How Responsive Action to Online Reviews Can Take Your Restaurant to the Next Level
By Randy Buck Executive Chef, Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans | August 18, 2013
In today's world where diners bring their cell phones to the table and Facebook, Yelp, OpenTable and various review platforms are readily available at their fingertips, restaurant managers need to be more responsive than ever. To stay current in a society that has grown accustomed to immediacy, hotel food and beverage operations need to expedite their internal processes to match that speed. However, while a good measure of control, various levels of approval to menu changes, new recipes and service alterations can slow and sometimes even halt the response process.
Reviews allow us the opportunity to truly learn what is being done right and what guests would like to see done differently. With social media, we can identify where we need to adjust our service, have the opportunity to address any concerns, and use the feedback we receive to continue building an even better restaurant.
As an independent hotel, Hotel Monteleone and its flagship restaurant Criollo has the advantage of bypassing the corporate hierarchy, further enabling the flexibility and speed needed to instantly respond to a customer's needs. It is imperative that restaurateurs are empowered to make adaptations in tandem with changing trends and preferences. With this approach, a restaurant can become much more intuitive to its guests' needs, truly putting the clientele in control.
While the paper comment card is still slipped in every bill, gone are the days when reviews can be made quietly. With social media, guests can make their dining experience – the good, the bad and the unsavory – known to the public. At Hotel Monteleone, we embrace the public review process. We acknowledge that people are always going to talk about the restaurants they visited and the last meal they ate. Oftentimes in New Orleans, we're already talking about the next dish we want to eat even before we finish the plate in front of us. When the conversation takes place online, we have the unique opportunity to respond and continue to engage patrons even after they have left the restaurant.
The key to fully embracing online reviews is creating an expedited process for implementing changes in house. There is no value in reading a review and then waiting six months to start implementing a change. We believe in empowering our employees to make adjustments on the spot. For example, we had a review from a guest that felt we didn't offer enough vegetarian items. From that one review, we started creating daily vegetarian specials like a balsamic marinated tempeh that our kitchen could prepare starting the very next day. This one change in process caused a reverse reaction online and we began seeing more positive reviews noting how accommodating our chefs were to guests with special diets.
I understand that for many chefs, it is hard to read reviews and feel as if the dish you spent hours, days and maybe even months developing is being criticized. We must realize that not everyone wants to kiss the chef. Farming out reviews to a corporate department far removed from the situation is good for our chef egos (ignorance is bliss), but will ultimately hurt our restaurant's operations in the long run. The fact of the matter is that guests who have had an unpleasant experience are much more vocal than those who have had a good experience. That's because a good experience should be the norm and is expected when someone selects your restaurant. Additionally, that doesn't mean that negative reviews should or can be automatically disregarded as rants. Each and every customer review should be taken seriously and given a thoughtful and constructive response. The time invested to have a 100 percent response rate on TripAdvisor is negligible when compared to the return on engagement. I personally respond to Open Plate reviews and have noticed a visible change in the guests' tone and writing when they realize they are speaking to an actual person in a position of authority to address their issue.