How Online Review Monitoring Can Help Restaurants Weather COVID-19 — and Thrive After It

a year ago   •   4 min read

By Amanda M. Westbrooks

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed consumer behavior in short order, and it's hitting the restaurant industry hard. But it's not all doom and gloom: Expanding takeout and delivery options means diners can enjoy their favorite eateries from the comfort of their homes.

With so many diners enjoying restaurant food at home, word-of-mouth marketing is happening almost exclusively online, and diners are increasingly looking to review aggregators to find their next meal. A robust digital presence is more important than ever.

An online review monitoring tool can help you pounce on this trend. These days, restaurant reviews aren't just about food and service; they're about how you're managing the new normal. The ability to solicit and boost online reviews by keeping up with changing customer demands will mean all the difference as restaurants manage through pandemic restrictions.

Investing in online review monitoring isn't just a smart choice for right now. It could help your restaurant thrive well beyond the pandemic.

Going digital.

2020 accelerated the digitization of the restaurant industry at a breakneck pace. Almost overnight, the high-touch, in-person experience the industry prides itself on had to transition to contactless and largely online. Food delivery services and mobile ordering platforms scrambled to address increased traffic as lockdowns and stay-at-home orders closed restaurant dining rooms. Diners engaged with their favorite spots almost entirely online: According to Brightlocal, 93% of consumers used the internet to find a local business in 2020, and 34% of them were searching every day.

The industry in which customers were most likely to read reviews? Restaurants.

More online orders means more online chatter. Monitoring what diners are saying about your restaurant — and ensuring that you make a good first impression — is an essential part of managing your digital presence and your overall brand.

Honing your brand.

Setting up your restaurant's presence on review sites isn't enough. According to a recent study, 86% of diners look at a restaurant's menu before eating out, 60% look at pictures of the restaurant's offerings, and 60% read other diner's reviews. One thing is clear: You must manage your full digital presence. That means maintaining an updated menu, keeping tabs on diners' sentiments, and regularly engaging with customers. The better you are at maintaining your online reputation, the higher you'll rank in search results.

An online reputation management tool lets you collect, monitor, and respond to reviews in one place, and it provides an aggregate review score that indicates how your business is performing. From a single screen, you can respond to reviews, set business goals to improve your aggregate score, and get automated alerts as new reviews come in.

Monitoring online reviews across sites through one central tool offers a double benefit: You can understand your guests' expectations and experiences, analyze data to gain insights to improve operations, and boost your marketing efforts. Having reviews from across the internet landscape — Google, Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and more — gives you a full picture of what your customers are saying. And when you respond quickly, you can drive traffic from consumers and search engines and build consumer confidence in your business.

Make a habit of responding to online reviews and questions with a positive, on-brand message within 24 hours to show customers that their experience is important to you. Respond quickly and professionally to negative reviews just like you would in-person to turn an unpleasant experience into an outstanding one. Use the positive review responses as an opportunity to do a bit of marketing — and perhaps turn a one-time customer into a regular.

Combining reviews with social marketing.

Reviews don't have to live on aggregate sites alone. You can use social media marketing to promote positive reviews and spread the word about how much customers are enjoying your new offerings, such as curbside pickup or family meal packages.

Facebook and Instagram have become the powerhouse of a robust restaurant marketing strategy, and you should be active on both. Customers see restaurant reviews from their friends and family on Facebook, and they see how you respond to them, too. And attractive Instagram photography serves as a visual menu and can make mouths water come mealtime. The impression that social media creates could be the deciding factor for someone considering your restaurant.

Once upon a time, 69% of millennial diners took photos of their food before eating it, HuffPost reports. With in-house dining limited, the number of customer photos is also on the decline — and the ones out there might not be the best representation of your brand. Coupling quotes from positive Facebook reviews with great smartphone food photography, restaurant industry magazine FSR says, shows your menu at its best — and could entice hungry diners to head your way.

If a customer submits a good photo with a review, repost it to your social media accounts. This will help build community and engagement with your followers; your audience could tag people in the photos and help build your online brand awareness.

Putting customer review data to work.

Technology is evolving the customer experience at warp speed — so much so that online review management can affect your bottom line. The more reviews you get, the more data you receive, and the more opportunities you uncover to engage with customers and drive business to your dining room. Some steps you can take with reputation management and marketing platforms include:

  • Monitoring and responding to reviews in one place
  • Segmenting emails for positive reviewers and offering them admission to a loyalty program
  • Sending automated emails and soliciting reviews from happy customers
  • Increasing the number of your positive reviews, boosting your search engine results standing, and attracting more customers

These proactive steps will put you in a strong position to compete and make your restaurant's reputation more resilient. As your restaurant adapts to the ever-evolving pandemic regulations and a changing consumer, leaning into online review management can help you build a loyal customer base long term.

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