Your (online) reputation is everything

Famous business magnate and investor Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.” Never was this statement so true, with the ease in which you can undo years of building your restaurant’s reputation with an emotional reaction to an online customer review.

Whether you like them or not, online reviews are a key part of marketing your restaurant. Restaurant owners have a love-hate relationship with online reviews - when they’re good it’s rewarding and beneficial to your reputation, when they’re bad they can upset you and undo an otherwise great service, or worse still escalate into an online argument with a customer, resulting in a damaged reputation.

In my experience, restaurants manage their online reviews in one of the following ways;

  1. Good; respond to good and bad reviews, and address any complaints

  2. Average; respond occasionally, to good or bad reviews as they choose

  3. Poor; never respond or disagree with bad reviews

It never ceases to amaze me how many restaurants get into an online argument with a customer who has posted a bad review.

If a customer complained to you while visiting your restaurant, would you stand there and argue with them at the top of your voice in front of all your other customers? I would hope probably not, but this is exactly what you’re doing when you argue with a customer online via social media or Trip Advisor for example. In fact, it’s worse because you’re sharing your argument with everyone who reads your reviews from then on, it’s there forever for everyone to see and relive long after you’ve both calmed down. Imagine, if every time someone comes into your restaurant, before you show them to their table, you say ‘before you sit down, watch this video of an argument I had with a customer last week!’. They would think you had lost your mind, and most probably leave.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that the customer isn’t always right, but we do need to make them feel they’re right or, in the least, have been heard. But what online review sites allow your customers to do is vent their frustration after the event without having to confront you. The majority of people would do anything to avoid such confrontation when they’re in your restaurant. In fact, I don’t think I complained in a restaurant until I was 35 years old! (this may be a British thing, so don’t take it as the norm). However, this is the world we now live in, where everyone has a platform to tell everyone else about their experience. As restaurant owners you must be open to feedback, good and bad, and respond in a professional, level-headed manner.

If I could give restaurant owners one piece of advice about responding to online reviews, it would be: let someone else respond to them. One of my first responsibilities when I started working on the marketing for a small chain of burger restaurants, was to take over the monitoring of, and responding to, any online or email complaints. The owner acknowledged that years of blood, sweat and tears building a business made her emotionally attached to such things, which, on occasion, lead to emotional responses. I got it, after an 80 hour week and serving hundreds of satisfied customers, having one unjustified complaint can push you over the edge. So she asked me to respond - emotion removed and reputation guarded.

One final word of caution, if you choose someone else internally to respond, choose wisely - after all, your emotionally-charged and fiery head waiter may not be the best person for the job either. If in doubt, ask someone outside of your business to monitor and respond.

Don’t just take my word for it, here are some statistics about the effect that online reviews can have on your business;

  • 87% of people in the U.K. are influenced by online restaurant reviews (Tripadvisor)

  • 97% of people read reviews for local businesses. (BIA/Kelsey)

  • 90% of respondents who recalled reading online reviews claimed that positive online reviews influence buying decisions, while 86 percent said buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews. (Dimensional Research)

  • 91% of 18-34 year olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. (BrightLocal)

  • 93% of consumers say online reviews impact their purchasing decisions. (Podium)

  • 89% of consumers read businesses' responses to reviews. (BrightLocal)

  • 3.3 is the minimum star rating of a business consumers would engage with. (Podium)

  • 68% of consumers will leave a review if asked. (BrightLocal)

Source:, 2019

Positive reviews can have a significant impact on your sales, as well as on your reputation. Research shows that the effect of increased star ratings can have the following effect;

  • A one-star increase in Yelp rating leads to a 5-9% increase in revenue. (Harvard Business School)

  • A half-star rating increase translates into a 19 percent greater likelihood that a restaurant’s seats will be full during peak dining times. (UC Berkeley)

Yelp is a more popular review site in the U.S. than in the U.K. but we can apply the same figure, approximately, to a one-star increase on Trip Advisor as well.

Likewise, negative reviews can have a dramatic effect the other way;

  • 94% say an online review has convinced them to avoid a business. (ReviewTrackers)

  • Only 13% of consumers will consider using a business that has a 1 or 2 star rating. (SearchEngineLand)

Why should you care?

Like it or not, your customers look online to find restaurants or to get inspiration about places to eat. The reason online reviews are so important can be illustrated by Tripadvisor’s presence in the top search results. For example, try searching for ‘The best curry in {insert town name here}’ or ‘Sunday roasts in {insert town name here}’ or ‘cocktail bar in {insert town name here}’ and so on. I can guarantee that Trip Advisor will appear at, or very near, the top of the search results. Research shows that 95 percent of users will only look at results on the first page (source: so the chances are they’ll come across Tripadvisor and read about your restaurant there.

Considering that 87% of people in the U.K. are influenced by online restaurant reviews (Tripadvisor) illustrates that it would be foolish and costly to ignore them.

Drop me a line if you would like help with managing your online reputation, your marketing, or a FREE marketing audit at