Managing a restaurant’s reputation means keeping track of what people say about it and trying to influence and better how customers see the restaurant, both online and in person. A good reputation strategy usually covers a lot of things. It looks at online reputation and what people post on social media.
In the digital age managing what people say about your restaurant online reputation management is super important if you want to do well. Negative reviews and stuff people post can spread crazy fast on social media. And if restaurants don’t deal with them quickly and in a smart way, that can hurt a restaurant’s reputation for a long time.
Having an effective restaurant crisis management plan in place is key to brand protection during times of turmoil.
As noted in the article “84% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, so aiming for excellence while managing restaurant reputation is absolutely essential.”
This article will take a deep look at how restaurants can manage their reputations online. We’ll focus on making plans ahead of time and also how to respond when there’s an emergency situation happening.
A recent survey showed 77% consumers read online reviews before visiting a restaurant for the first time.
Positive reviews and recommendations clearly attract more customers. But negative publicity can also deter people from ever stepping foot in your establishment.
Research by Harvard Business School found that a one-star increase in Yelp ratings leads to a 5-9 percent rise in restaurant revenue. This quantifies the direct financial impact reviews have.
Managing your online reputation
With sentiments capable of fluctuating wildly, establishing proper reputation management for restaurants and crisis communication plans provides stability when you need it most.
Building a Positive Restaurant Online Reputation
While crisis management involves reacting to reputational threats, proactive efforts to shape positive perceptions are equally important. Constructing an influential presence across multiple channels improves both visibility and sentiment.
More content and mentions. User-generated content leads to more online content that mentions specific brands, products, companies, etc. This increases the amount of information that contributes to and shapes their online reputations.
As explained by Hi auto, “Ultimately, every click, like, and share can affect public opinion, so it’s no longer about just reacting to occasional feedback; it’s about taking the reins of online narratives and steering them towards positive shores.”
Curating Social Media Presence
Consumers turn to social media to get a peek at the personality behind restaurants, not just food photos. Showcasing your values, community outreach, and behind-the-scenes staff helps attract supporters. And promptly addressing comments shows you actively engage with customers on these platforms.
Optimizing for Search Visibility
Ensuring positive review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor rank highly takes search engine optimization (SEO) using relevant keywords and content. Prioritize claimed listings on review platforms as well.
Set up automatic alerts through tools like Google Alerts to monitor online mentions of your restaurant across the web. This allows for promptly addressing poor reviews before they spiral out of control. Monitoring the conversation also provides useful customer feedback.
Promoting Brand Advocates
Loyal supporters willing to leave good reviews, share social posts, and recommend your restaurant to friends are invaluable. But they don’t randomly appear overnight. Foster brand advocacy through loyalty programs, exclusive events and promotions, personalized messaging, and VIP treatment that makes devotees feel special.
Identifying potential crises
With strategies to amplify positive sentiment in place, we also must prepare for the inevitable crises that risk damaging our shiny restaurant online reputation. By recognizing possible triggers and monitoring warning signs, your restaurant can get ahead of emerging issues.
According to studies of the restaurant industry, these five factors pose some of the biggest reputation risks:
- Food Safety Incidents – Foodborne illnesses remain extremely common, often making headlines that severely harm restaurants implicated in outbreaks. Just a single social media post about perceived food poisoning can instigate backlash.
- Poor customer experiences – Rude staff, incorrect orders, slow service, or dirty facilities frustrate guests. And angry customers frequently take their complaints to online review sites. Even minor problems get blown out of proportion through negative hype.
- Staff Controversies – Employees behaving inappropriately, arguments captured on video, and other embarrassing public situations often spread rapidly through social media shares. These reflect poorly on the overall restaurant culture.
- PR Stunts Gone Wrong – Many marketing campaigns seek to tap into the viral nature of social media. But controversies rapidly emerge when customers view PR tactics as insensitive, tone-deaf or offensive based on factors like cultural appropriation or racial insensitivity.
- Misinformation & False Reviews – Social platforms contain minimal protections against coordinated misinformation attacks, fabricated reviews, and false complaints against restaurants. This allows sabotage by both competing businesses and random internet trolls. The truth rarely slows down a compelling narrative.
Proactively monitoring for warning signs of simmering issues in these areas is essential. Brand listening tools analyzing online mentions help detect early negative sentiment shifts.
Many crises also have clear precursors if you know what to watch for, like employee conflicts, partners implicitly promoting risky marketing initiatives, suspicious review patterns, and infrastructure problems that commonly frustrate customers. This intelligence allows defusing tensions before catastrophes strike.
Proactive Online Reputation Management
A variety of online reputation management platforms exist to monitor mentions and sentiment across review sites, social media, blogs, forums, and other channels.
Tools like ReviewTrackers, RateMyExperience, and FeedEye aggregate reviews while social media suites from Sprout Social to Hootsuite compile engagement data. More advanced AI services even analyze emotions and alert around crisis indicators.
Setting up Alerts and Notifications
Alert trigger criteria can range from keywords like your restaurant name to more advanced sentiment analysis identifying complaints. Monitoring all review platforms using geo-specific searches for your locations provides comprehensive coverage.
Continuous monitoring and analysis
The restaurant review dashboard updates in real-time to spot negative review patterns early, allowing prompt resolution. Flowing stemmed graphs visualizing multi-month trends across review volumes, ratings, sentiment, issue categories and response times inform reputation program priority areas.
Competitor benchmarking shows where your restaurant reputation stands among diners. Regular reporting maintains visibility for senior leaders.
Fundamentals of Crisis Management
Crises strike even the most cautiously managed restaurants, but with preparation comes the procedures to minimize damage. Let’s explore best practices around crisis management teams, communication hierarchies, response strategies, and policy frameworks.
- Establishing a Crisis Management Team – Designate internal personnel across functions like marketing, PR, legal, HR, and operations responsible for rapid mobilization during emergencies. Each member should have well-defined roles and responsibilities spelled out long beforehand.
- Communications Hierarchy & Protocols – Create a tiered approval structure for external communications like social media posts and press releases, along with clearly defined processes to efficiently collaborate across teams. The specifics depend on your restaurant’s size and structure.
- Develop Response Playbooks – Map out plans, templates, and protocols for addressing likely emergency scenarios from food poisoning incidents to natural disasters. This allows launching coordinated actions instantly rather than scrambling haphazardly.
- Policy Guidance – Consult legal counsel to develop policies around crisis response dos and don’ts regarding privacy, defamation, rights to refusal, warnings against social media wars, and other reputation protection principles. Educate staff accordingly.
With the right foundations through prepared crisis teams, coordinated messaging, response playbooks, and policy guidance, restaurants withstand turbulent events with the infrastructure to control narratives. Both customers and the public recognize business professionalism in the face of difficulties.
Responding to Negative Publicity
Despite best efforts, your restaurant will inevitably face fair and unfair criticism online and in public. How leadership responds plays a pivotal role in shaping resulting perceptions. Here are tips for navigating negative publicity:
- Promptly Address All Issues – Social media accelerates issue amplification as complaints get shared rapidly without context. Respond to all poor reviews and comments quickly before false narratives cement.
- Kill Them With Kindness – Address upset customers with understanding, empathy, and compassion even with unreasonable complaints. Fact-focused logical arguments often further enflame tensions.
- Take Conversations Offline – Social media fights almost never end well as emotions heighten with public spectacles. Reach out privately to resolve issues whenever possible.
- Share Actionable Steps – Vague corporate-speak does little to appease upset guests. Be transparent in explaining specific improvement initiatives launched in response to criticism.
- Avoid Speculation – Refrain from hypothesizing causes or blaming individuals until investigations uncover all facts. Jumping to conclusions often backfires.
- Bring In Subject Matter experts – Have technical specialists, like food scientists or sanitation experts, validate hygiene practices after incidents like alleged food poisoning. Don’t reflexively get defensive.
- Consider Incentives – Small gifts like gift certificates often pacify frustrated reviewers when combined with personalized outreach acknowledging their concerns. Just ensure fairness across customers.
- Highlight Related Positives – Counter isolated complaints with bigger-picture data like overall 4-star reviews or staff community volunteering photos that reinforce positives.
- Apologize Sincerely – Right or wrong, offer sincere apologies for any negative experiences. Sympathetic leadership resonates more than factual nitpicking with both customers and the public.
- Avoid Litigation – Lawsuits should only be initiated in the most extreme repeated defamation cases after careful consideration. Even successful outcomes breed resentment, fueling further attacks.
- Analyze for Improvement – Scrutinize both systemic and one-off service failures for their root cause after incidents rather than jumping immediately into damage control.
Addressing negativity diplomatically helps resolve issues, reassures customers, and contains backlash. While frustrating in the heat of the moment, even unreasonable complaints present opportunities to improve. Post-crisis analysis also fuels longer-term reputation management enhancements.
Maneuvering Legal Landmines
Crisis response rhetoric requires carefully walking a tightrope to avoid potential lawsuits. Defamation, confidentiality breaches, and regulatory non-compliance all pose legal landmines, heightened by social media falsehoods spreading like wildfire. Consider these guidelines to lower legal risks:
- Vet Public Statements – Ensure all official internal and external communications get formally approved through proper channels before distribution to confirm accuracy and preempt potential issues. Redlines exist for a reason.
- Understand Defamation Laws – Educate team members on nuances around what crosses the line into defamation versus free speech. Speculation around food poisoning origin often treads dangerously without hard evidence. Opinions also don’t protect knowingly false statements.
- Preserve Confidentiality – Steer clear of implicating or blaming specific staff members before formal investigations. Both employees and guests have privacy rights barring naming names publicly without consent.
- Review Hiring & HR Practices – If staff conduct triggers PR crises or complaints about discrimination, examine personnel policies for compliance gaps that enable poor behavior like inadequate background checks, nonexistent anti-harassment training programs, or weak enforcement supervision.
- Comply with Disclosure Regs – Adhere strictly to health department and other regulatory body reporting requirements around suspected foodborne illnesses, fires, COVID-19 outbreaks affecting operations and other notifiable incidents tied to permits/licensing. Fines and suspended permits otherwise result fast amid social media conspiracies.
- Consult the Experts – Work closely with both internal and external legal counsel experienced with crisis management to continually validate response plans and external messaging. The law moves slowly while online gossip evolves rapidly.
This avoids the common phenomenon of self-inflicted wounds from improper damage control attempts. Navigating complicated laws around rights to refuse service, food poisoning liabilities, healthcare/personal data privacy, defamation suits and other potential pitfalls requires expertise.
Technology underpins much of both modern reputation threats and solutions. Emerging innovations around predictive analytics, monitoring tools, and automated moderation empower restaurants to take control of online narratives rather than being passive victims.
- Leverage Big Data – Leverage reservation systems, customer databases, review sites and other data sources to detect high-risk periods for reputation threats based on historical traffic spikes, understaffing, sentiment fluctuations, and other patterns preceding incidents. This allows for preemptively mitigating probable trouble spots.
- Automate Monitoring – Tools like Hootsuite, Mention, Awario, and BuzzSumo sweep social platforms using keywords about your restaurant to automatically surface complaints and reviews. This enables responding before issues spiral.
- Tap AI Moderation – Artificial intelligence now rivals human effectiveness in moderating harmful content and disinformation campaigns while fostering healthy online discussions. Automated comment moderation assists social media engagement at scale.
- Build Online Listening Culture – Develop processes to share salient social listening, reviews, indirect mentions, hashtags and other sources discussing your restaurant with all staff – not just marketing teams. Ground-level insights often contain early warning signs of emerging issues that numbers obsessively tracking likes, retweets and NPS can easily miss.
As hi.auto highlighted, “Data-driven insights are extremely valuable across all departments as it informs you of where you need to improve.” Once a reputation crisis strikes, quick isolation and coordinated mitigation saves brands.
Continuous Improvement Journey
With the amount of moving parts impacting restaurants, reputation management proves continuous balancing acts rather than check-the-box exercises. Regular self-assessments and enhancements ensure you don’t become obsolete as consumer behaviors and technology relentlessly evolves.
Revisit Crisis Response Plans – Reconvene the crisis management team every six months to refresh emergency protocols, contact lists, assigned duties, and scenario response blueprints based on lessons from recent cases and staffing changes.
Website Redesigns – Major site overhauls often create broken links that scrap old positive testimonials and reviews. Proactively migrate or redirect high-value content to retain references to past accomplishments and social proof.
Menu & Décor Refreshes – Similar to websites, introducing substantially altered cuisine styles, interior designs diverging from longstanding ambiance or discontinuing classic menu items carry risks of alienating loyal customers. Honor restaurant history during revamps.
New Location Openings – Successfully operating additional locations multiplies risks of food safety threats, hiring troubles and customer inconsistencies creeping in. Replicate proven systems rather than assuming better-than-average performance at new sites. Outlet-specific reputation monitoring saves corporate brands.
Local Community Priorities – Neighborhood demographics and priorities constantly fluctuate. Ensure corporate social responsibility initiatives align with prevailing societal expectations around equality, environmental consciousness and ethical governance.
Industry Innovation Adoption – Delaying investments into customer-facing technology like updated online ordering systems, reservation tools, automated customer messaging or modern payment processing slows service and frustrates patrons relative to industry averages. Prioritize excellent digital experiences fitting dining lifestyle trends.
Competitor Disruption – Aggressive expansion of trendy restaurant chains introduces new competitive threats luring away customers through novelty while delivery aggregators like Uber Eats alter traditional loyalty drivers. Track competitor activity.
Proactively realigning programs, platforms, and messaging with evolving stakeholder expectations sustains positive momentum that outlasts temporary crises. Consistently exceeding customer service baselines also builds resilience to periodic blips.
Maintaining polished online reputation and crisis management capabilities sets successful restaurants apart from lackluster competitors. Key lessons include:
- Online reviews and social media posts make or break restaurants through amplified word-of-mouth
- Proactively encourage good reviews while monitoring emerging threats
- Prepared crisis response teams equipped with scenarios playbooks minimize damage
- Address complaints professionally with empathy and transparency
- Incorporate legal guidance to avoid litigation missteps
- Leverage technology solutions to automate monitoring and moderation
Rather than leaving online reputation at the mercy of Yelp or Twitter mobs, take command of narratives. With constant vigilance and rapid mobilization infrastructure, restaurants deter threats while sustaining positive momentum.
Consistent delivery on quality service makes temporary crises mere blips instead of existential disasters. Never lose sight of the big picture.
Protecting your restaurant’s cherished reputation requires constant monitoring of online conversations across the entire web. Utilizing automated monitoring tools alerts managers to negative reviews on influential sites like Google Business before small issues snowball through social sharing into full-blown crises.
Addressing complaints professionally and transparently helps contain damage while preserving customer trust built over years. Investing resources into proactive reputation management strategy and maintaining crisis response plans saves restaurants from devastating incidents ruining all your hard work overnight.
With some strategic planning around your app for takeaway and online profiles, you can effectively safeguard and build your restaurant’s name. This will lead to more customers, more engagement, and ultimately more business.