Question: How can a seller best influence the online reviews?

We are a reputable restaurant, with many loyal patrons, new to social media. We see a difference in our customer feedback offline (when we talk to them) vs. online (on sites like Yelp).

Ultimately, good service is key to better reviews everywhere. Are there any specific steps we can take for better 'online' reviews in a genuine way?

5 Expert Insights

Yes, you should respond to feedback immediately in a meaningful and genuine way.  You could even put a card in every check (bill) holder, that says something to the effect of "Tell us now - we'll fix it now."

Some sites, such as Trip Advisor, allow you to respond to reviews. If this is the case, respond every time.  Don't try to make excuses, but be honest and proactive. If the customer highlights an actual problem, admit and and explain how you fixed it. If there's nothing you can do, at the very least express empathy for the customer.

I live and work by this sentence, which is explained in my free online guide, Simplify Your Future. It goes:

"Be generous and expert, trustworthy and clear, open-minded and adaptable, persistent and present."

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Yes. Stop focusing on online reviews and instead focus on the critical elements of your customer's experience. Also, stop asking generic questions like "How was everything?" the answer to which will almost always be "fine." Fine really means "Not exceptional... there are probably a few things I am not happy with but I don't want to ruin my evening by talking about them. I am here with friends or family and would rather focus my attention on them, than on improving your restaurant or having a confrontation."

Instead try "I'd love to get your opinion. What one thing could we do that would most improve our food or our service?" Then listen and take notes. When they see you really take their opinions seriously, they will provide more feedback. Never get defensive or try to justify why something is the way it is. Just listen and take notes and thank them for their honest feedback. When you start to hear similar feedback from several customers, CHANGE the experience in a visible way so that they know you are taking action. Pretty soon you'll have many "partners" all working to make your restaurant better. Another question I like is "If you owned this restaurant, what would you change?" You'll get a completely different set of answers to this one.

Lastly, stop asking people to review you online. When they are passionate supporters, they will do it on their own. And ESPECIALLY don't "bribe" them with free drinks or desserts for a favorable review. Most people are insulted when you make these offers because their endorsements are not for sale. Great restaurants are built on superior food and excellent service. There are no shortcuts. I learned these lessons the hard way in my father's three restaurants. Unrelenting focus on and deeply caring about the customer is the only secret...and it is hard work everyday.

The single one question that matters is: Would you recommend our restaurant to your friends?
"Satisfaction" is actually meaningless. Now, those who take the time to review restaurants online are not the average customer and, unless your business comes from tourists who have no other source of information, your core clientele should be recurring customers who keep coming back and hence telling others about your place.
That is the crowd you should focus on "satisfying".
You stated that you are "a reputable restaurant"..... how do you know that? Is it your opinion of yourself or that of a few select clients you talk to all the time? (a non representative sample perhaps).
Reputable does not sound like something most folks would like for dinner. For a law firm yes, absolutely.
Perhaps you need to figure out what makes you memorable, irresistible, and different and delight those who love that mix.
Then forget about the online reviews. You will not be attracting those who are not your intended clients.
I wish you success.

Agree with most of the sentiment expressed: you have to demonstrate great service and food. However, if you want to influence how people talk about you online, friendly simple reminders to your patrons can't hurt. Facebook might be more useful than Yelp in this case because you have the opportunity to broadcast.

Here's a free idea:

"Follow Us on Facebook," and from there, be a little daring and unique, like a simple smartphone video where your head servers give the specials of the day everyday at Noon and the best wine pairings. (You can preschedule these posts through most social media manager software). And "oh by the way," click the link below to make your reservation for tonight. Have some fun with it. Dress them up during holidays. Tell a funny joke. Have cameos and guest appearances. People who comment and liked that post, ask THEM if they'd review your restaurant because you want feedback to make it the best place it can be.

Also, people don't always remember what they ate, but they definitely remember if they have a good time.

Focus on food and service.  Delight your customers with both and the reviews will take care of themselves.