No matter how great your food, how ideal your ambiance, and how perfectly your restaurant runs, you WILL have critical customers at some point that aren’t fans of your establishment. It’s natural, has always been true, and won’t change anytime soon. The whole food critic industry hinges around the fact that there is always something pointed or negative to say about even the best food and restaurants in the world, and even if you don’t have famous critics stopping into your eatery you can expect that someone out there won’t be the biggest fan of your business’s offerings. That’s just the way that the restaurant business works.
The rise of the digital age hasn’t changed this fact. But with more and more restaurants seeing the benefit of having an online presences, and investing time, energy, and money into maintaining websites and social media pages, the nature of the complaining customer is evolving. With comment boxes, food review sites like Yelp, and the pervasive internet culture of providing negative feedback readily and openly, your dissatisfied customers will have a new forum to voice their complaints and grievances.
While it can be hard as a restaurant owner to log onto your business’s social media accounts and read nasty comments, or see negative Yelp reviews on your page, on the whole there are some benefits that you can obtain from actively encouraging your customers to share their opinions about your business online. Instead of fearing or ignoring the online commenting and review universe, try actively soliciting feedback from your customers. Here are some of the things you can expect to see if you do:
Increased Customer “Buy-in”
Buy-in can be thought of as investment; when your customers buy in to your business, they become invested in its success and see your restaurant as their personal business to root for. When your customers buy-in to your business, they develop a personal connection with your restaurant as a whole. Instead of just being a fan of your food, customers who have “bought-in” to your business will be a fan of your establishment and you.
By soliciting feedback online, you increase the “buy-in” of your customer base in a number of ways. First, you make your customers feel valued: a simple post on Facebook asking your fans what they think of your newest dish or what kind of events they want to see in your business’s future will show your diners that you care about what they think and are invested in serving them well. Second, you reinforce in your customer’s mind that their feedback will lead to positive changes in your restaurant. If your diners know that you take their suggestions seriously, and will make changes accordingly, they are likely to see your restaurant as personally important, and “buy-in” to your business.
Balance out Negative Reviews
An unfortunate fact of online comment sections and review platforms is that the people who have negative things to say often speak the loudest and most frequently. Your favorite customer who comes in for breakfast every day might not be likely to log-on to Yelp or visit your Facebook page and share their satisfaction, because they already love your business and don’t feel like they have much to say.
By actively soliciting feedback from everyone that walks into your restaurant, you are likely to see a huge number of your fans and regular costumers singing your eatery’s praises. And with more positive feedback online, the negative reviews left by unhappy diners will be balanced out by the important voice of your restaurant’s fans. making your business look a lot better to potential costumers who have found your business online for the first time.
Develop Customer Loyalty
Though loyalty and buy-in are closely related, there is something special to be said for how soliciting feedback online will develop your casual diners into loyal customers. By showing all of your patrons that you are open to feedback and criticism, your business will come off as in-touch and proactive. And as casual fans begin to “buy-in” to your business, and care about your restaurant’s success, you can expect them to show their loyalty with more visits and more business for you. Customers are loyal to businesses they feel connected to, and by actively seeking out feedback you help establish that connection and turn casual diners into loyal regulars.
The Bottom Line:
Online comment sections won’t go away if you ignore them. And neither will negative reviews. And while the comment sections can be disheartening, there are benefits to online feedback too. By being proactive and making a point of seeking out feedback through your social media accounts, in person with simple “review us on Yelp!” signs and reminders, and through your website, you can come to see online comments and reviews as an asset rather than a liability.
Rafi Cohen, a graduate of Baruch College & Brooklyn native is the Co-Founder @ Orders2me, an online ordering platform that gives restaurant owners all the features they need to grow their business in the digital age.