How Restaurant Owners Make the Most of Customer Reviews

Customer Service
Winners of Yelp's Bizzie Awards respond to the accolades.

It's unquestionable that for most businesses, customer reviews have become a critical part of customer engagement. In addition to the traditional aspects of running a business, business owners are increasingly paying attention to what's being said about them online.

Yelp has emerged as one of the top sites where customers go to heap compliments and complaints on businesses. It's up to business owners to decide whether or not to engage those users. Earlier this month, Yelp released its first Bizzie Awards to acknowledge businesses that "make the most of Yelp and its free tools to connect with clients on and offline."

Businesses were judged on whether they actively responded to users, the amount of information they shared with customers, and other criteria. Yelp listed the top 10 U.S. cities that had a high concentration of businesses that met its criteria (you can see the complete list here) as well as 25 individual businesses. 

It's well known that review sites like Yelp are a double-edged sword for businesses. I spoke with a few of the individual business owners about their thoughts on engaging customers online and offline. 

Nick Johnson, owner and general manager of The Clubhouse, a N.Y.-based restaurant, says he was pleasantly surprised when he learned Yelp had created the Bizzie Awards and that his business was one of the winners. Johnson says he's at the restaurant six days a week and handles all of the restaurant's social media content, including responding to customer reviews. "I understand that as a business owner, there's a digital game that you have to play," he notes. "Sure, some of the reviews are unfair, but you still have to respond." 

Johnson said he mainly communicates with customers through Yelp and occasionally on Facebook. There's very little difference between communicating with diners in person versus through a website, he adds. "I make it a point to get to every table when I'm at the restaurant just as I try to respond to every review, even if it's just to say thanks for taking the time to write."

In Albuquerque, N.M., Backstreet Grill's marketing director and general manager both respond to customer reviews on a nearly daily basis. "We really want our customers to feel heard and we often take action based on reviews whether it be rewarding staff for good reviews or working to fix our problem areas that we learn about from customer feedback," says Carollann Scott, marketing director at JTB Advisors, which provides marketing services for Backstreet Grill.

Backstreet Grill has a presence on three review-based sites in addition to accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Scott agrees that keeping up with customer reviews is worthwhile although it "takes a substantial amount of time."

And even though customer reviews are flawed, "the best advice we can give is to pay attention to what your customers are saying," Scott adds. "We have been able to learn our strengths and weaknesses from our customers and it helps us improve our business and our service for the next customer."