Reputation Management for Restaurants and Bars

Published on October 18, 2017

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Restaurant critics have always held a legendary status among chefs, managers, and restaurateurs – and for those of us who only look on, stomachs grumbling, from the other side of the host station.

For better or for worse, critics have always held an enormous amount of sway in the food industry; their words have long been able to make or break a restaurant, determining whether that new brunch spot becomes a hip new hangout, or just a flash in the pan.

But what’s remarkable today is that the most influential critic stopping by to praise or bury your restaurant isn’t the credentialed food blogger with an expense account, but the everyday visitor with a smartphone and a Yelp profile.

Given the rise of review sites like Yelp and the competitive state of modern search engine rankings, restaurants and bars have to be more conscious about how they’re perceived online than ever before – and for a modern, hungry audience, a website listing the day’s specials may no longer cut it.

Instead, owners and managers need to be highly aware of what is being said about their establishments online, so that they can control the conversation, guiding it in a positive direction – and guiding some new diners into their spot, along the way.

We call this strategy reputation management, and it’s a must-have for restaurants and bars today. Generally, we break down successful reputation management into three interrelated parts, each of which has a major role to play in making your place stand out – for the right reasons – online.

Here’s what you need to know about online reputation management for restaurants and bars:

The Appetizer: Search Engine Optimization, or SEO

It’s no great mystery how diners find restaurants and bars today – they search! Most people’s first instinct when finding a restaurant is to fire up their smartphone and type in a query, ranging from “best Italian food near me” to the specific name of a restaurant.

In order to dominate the conversation on Google search pages, you’ll need a solid, local SEO strategy in place. Like any great dish, successful SEO requires a few different ingredients working in harmony, including:

That last point, in particular, is worth noting. Today, more users come to find a restaurant through mobile devices than ever before, and those who do are more likely to become your paying customers; in fact, 85% go on to complete a purchase as a result of their mobile search activities, and 64% do so within just an hour.

The Main Course: Reviews and Testimonials

As we’ve already discussed, mobile devices have become all-important for hungry patrons, many of whom actually bypass conventional search entirely and instead fire up an industry-specific app, such as Yelp, OpenTable, or Zomato.

In fact, according to a study from NextRestaurants, almost a third of would-be restaurant goers use a specific app to decide on a location.

With that in mind, it’s important that you position your restaurant or bar highly within these online foodie spaces; keep in mind, too, that the “specific app” referred to above may not even be a food service listing app, but a social media platform (i.e., Facebook) or even Google itself, which aggregates reviews and presents this information to curious searchers.

The best way to put your best foot forward on these review sites – the end-all, be-all gate for many searchers – is to make sure that they work in your favor by deliberately currying positive reviews. How can you do that?

Well, here at Geek Chicago, for instance, we partner with a national reputation management service to offer our clients access to a review management tool with a proven track of success. Essentially, we’ll set up a workflow that lets you automatically reach out to your customers via text or email after their visit, encouraging them to rate and review your place on a variety of sites.

Establishing this line of communication early will help you encourage your happiest customers to post glowing reviews, and gives less-satisfied clients a chance to vent privately to you, preventing them from posting a negative public review in the first place.

The most important thing to know is that you don’t have to leave the buzz up to chance! Instead, our tool will help you steer the conversation in the right direction. Even better, once you’ve accrued customer reviews, stories, and testimonials, you can always repurpose them as user-generated content, perfect for…

The Dessert: Social Media and Email Marketing

So far, we’ve talked about reputation management in terms of what it takes – and what it can do – to get new customers in the door. But what about your loyal regulars? Can reputation management and digital marketing actually help keep them coming back?

Absolutely! There are a ton of things your brand can do to encourage loyalty and retention, and it’s important that you do, since a loyal customer is worth up to 10x as much as the value of their first purchase! Most of these strategies take place over two main digital channels: social media and email.

When it comes to social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it’s important that you remain active on your pages and profiles; respond to positive and negative feedback alike, pose questions and polls, offer up discounts and deals, serve up fresh photos, and don’t be afraid to give your dedicated fans a “peek behind the curtain” with behind-the-scenes stories.

You can also use social media, particularly Facebook, as a paid advertising channel; the platform’s sophisticated targeting tools make it easy to identify and appeal to a narrow audience, including users who’ve already dined at or showed an interest in your restaurant – meaning that you can keep them coming back by stoking their appetite at exactly the right moment.

Email marketing is also a powerful tool for retention and reputation management; hitting up your past diners in their inbox with fresh deals, exclusive coupons, or blog content can be a great way to keep them salivating for what you’ve got to offer every single month.

Ready to turn up the heat for your restaurant or bar online? Curious about what it would take to fire our three-pronged plan to perfection? Drop us a line with any or all of your digital marketing concerns! We’re here and ready to chat… assuming we’re not out planning our lunch orders, that is.

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