Reviews and feedback from customers are now a normal part of the buying process. Around 70% of online customers rely on reviews to make buying decisions. They are also a great indication as to how you are doing from a business perspective. Long gone are the days where you have to sit and wonder about a customer’s satisfaction. The internet has now created several platforms for customers to air out both their clean and dirty laundry. As a restaurant owner, it should be part of your responsibility to monitor and manage what customers are saying by reacting and engaging in a positive manner. However, there are some circumstances where reviews and experiences are beyond your control. Customer influence can appear in many forms, and across several locations, when it comes to purchasing products online. Platforms like Amazon, Google, Yelp or any site that has a review scale (such as third-party online ordering portals), social media, and word-of-mouth all impact customer influence. The digital era has had an impact on many industries, and one of the more prominent ones has been the restaurant industry.
Point. Click. Eat.
Several popular online ordering sites include customer reviews directly with a product. If you think about it, it would be complicated to navigate through a site like Amazon if reviews weren’t readily available to customers to assist in their purchasing decisions.
With regards to restaurants, and according to the NRA, over 53% of 18- to 34-year-olds report that online reviews factor into their dining decisions. A quick search for your restaurant online will show your website (if you have one), along with links to any third-party portal your restaurant might be listed on, and reviews of your restaurant on sites like UrbanSpoon, Yelp, or Facebook. Combined, all of these reviews can significantly impact your business, for better or for worse. Harvard Business found that an extra half-star increase in a Yelp rating leads to a 19% bump in revenue. However, not all customers are review-hopping before deciding what kind of meal they want to eat when ordering online. Currently, there are third-party restaurant portals where excluding reviews isn’t an option and is actually a part of the portal’s core foundation in displaying restaurants on the site. Customers can hop on to order, sort all of the restaurants by ratings, and make their decision. If a customer hasn’t had your food before, they may compare your restaurant’s reviews to others in the area. If a new customer finds these influencers important, then the decision between a 4.5 star restaurant and a 2.5 star restaurant will be easy to make.
In the restaurant online ordering space, however, reviews will be much less important to your loyal customers that order frequently for takeout and delivery. People are creatures of habit and, in general, your most routine and frequent customers don’t need to read reviews to make a decision. They know what your restaurant is all about – they know your food is great. Regular takeout and delivery customers tend to have a ‘list’ of restaurants they rotate through when they order. You just want to make sure your restaurant is on as many ‘lists’ as possible and those customers choose your restaurant as frequently as possible. Using a tool where customers can post SHORT comments regarding their recent experience may provide routine customers access to brief and relevant info, nudging them to choose your restaurant over the others on their ‘list’. It would also provide them an outlet to rave about your restaurant and food (which you know they like).
Before we get to the most traditional (and valuable) form of word-of-mouth advertising – i.e. talking directly to someone – we need to touch upon one of the quickest forms of communication for people: social media. Now more than ever, customers are taking their opinions and feedback to the digital world for others to read and see, and for many sites, that is where their experience will remain. Unlike traditional recommendations where you call a friend to say, “I had a wonderful meal at so-and-so last night – you should try it out!”, customers are turning to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others to review and report about their experiences. Currently, Yelp and Facebook are local consumers’ most trusted review sites, followed by Google & BBB.org. More than just “star” reviews, people are documenting their experience via photos, hashtags, tagging, and comments. One fourth of consumers photograph their food routinely for a blog or online diary to the share with their peers. With this in mind, and as a restaurant owner, the presentation of your ‘product’ to your customers is crucial and will impact future sales. Use your social media business pages to create and represent a brand to your customers.
Straight from the Horse’s Mouth
Despite having all of these areas of digital influence, word of mouth still is king. Around 87% of diners agree that they take recommendations from friends more seriously than online reviews or popularity on social media. Happy customers help you grow your business, and if you are providing a positive experience for those going to your restaurant, you will be able to reap the benefits. One American Express survey found that, on average, happy customers tell an average of nine people about their experience. These personal engagements are far more powerful than any online platform. Ultimately, 91% of restaurant-goers had visited a restaurant they’d never been to purely based on a friend’s recommendation, opposed to 68% who tried based entirely on positive online reviews, and 41% who tried based entirely on positive feedback on social media. What these facts show is that you should invest in tools that support your efforts to grow your restaurant in a positive and customer friendly way.