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.

Paris France

I spent most of May visiting European cities and sampling their amazing cuisine. It was not all fun and games though. Right out of the gate, I made a rookie dining mistake. At a tourist trap restaurant in Paris, I literally got ill after eating one of the worst meals of life. Not a great way to start a month long trip. I vowed not to repeat that mistake again. If only I had a guide to tell me what to avoid and what to seek out. The Lonely Planet Guide book was awesome but only covered a few places I might eat at.

Enter TripAdvisor. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants For those not familiar, it’s a site with a five step rating review system for restaurants, hotels, and attractions. The reviews and ratings are created by travelers for travelers.  I downloaded their mobile app for each city I went to. It showed which restaurants were great and which were horrible tourist traps. I ate fantastically, and more importantly never got sick again. My health thanks you TripAdvisor. (Disclosure: I have no business relationship with TripAdvisor other than I’ve used their website and mobile apps.)

As a restaurateur, why should you care about one person’s travel misadventures?

Because, pardon the pun, it means the tables are turned. Previously, for travelers (the consumers), the balance of power resided with the local restaurants (the producers). For the most glaring example look at the overpriced tourist trap restaurants like the one I got sick at. The fleeced travelers could only tell a few other travelers about their experiences. It was too difficult to warn all potential travelers, so the tourist trap restaurants continued to survive. With Internet based sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, UrbanSpoon, CitySearch, Google Local Reviews, and others, the power of information has shifted from producer to consumer. Now the traveler can be forewarned and forearmed with knowledge. The days of fleecing unsuspecting tourists are drawing to a close or at least a lot tougher.

The biggest take away for restaurateurs is this. Now every sale is a relationship sale. I used the dining experiences of strangers I’ve never met to pick where to eat. Before my knowledge was limited to my circle of friends and acquaintances. Now, not so much. The grape vine that customers can use to tell others about their dining experience just got much larger.

So how do we manage this new medium? Next month we’ll pass on lessons learned from a successful restaurateur in Rome, Italy.

Thaddeus
 

Photo credits: Copyright © 2012 Cloud Dine Systems, LLC. All rights reserved.