Yelp is to restaurants as Tripadvisor is to Lodging, Love it, Hate it. Or a combination of both. Sadly it’s not going to go away any time soon, so restaurants need to use it constructively.
Yes there are many Yelpers that are just wenchy, complain about the smallest things, are having a bad hair day and have also just broken up with their significant others and the littlest thing is an irritation to them. But there can be a lot of good and constructive information gleaned from reviews. Yes, not every review is going to be a lightbulb but you can see and find trends if you do have even a dozen reviews. (and this goes for monitoring other review sites as well.)
Yelp gives restaurants owners (after they have claimed their business listings at http://www.yelp.com/business/unlocking ) the ability to both respond publicly and privately to reviewers and while many reviewers are anonymous, at least you have a venue to respond.
I have seen (and heard) recommendations from some consultants that responses should be made and made privately. I personally don’t agree with this stance. I think a restaurant should definitely respond and respond publicly for two reasons: One, if a restaurant says publicly they will improve service, then they darn well better do it, and two, a public response lets others that are reviewing know that a restaurant has taken the time to respond and perhaps try to fix an issue. If a restaurant replies only privately, only the restaurant and the reviewer can see it. No one else sees that you as a restaurant care and have tried to reply and address a problem.
On to using Yelp reviews constructively.
If you take customer service as an example, which seems to run neck in neck with food problems, here’s a sampling of snippets of one restaurant’s reviews from the past 7 months.
- Service here is sub-par; our waitress was usually found flirting with the bar staff or talking s**t on tables with the bussers.
- The service is atrocious. Our server was so meek we could hardly even hear her…plus, she did this amazing disappearing act each time we needed something.
- Atrocious service and inconsistent food/drinks. the only plus is the beautiful outdoor seating overlooking the water.
- Service is a mixed bag but usually indifferent to poor. Our waiter today had a toothpick in his mouth the entire time and only checked on us when we literally waved him down to demand water refills.
- I have had intermittent problems with the service in this place too, so you kind of need to stay on top of them. They were definitely not overly apologetic for anything. (one of the orders at our table took longer than the others)
- During the wait, we tried to catch our waiter’s eye on numerous occasions to ask him about the absence of our food, but sadly, he turned a blind eye. Maybe they’re not used to dealing with both outdoor and in-door seating? I’ll cut them a little bit of slack for that, but still..service was definitely not optimal. Don’t come here if you’re in any sort of rush.
- Our waiter was disappointed that we didn’t order a ton of food and drinks and because we didn’t order a bunch of food, we literally would have to ask the bus boy to hunt our waiter down for us because he refused to service our table.
Plus quite a few more, all related to service, (just since January 2010) many of the above reviews had nice things to say about the place, food was good, wait time wasn’t bad (in general) but many mentioned service issues and almost every other review for the past 8 months had a blurb about service.
To a restaurant, this is not just a one off comment, it should be clear that they are having some serious service issues and take steps to remedy this ASAP.
A few other trends I came across browsing reviews from around the US:
Specific menu items consistently were mentioned as being awful/terrible in many places. This should be a number one priority for restaurants monitoring their reviews to address and fix.
If 15 out of 18 reviews mentioned the fries were terrible, they tasted like cardboard etc. perhaps its time to change the brand you’re using or if they were frequently mentioned as soggy, your frialator may not be making temp or may need oil or frymax changed more often.
Several places had great reviews about the food and service but had repeat mentions that the coffee was terrible. Changing brands is one option, or if it’s a good product, look at how long before service the coffee is being brewed and has it been sitting on a burner for hours instead of being re-brewed frequently. Even the best coffee is awful with burner burn.
Another example: burgers here at night are always well cooked, don’t go for lunch, always over/uncooked (in a nutshell) several dozen reviews in one place about this. Do you think perhaps your lunch line cooks need a little education on doneness?
Restaurants had dirty silverware, glasses and/or plates. (repeated mentions) This should be a clear tip off to management that you have problems in two areas (possibly three) your dishwasher is not checking flatware and other items for cleanliness, your actual dish machine may need some attention and as well your waitstaff and/or bartenders aren’t paying attention when they are doing table resets or pouring drinks.
Any type of comment that is mentioned more then once (even the positive ones) need to be monitored and tracked. Yes Yelpers can be a thorn in any restaurants side, but it can be useful as well because it is a voice of the customer. While the customers may be not your cup of tea necessarily, they are the paying public and more then a dozen foodies mentioning your drinks are watered is a problem (usually with your bartender).
Use Yelp constructively to improve issues in your restaurant, you don’t have to like it but you do need to listen to it and learn from it how to improve your business.