Restaurant Marketing Tips: How to Use Review Sites to Grow Your Restaurant Business

I’m Teresa, a recent addition to the Win Win Restaurant Marketing team. I come to you with a decade of wine and spirits marketing and over two decades working with corporates and start-ups in both the USA and UK. I’d like to share with you what I gleaned from a Restaurant Consumer Trends panel sponsored by OpenTable at this week’s London Restaurant Show. The aim was to help restaurateurs understand how customers are deciding ‘where to dine tonight?’ and how to use this to the restaurateur’s advantage. More specifically, how can you, as a restaurant owner, use Trip Advisor, Yelp and a host of other review sites to grow your restaurant?

To help figure it all out, we were joined by:

– John Paasonen, American Express, credit card with concierge services
– Simon Huesser, OpenTable, online reservation network featuring customer restaurant reviews
– Polly Vincent, TripAdvisor, online consumer review site focused on restaurants, hotels & travel
– Paul Reich, Yelp, an online directory with user reviews and recommendations

With the internet we’ve seen a change in how customers evaluate and share information about restaurants: The bottom line was that online consumer reviews and mobile-friendly features can give restaurants a competitive edge in today’s market place. To help those of us in the audience catch up, John Paasonen of American Express reminded us how customers made decisions before the internet boom. It goes something like this (often referred to as the purchase funnel): Awareness –> Consideration (editorial references) –> Purchase.

With the internet we’ve seen a change in how customers evaluate and share information about restaurants:

– In the beginning the internet search as the customer’s primary source for information – here is where SEO and Google rankings became critical to restaurant awareness and survival.

– Then the social networks took over and likes (literally) from friends and family determined a restaurant’s fate.

– And, now it is all about smartphones with communities and phone applications providing restaurant customers with up-to-the-minute reviews and evaluations of restaurants.

So now the decision-making looks like this: Awareness –> Consideration (customer advocates) –> Purchase –> Enjoyment –> Advocates. This means your restaurant customers not only have more ways to research and compare but they are finding information more readily and from trustworthy sources, such as friends, family and even review sites, to tell them about how great (or poor) a particular restaurant is. The good news is restaurant owners now have a post-meal phase to help win over customers!

All this points to one underlying and critical success factor for restaurants…trust.

Trust builds customer loyalty for a restaurant.

Loyalty inspires advocates.

Advocates promote your restaurant for you.

Your restaurant sales increase.

So what is trust? And more importantly what do restaurant customers trust? With the mass integration of social networks, restaurant customers no longer accept anonymity. They now expect some level of information about who is behind the information in order to help establish credibility. This is why the consumer-based review sites (i.e., TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google Local) are starting to require a name and ideally a picture when posting. These consumer review sites are open forums for customers to share their opinions, and are organised by category so potential customers can get the information quickly and effectively. In other words, your potential customers are now not only listening to, but also trusting what your actual customers are saying about you.

We’d assume these consumer review sites to simply become big rants about a restaurant, however, according to Paul Reich at Yelp, “80% of the reviews are 3 stars or more,” and according to Simon Huesser at OpenTable, “the negative reviews help build credibility.” The reality is that the balance seen in the write ups helps the customer figure out if that restaurant is really right for them. Additionally, since you the restaurant owner can also participate in the discussion, the forum gives you a chance to directly interact with your customers by responding to their comments.

It’s important to highlight that while the decision-making process has changed, the restaurant marketing basics have remained the same. In the restaurant world this means that good food, ambiance and service are still the most important thing to your customer. So the good news is, if you’re focusing on creating a great customer experience, in the end that will be reflected in what is said about your restaurant.

Lastly, with our lives getting more hectic, customers need things to be easy. And, with the increased prevalence of web-enabled phones, we now need to consider the customer’s experience when they are out and about. Quite simply put by Paasonen of Amex, “It’s is about going where the customer is.” Both Yelp and TripAdvisor see increased mobile application use among customers over the weekends and OpenTable cited the staggering Google statistic that 62% of 2012’s Valentine’s Day searches were done on a web-enabled phone! With figures like this it is important that your restaurant website looks good on a phone, that your promotional emails can be read on both a phone and desktop, and (according to OpenTable) ideally that your customers can book online but at the very minimum that your telephone number can be dialed directly from the site to make that reservation.

Ok so what does all this mean in real terms to the restaurateur?

Ultimately, a broader restaurant marketing plan, which encompasses traditional, digital and social media, should be created. However, in the short term there are some immediate recommendations from the panel that can be done in the digital restaurant marketing to help grow your restaurant profits now. Here are a couple to get you started:

1) Look at your restaurant website in all digital formats.
Check it online, on an iPad, on an android phone, on an iPhone, etc. Make sure that it is visible on all of them and that your telephone number can be clicked to call from the mobile phone or even better (according to OpenTable) that there is an online booking capability.

2) Join some of the key online consumer review sites.
It’s free to activate your restaurant on TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc., so do. Make sure you fill out the basic information about your restaurant and share a photo or two. TripAdvisor, Yelp and Google Places are must-have restaurant review sites. Try also SuperPages.

I’m going to stop there for this week – as this will probably be enough to get you going. I’ll share a couple more tips with you next week. In the meantime, have fun reading what your customer is saying about you!

All the best,
Teresa