It goes without saying that almost all of us use the internet to check if a restaurant we’re thinking about visiting is actually worth eating in. We’ll pick up a smartphone and check out the reviews of a restaurant in a search engine, or we might look for cafes in the area, particularly if we’re travelling to explore a new area.
Customers who want to find the best curry house in town, or want a decent fry up to soak up a hangover are looking for a very specific offering and so are highly likely to use reviews to guide our decision and review sites have become the most popular way for restaurants and other hospitality businesses to communicate to potential customers.
There are of course an upside and downside to these review sites. People like using social proof to know if a service is worth their hard-earned money, so much so that 92.4% of customers use business review sites to aid their decision-making process. This means that if you get good reviews, you should see more custom. However this is a double-edge sword, as a bad review can also harm your reputation so it’s important to be careful and always provide the best service you possibly can.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular review sites around, which you can use to grow your brand and reach a new audience.
Google is the most used website in the world. So much so, that the name of the popular search engine has been a verb that almost all of us have used in daily conversation for well over a decade. Don’t know something? Google it. Need to know if a restaurant is any good? Google it. There are an estimated 5.8 billion Google searches conducted every day.
Google Business is another way that Google monetises its dominance as the search engine of choice. Whilst other review sites might appear on the first page of results and require you to click into the page to see the details, Google Business will show a restaurant, the address, phone number and Google user reviews right at the top of the page next to the restaurant’s name.
The main pros of Google are its ease of use and the coverage it provides. Whilst other websites, such as Trip Advisor and Yell still have to employ whole teams of search engine optimisation (SEO) specialists to get their pages up the rankings, the reviews entered by Google users will appear straight away upon conducting the search.
However a negative side to this is that unless the searcher googles the exact name of your restaurant, you may still need your own SEO expert, website or marketing team to appear high in the rankings. You might also struggle if the name of your business has a common name. If you’ve got an Irish bistro pub and your surname happens to be Smyth or O’Reilly, anyone looking to see if you’re good enough might end up a little confused. On the off-chance that someone uses a less popular search engine, such as Bing or Yahoo, they may be less likely to see the Google reviews.
Google My Business is free for the standard listing, whilst local listings are $10 a month and premier listings are $75 per month. The local and premier listings mean that should a Google user enter search terms which might apply to your listing, you are more likely to appear before other non-paying businesses. Local users may also encounter ads as they are browsing the web which are relevant to your restaurant.
It’s very easy to set up a Google account and a listing for a business can be completed within a few minutes. This listing will allow you to receive and respond to the reviews customers leave so that you can show that you are both active and customer-focused. A Google listing gives your customers a super easy option of placing an order.
The drawback of a Google account is something which appears with all review site – it’s largely your responsibility to ensure that the information is accurate and kept up-to-date.
Quick break – download our free guide to nail your next EHO inspection. This is everything you need to know to achieve a five star rating.
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Founded by two former PayPal employees, Yelp has been around since the early days of mainstream internet use and has over 178 million unique visitors per month worldwide. According to one study, 49% of the reviews on-site are for restaurants. Another US study suggests that Yelp is so influential that for every one Yelp star, a business can see an increase of 9% in revenue.
After Google results, Yelp is one of the first sites which pop up and will pop up first for the 11% of people who don’t use Google as their search engine.
To add your site to Yelp, it is recommended to do the following:
- Search for your business to make sure it’s not already listed
- If your business is not yet listed, click ‘Add your business to Yelp’
- Enter your business information in the provided fields
- Click ‘Add business’
This is free to do but has optional paid advertising, that provides you with an enhanced profile. This can have a higher cost-per-acquisition compared to other PPC advertising such as Google or Facebook.
Yelp has various pros and cons. The vast majority of people trust the reviews on the site and its large online presence means that it has great exposure and a high ranking on Google.
On the other hand, various studies have shown that Yelp has a significantly high amount of false reviews (estimated between 15-20%). This has led to Yelp using a review filter system to remove the fake reviews. The downside of this is that it can also filter out positive reviews. Annoyingly, even if you haven’t claimed a Yelp listing, a business can be listed and you may receive reviews whether you wish to or not.
Another con is that Yelp can be quite pushy which has seen Yelp in various legal battles over the years. Accusations of extortion and aggressive advertising have been made against the website giant, along with suspicion about whether premium sites hide negative reviews has circulated.
Facebook is still the most popular social media platform on the planet. It’s particularly used by an older demographic of users. As with Google, Facebook users can review restaurants out of five stars and holds 19% of all customer reviews online, just behind Google, Yelp and Tripadvisor.
The main pro with Facebook is that you can build a page for your business, add directions, contact details, pictures, and menus and provide regular updates in order to boost engagement. Letting customers know of upcoming events and occasions on the platform can be one of the best ways to get bums on seats and stay on the radar of your locals. According to Hootsuite, 2 out of 3 Facebook users visit a local business at least once a week.
For your business to receive Facebook reviews, you will need to create a page for the business.
Facebook recommendations are public and one con is that they cannot be set to private, so if your cuisine is too niche, or not up to the standard customers are used to, this can do some reputation damage. However, on the upside, Facebook makes it quite easy for businesses to respond to both praise and criticism. The messaging service is a great two-way communication system to deal with queries and complaints directly.
Like Yelp and Google, having a business page is free, but in order to receive benefits beyond having an “organic presence”, you’ll need to spend money on Ads. Facebook ads are by some metrics the best-performing ones, as you can target specific demographics based on location, age, gender and interests. You can also generate business leads by using competitions and giveaways to gather email addresses and build marketing lists. Additionally, you can monitor and improve your reach by using data from Facebook Insights to see what content works and what changes can be implemented in the future.
Whilst it’s a drawback that almost all of these review sites have, to make the most of the Facebook bonus, you’ll need to have staff with basic tech skills to monitor, update and respond on the platform. You may also want to have a budget to make the most of advertising options.
Another site that dates back to what some regard as the golden years of the internet, Trip Advisor is a travel site that offers comparison shopping, bookings of transportation, lodging, travel experiences and of course, restaurant reviews. Despite it being initially geared for those on holiday or doing some business jet-setting, Trip Advisor is, much like the other sites, often used by locals praising or admonishing services.
Trip Advisor makes some things easy to gage, like price
$ – fast food, self-service
$$ – casual, sit-down service
$$$ – more formal dining
$$$$ – most expensive, special occasion
Its great design is one of the reasons that the site has become so popular. Trip Advisor has become so popular that it has an eye-watering “390 million average monthly unique visitors” and whilst most of this traffic is in the US, it makes sense to ensure that your business is listed and performing well on the site.
As with Yelp, there may already be a listing for your business but if not then you should create on yourself. As you may have guessed, it is free to place a listing on Trip Advisor, but premium listings cost a bit more.
One pro of Trip Advisor is that restaurant guests can update pictures of the décor, food and overall experience directly to the site and as they say, “a picture paints a thousand words”. This particularly benefits you if your food and furnishings are particularly photogenic.
Whilst Google, Yelp, Trip Advisor and Facebook are the most dominant review sites there are a plethora of other, smaller platforms. OpenTable, Zomato (also known as Urbanspoon), Zagat and Gayot are all slightly more niche review sites, but if you are looking to get the most eyes on your restaurant without spending any money, it might be worth your while to have a listing on all of these sites. If you’re quick with a computer and comfortable with ctrl + c, you could feasibly repeat the information used on your Trip Advisor listing on these sites and create listings in the space of an afternoon. It’s also worth noting that in the day of the social media influencer, you may want to get on the radar of food bloggers, TikTokers and Instagrammers.
In general, though, do your best to get your pages set up on the key four and regularly updated. Try and keep your descriptions neat and accurate and upload the best photos for the biggest impact.