Last month I explained how TripAdvisor and similar review sites dramatically changed the travel and restaurant business. The power of information has shifted from producers to consumers. The take away for restaurants is that every sale becomes a relationship sale since potential customers will draw on the experience of other customers.

So how do you manage TripAdvisor and other review sites?

My thanks to Marco, the owner of the fantastic Marco G in Rome, Italy for sharing his experiences and providing some of these tips. His amazing restaurant has been ranked #1 in Rome on TripAdvisor and is frequently in the top 25 for Rome. Here’s the Marco G TripAdvisor Listing. TripAdvisor drives new traffic to his restaurant in part because of his high rankings.

Basic Tips

  1. Claim your restaurant
    Go to the websites for TripAdvisor, Yelp, UrbanSpoon, CitySearch, Zagat, Google Local Reviews, Yellow Pages, Super Pages and your local alternative paper review page and claim ownership of your restaurant. How do you know which sites to go to? The same way consumers will. Go to http://www.google.com and search on your restaurant name and city name and “reviews”. e.g. Marco G Rome Reviews.
  2. Join the conversation
    Check your reviews and respond. Starting out, just pick a day of a week to do reviews and add it to your weekly schedule. Yes, you are already busy, but these are customers who are talking directly to the rest of the world. About your restaurant! In other words, a customer is telling another potential customer about your restaurant and you get to add your two cents to that conversation. Shouldn’t you make the time for that?
  3. Be authentic
    Be yourself and human. Respond as if you are the manager/owner working the floor and a customer flagged you to tell you about your restaurant.
  4. Use the feedback
    Reviews are a free way to get feedback on your restaurant. They are like comment cards, but instead they are public. Use the feedback from them in the same way.

Advanced Tips

  1. Rankings
    Don’t chase your ranking/stars. Some days you will be up and some days you will be down. Obsessing about why you went up a notch or went down will drive you nuts.
  2. Top rating and reservations
    If do you become a top twenty-five rated restaurant in a market, don’t take reservations six months out. This one didn’t originally make sense to me, but according to Marco if you become highly ranked, people will reserve a spot at your restaurant for a few months out when they “plan” to visit. Often their travel plans fall through or your rankings dip, so they don’t show.
  3. Respond to negative reviews
    Respond to every review, especially negative ones. If a potential consumer sees a negative review that isn’t responded to, it is implied that it’s true.
  4. It depends
    How do you respond to negative reviews? Imagine you are on the floor and a customer tells you the food, service, decor, or something else is horrible. How do you respond? It depends. You have to use your judgment. In the same way that some customers try to get free meals by putting hair in their food, there is the SOB around the corner that wants to bash your restaurant. Fortunately, most consumers aren’t stupid and will read between the lines of what a reviewer is saying. If the reviewer has an agenda it often shows through. Moreover, potential consumers will take into consideration the sum of all the positive and negative reviews, so don’t take any one review personally.

This list should be enough to get you started with managing your review site listings. If you have other great suggestions please share them in the comments.

Thaddeus

Photo credits: TripAdvisor Logo & TripAdvisor name © 2012 TripAdvisor LLC. Screenshot of TripAdvisor website used under Fair Use commentary and education.

Birthday Cake

A few days back was my 40th birthday. Besides the usual birthday party swag and Facebook friend wishes, my bank and few other businesses emailed me birthday cards. But I didn’t get any restaurant birthday coupons. Restaurants missed an opportunity to re-engage me and bring my friends in as new customers.

When I lived in Bozeman Montana, I used to get a birthday coupon every year from The Garage Soup Shack & Mesquite Grill (http://central.ly/thegarage). It offered a free meal valid for my birth month. It’s a great deal for both me and the restaurant. I get a free meal and “remember” The Garage. The restaurant is introduced to new diners by the birthday boy.

Why don’t more restaurants do this? Is it because restauranteurs don’t know how to get started? Let’s fix that.

Four steps to birthday marketing:

  1. Get the birthday either from a comment card/birthday card signup at each table. Sign ups from an email newsletter work too, but they often do not include a physical address which can be problematic for sending postcards.
  2. Print the postcards: If you have graphic design expertise or access to graphic designers, visit http://www.pfl.com (not an affiliate link). 500 cards run about $127 ($.254 each) If you don’t have access to a graphic designer use the stock “food and beverage” designs from http://www.vistaprint.com/postcards.aspx (not an affiliate link). 100 cards run about $25 ($.250 each)
  3. Address, sign, & attach postage to the cards: Have this done as sidework by the staff. Signing by real people is more genuine and authentic than a printed signature and makes the guest feel like it’s a personal invitation. Postage runs about $160 for 500 (.$32 each). http://postcalc.usps.gov/Postcards.aspx
  4. Mail the cards a week before the birthday.

So for less than 60 cents and the cost & labor of the free meal, you bring in birthday celebrants and their guests year round.

Thaddeus

Photo credits: Birthday Cake by Will Clayton Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License