The restaurant industry was amongst the worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, with almost 30,000 job losses recorded in 2020. If predictions are correct, it will take years for businesses to fully recover and, of course, much of this depends on consumers.
During a pandemic, managing your reputation becomes more important than ever. Establishing your business’ credibility is largely based on the quality of your product or services, your treatment of customers, and your brand values. As we move into the next stage of lockdown, here's a look at how to attract more customers to your restaurant and build business credibility using the power of customer reviews.
The importance of reviews
Statistics reveal that, since the pandemic began, customers are checking reviews of businesses more frequently and are openly concerned with how the virus is being handled. The digital equivalent to word-of-mouth, many consumers will turn to online reviews for reliable, unbiased opinions before purchasing from a new company. As such, online reviews are instrumental to growing your customer base and increasing sales.
Certain businesses are more affected by this trend than others; in the restaurant industry, reviews can make or break a business. Eating out is all about the customer experience, something not easily gauged from a restaurant’s website or social media. Diners are looking for quality food, exceptional service, and a warm ambience, and they’re much more inclined to trust the verdict of their peers than a business' self-promotion.
It's also worth bearing in mind that reviews aren’t only helpful for consumers - they also provide invaluable insight into how a business is perceived by the general public, and quickly highlight any areas for improvement. By looking at your restaurant’s reviews, you can use this feedback – both good and bad – to enhance your offering.
How to request and manage reviews
It’s essential to have an effective process for requesting and managing reviews. Here are five strategies that can help you to get more customer reviews for your restaurant:
1. Feature on review websites
Along with a feedback form on your own website, it's a good idea to create a company profile on popular review sites such as Trustpilot, Tripadvisor, or Google My Business. For consumers, seeing a business listed on a public platform can provide instant reassurance, particularly as these sites pride themselves on total transparency. For businesses, this has the added benefit of increasing your brand visibility beyond your website.
2. Use email or SMS
Sending your customers a friendly email or SMS invite soon after their visit will capture them at their most motivated, providing you make it as easy as possible to leave a review. For example, reduce the number of steps a customer has to take by including a direct link to your website or the reviewing platform you want them to use.
3. Provide physical prompts
Consider providing a physical reminder, such as a feedback card, at the end of a meal to encourage participation. Unlike mass email or SMS campaigns, it’s possible to target this approach to your happiest customers. For example, you can train your waiting staff to evaluate which diners had a good experience, and to specifically approach them for comments.
4. Offer a reward
Offering a small incentive, such as a discount on their next meal, may provide guests with the extra motivation they need to write a recommendation. Be aware, however, that there are some important rules around gifting that may require you to disclose any freebies given in return for a public review.
5. Reply to reviews
Ensure you quickly respond to reviews in a fair, respectful, and personalized manner. This is crucial, as most consumers don’t just read reviews, they also read a business’ responses. Replying to a negative review with a helpful, problem-solving attitude can impact your credibility far more than the review itself, and even save a lost customer. It also demonstrates that you value feedback, and encourages others to leave a review.
After all that hard work, don’t forget to share glowing reviews with your audience. Particularly if you're unable to heavily invest in PR and marketing, showcasing great reviews is highly effective for boosting brand awareness and increasing conversions. Make sure to include them in email marketing, on your website, across your social media – wherever your target audience engages with your business.
While it’s important to gain more customer reviews, which are invaluable social proof of your restaurant’s performance, there are other considerations when building your credibility. Above all else, you need to consistently deliver a high-quality experience that meets customers' expectations and inspires confidence in your brand on each visit. This will establish your restaurant as a reliable business that delights its diners without fail, so newcomers and regulars alike will have no doubts when booking.
Building up your business' reputation is a slow process, but undoubtedly worthwhile. We’ve outlined three tips for developing and protecting your credibility in the long term:
1. Have a strong social presence
Invest time in social media by sharing valuable content, answering industry questions, writing guest articles, and generally engaging with your target audience to establish yourself as a respected thought leader within the hospitality industry.
2. Maintain good communication
It's important to have good communication with new and current customers so both are aware of your brand purpose, values, and expectations. Whether it's an email or a Tweet to let customers know about how you're ensuring your restaurant is covid-secure, or simply replying to online reviews, taking the time to maintain communication with customers is key to reputation management.
3. Be authentic
For modern consumers, authenticity is a deciding factor when approaching a new company. This means your brand messaging, particularly in relation to social, environmental, and political causes, must be genuine. If part of your offering is that your products are ethically-sourced or sustainable, you need to ensure all of your staff and brand messaging can back this up.
Building credibility isn’t a quick fix to boosting your booking figures, but nurturing consumer trust will deliver results in the long run. Good customer relationships and a strong public image will prove essential to long term recovery and growth as we move into the next stage of the pandemic.