A healthy online reputation is absolutely critical to the success of a business and restaurants are no exception. Consider this: 75% of respondents to the 2019 Brand Disinformation Impact Study report that the public reputation of a brand will impact their purchase decisions.
At the same time, the public reputation of a brand can be largely outside of its direct control. In the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, 65% of participants named search engines as their most trusted source when performing research on a business.
Regardless of where and what potential guests hear about your restaurant, public perception has a significant impact. Among companies responding to Deloitte’s Reputation@Risk 41% experienced a negative reputation event and reported a corresponding decrease in brand value and revenue.
But there is an upside: for restaurants participating in a Harvard study on Yelp reviews, those included received a 9% increase in revenue based on every one-star boost in their Yelp rating. That means there could be an 18% difference in revenue for a restaurant with a 3-star rating and one with a 5-star rating - a difference that could make or break any small business.
So how can busy restaurant owners work to establish, maintain and protect their online brand reputation to maximize sales and minimize negative brand events? Here are our top 3 recommendations:
1. Ensure Consistency Across All Channels
Restaurant owners strive to create a strong brand presence inside their brick-and-mortar outlets. A strong color scheme, images and menu design that fit the brand, and themed decorations can all work in unison to convey the brand message. But if that brand consistency doesn’t translate to the online sphere, it can wreak havoc on a restaurant’s online reputation.
Let’s say a potential guest hears about your restaurant and runs a Google search to see what comes up. Maybe there’s an address, a photo of your restaurant, and a link to the website, but no online ordering mechanism.
Then the guest tries searching on Facebook or Yelp and finds a page with no menu images and a different phone number than the Google listing. There’s nothing there that conveys the brand presence you’ve worked so hard to build inside your restaurant. Now what?
In order to create a unified brand presence, restaurants must consider every platform potential guests might interact with. That list can include the Google business page associated with your restaurant, your restaurant’s website, Yelp listing (and associated reviews), Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter accounts, and GrubHub and Favor ordering systems.
Take a look at Torchy’s Tacos, a local taco chain in Austin, Texas. It has a very distinct brand presence which is equal parts dirty, decadent and devilish. And the chain really nailed cross-channel consistency, as evidenced by the listings on nearly every platform. Here are a few:
Torchy’s Google search results:
Torchy’s Facebook page:
Torchy’s Yelp page:
And its brand consistency continues across Favor, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube.
2. Develop an Easy, Intuitive Website
Having a website that is consistent with your restaurant’s brand promise is one thing, but making it simple and straightforward for potential guests to find what they need is a totally different ballgame.
Beyond duplicating the branding from your brick-and-mortar location on the website, potential guests must be able to quickly find what they need and complete any actions easily. Are they able to:
- View menu items with easy-to-navigate categories
- Find your restaurant’s contact information (and different locations, if applicable)
- Make reservations
- Place online orders
- View specials like happy hours, fixed-price days, or brunches
- Submit catering requests
Do all these actions flow seamlessly off your website’s main homepage? Could the online ordering system use an overhaul to simplify the process? Is it easier for guests to use your reservation system or a plug-in from OpenTable or Resy? These are all questions to ask when designing the optimal experience for your website.
Consider Via 313, a Detroit-style, Austin-based pizza restaurant with five locations. Its homepage provides easy access to a variety of menu categories right off the bat. The left nav offers a direct link to the full menu, online ordering from both its trailers and brick-and-mortar restaurants and a list of locations.
Ordering pizza can get complex pretty quickly, with requests for different types of crusts and swapping out toppings. However, Via 313’s online ordering platform makes it straightforward to sub out ricotta cheese for standard gorgonzola cheese on the restaurant’s popular Cadillac pizza:
The only improvement here would be a clear link to large catering orders for groups.
3. Create (and Enforce) a Clear Employee Communication Plan
Restaurant staff are trained on how to interact with guests when they’re on the floor. However, they may not consider the impact of their words when they’re off the clock. And that’s not just talking about your restaurant in particular, it’s anything they say or do.
Anyone who works for your restaurant may update their social media profile on Facebook, Twitter, or any number of platforms to display their occupation, immediately connecting them to your brand on social media. Anything they say can then be affiliated with the restaurant.
Let’s say you run a farm-to-table restaurant that focuses on sustainability in the food chain. Your marketing efforts are consistent across channels. You have an easy, intuitive website. Business is good. Then one of your employees starts tweeting articles in opposition to the sustainability movement. All of a sudden, your brand is connected to the opposite side of the argument, and your guests may notice and take action.
Given the ramifications, it’s critical that brands train employees to use the same discretion on social media as they would when they’re working in your restaurant. Otherwise you might end up with:
- Employees airing your business’s accounting mistakes on Facebook, as in the case of Triple Play Sports Bar & Grill in Watertown, Connecticut.
- Staff who aren’t even working for you yet (!) tweeting their choice words for their new job at your establishment, like the Texas teenager who was scheduled to start working at Jet’s Pizzeria in Mansfield, Texas. (She was fired before even starting her job.)
- A huge backlash on your hands, like Applebee’s experienced with its decision to fire Chelsea Welch, a waitress who posted a photo of a customer’s receipt that included a note about why he doesn’t tip.
Don’t Want to Do It All Yourself?
For a new restaurant with a small staff, finding the time to create the framework for a solid online reputation may seem pretty overwhelming - and nearly impossible. However, there are marketing agencies that specialize in working with restaurants to build, grow and maintain their online reputations.
And even if you don’t have the budget to hire an agency, try working on your restaurant’s online reputation one chunk at a time. The first priority items might be your Google business listing, website, Yelp page and employee communication plan. Next, set up online ordering via a platform like UberEats or GrubHub, and put processes in place to read and respond to reviews.
Make no mistake: safeguarding your restaurant’s reputation will take time and attention from your staff that can sometimes be difficult to divert. However, consider it your insurance policy against brand-damaging events that could impact your restaurant over the long term.