Online reviews on websites such as Yelp, whether fair or unfair, affect restaurants’ popularity and bottom line. SmartBrief asked Luther Lowe, manager of local business outreach for Yelp, how restaurants can take advantage of online reviews. Lowe will participate in a debate at NRA Show 2011 on whether online review sites help or hurt restaurants.
What’s the danger of disregarding online reviews for restaurant owners?
For any restaurant — or business for that matter — the genie is already out of the bottle. What we mean by that is your customers are already having conversations about your business with each other or on online review sites like Yelp. With over 50 million unique visitors and 18 million reviews last month on Yelp alone, this trend certainly isn’t going away, and burying your head in the sand isn’t an option. Online reviews present an opportunity to get a direct channel to your customers. By ignoring them, business owners could be missing out on valuable insight into what experiences their customers are having, both the good and the bad.
How can restaurant owners have a say in these online conversations?
While restaurant owners can’t necessarily control the opinions of their customers, they can control the services they provide. Great customer service is the best way to positively impact the conversations happening about their business, both online and offline. Beyond that, Yelp provides a free suite of tools — biz.yelp.com — which let business owners have more of a voice and personality on the site. They can use biz.yelp.com to publicly and privately respond to reviews and provide information about themselves and their business including specialties, photos and opening hours.
Why do some people prefer online review sites to professional reviews?
Actually, we believe there is a place for both Yelp and professional reviewers. We know that people look to a variety of sources when researching local businesses but ultimately come to Yelp to vet that business before making a spending decision. Why? Because there is an important difference between Yelp and other online review sites: we are a community review site, not a drive-by one. This emphasis on community means that users value and trust Yelp reviews above any other site out there, not to mention the vast amount of reviews on Yelp means that we are able to point consumers not just to the businesses with the most marketing dollars or media hype, but the hole-in-the-wall taqueria or family-owned delicatessen they would have never discovered otherwise.
Image credit: Yelp Facebook page