely responses to their reviews, with 20% of users expecting to receive a response within one day of posting a review. Monitor your reviews regularly so you can address any new reviews quickly.
- Is this criticism valid? If the criticism is not legitimate or relevant to your restaurant, or if you do not recognize the customer, you may be better off leaving it be. If you can’t validate or address the complaint, you run the risk of coming off as defensive or dismissive, which can just add fuel to the fire.
- Can the problem be addressed? The most effective response to a negative review is one that acknowledges the concern and provides a solution. If you are not able to provide some sort of solution, the problem will not be solved, and it’s likely the customer that posted the review will still be dissatisfied.
It may be intimidating to respond to reviews, particularly if they are negative in nature. Read our guide here for responding to negative reviews in a way that won’t further harm your restaurant’s reputation.
7. Maintain Your Listings on Review Sites and Directories
In addition to the reviews on your Google My Business listing, there are several review platforms where people will look to find reviews of your restaurant. Creating and maintaining profiles on these sites can provide you with more opportunities to make a good impression, as many of them will look to these sites as reputable resources to learn more about your restaurant.
These sites can occasionally automatically generate profiles for businesses, giving you the option to claim them. Claiming these profiles will help you ensure that all information is accurate and well-represented, giving the best impression to customers.
Some of these review websites include:
8. Don’t Forget About Mobile Users
Mobile users are more important than ever when it comes to your ORM strategy. Since Google’s Mobilegeddon algorithm update in 2015, and the more recent Mobile-First update in 2016, Google’s prioritization of mobile users has made the mobile-friendliness of your site a key factor in determining where your website ranks in results.
How your site runs on mobile devices has a huge impact on user experience – and more users are using their mobile devices to search online than ever. In 2021, mobile accounts for over 55% of all website traffic, and “near me” mobile queries have grown by over 200% in the past two years.
More and more, mobile is driving sales, with mobile projected to influence $1.4 trillion in sales in 2021 alone. For restaurants, allowing customers to book a reservation or order from your restaurant online can have a significant impact on your business. In 2020, over 90% of all top-performing restaurants offered mobile order-ahead and loyalty rewards programs.
Make sure your website is optimized for mobile users by making sure text and images scale, links aren’t too close together, your site runs quickly, and that there aren’t too many annoying pop-ups. Format your menu, ordering, and reservations pages to make it easy for mobile users to use, and pay particular attention to mobile traffic and feedback related to mobile experience.
9. Check Out the Competition
In any industry, how you perform is directly influenced by how your competitors are doing. The same is true when it comes to how your restaurant measures up in search results.
To see how you measure up against the competition, Google search terms that you would like to rank for and see how you compare. If your competitors are outranking your website in results, try to understand why. How do they incorporate certain keywords on their site? Do they have content targeting that keyword? How is their website configured? Are there any elements present that are missing from your site?
Often, there are several businesses competing for prominent positions in search results for industry-related keywords. Depending on the search volume (how many people search) for these keywords, some are more competitive than others. Understanding how your competitors rank, and identifying why, can help you make those improvements to your own online properties. The top three results in Google account for over 75% of traffic, so every spot counts when it comes to your restaurant’s ranking.
Another way to understand the SEO strategies of your competitors and improve your own is to see how their branded results look. Just as we recommend that you get familiar with your own, getting a sense of a competitor’s branded results can help you identify which properties they leverage for their own strategy, which can fill in gaps in your own.
10. Consider Hiring a Reputation Management Firm
Developing an online reputation management strategy for your restaurant can be daunting and time-consuming, particularly if you are experiencing a PR crisis. In more severe cases, reputation repair and management is better left to the professionals. If you don’t know where to start when it comes to addressing your online reputation, you may want to hire a professional.
An online reputation management firm like Status Labs can help identify areas in need of improvement, develop an effective reputation management strategy, and do the work to improve your reputation online so you can focus on your restaurant and your customers’ experience.
When determining if a reputation management firm is the right fit for you, consider:
- Is my restaurant experiencing a reputation crisis?
- How severe is the impact of negative news or reviews on my restaurant?
- Does my restaurant have the capacity, ability, and expertise to develop and execute a reputation management strategy?
If carrying out an online reputation management strategy doesn’t feel possible, or if your restaurant is facing a reputation crisis, an ORM firm could be the right choice for you. If you’re interested in hiring an online reputation management firm, schedule a free consultation with Status Labs to determine what course of action is right for you.