Harness the power of online word of mouth

What do you do when you want to look something up? Like most of us, you probably turn to that modern-day fount of wisdom – Google. We rely so much on it, it’s hard to imagine what we did before.

Try. Say you wanted to know whether to visit a new restaurant. You’d read print reviews; see whether the place was regularly full, and ask around: “Have you tried that new Italian spot?” If it got the thumbs up, you’d add it to your list of places to go. Maybe, once there, you’d flip through the comments book.

Word of mouth has always been crucial for those in the food, beverage and hospitality industries − never more so than now. Thanks to computers, mobile phones and social media, potential customers can crowd-source opinion at the click of a button – whether in the form of a tweet, Facebook comment or online review. They could do a keyword search, ask their online “in circle”, or access review platforms, such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, Zomato, Zagat or Gayot.

If you’re a restaurant manager, marketer or owner, you may not like this (“so much more to manage!”); but customers clearly do. It’s part of the new sharing economy, in which customer opinion is a valued currency/capital. As a study on TripAdvisor revealed, visitors to hotels and restaurants actually want to share their experiences with others. They get a feel-good kick out of it. Their experience, and word, is worth something to others. Online word of mouth is gold for your business. In Online Reviews: The New Word of Mouth, the US National Restaurant Association found 34% of diners say online reviews play a role when choosing a restaurant. That figure rises for Millennials (53%) and frequent diners (47%). BrightLocal’s Consumer Review Survey 2013 found more consumers had read more online restaurant reviews than any of the 18 other business categories surveyed. Digital media and review platforms are powerful sales tools, which should be treated as such. But how?


There are ways to get your restaurant to fare well in Google’s search engine results page (SERP). Do you have a blog on your site, that’s regularly updated with content? Do you have a verified Google listing; are you on Google Places?

Remember, reviews affect Google’s search rankings. The more you’re reviewed, the more highly you’ll feature. But you want to spread the good word of mouth, not the bad. Begin by taking care of basic details – front-desk service, acoustics, attention to hygiene and so on.

Stand out by offering attentive service and “added extras”, and post details of special promotions online. Encourage your customers to post on review sites. Make sure you are listed – with up-to-date information and professional photographs – on all the relevant restaurant review sites and check your metrics on these. Then get staff to encourage satisfied-looking customers to post a review. You could hand out a comment card or have a website widget that leads them to a review site.

The more reviews you get, the better. “A 4-star rating for a company with just five reviews carries less weight than a 4-star rating from a company with 190 reviews,” said the BrightLocal survey. But don’t even think of writing your own, or paying someone to write glowing reviews for you. It’s unethical and if you’re caught, your reputation is doomed.


You can’t make everyone happy all the time, so develop a thick skin. Whatever you do, don’t get defensive or hostile in response to a bad review.

Ideally, you need an online reputation-management team who’ll get instant notifications of mentions, and respond with a review-response plan. You can use bad reviews to your advantage, as appropriate management responses to bad reviews have been found to improve a customer’s impression of the establishment. “A public comment can be your greatest PR tool,” says Yelp’s Morgan Remmers.

Head of TripAdvisor Industry Relations, Brian Payea, says a three-step response is key to dealing with bad reviews in a positive manner and walking away from the situation having learned something valuable:

1) Review the points raised in the review to get to the root of the problem. 2) Decide on an action plan to address the problem. 3) Post a prompt, polite management response to the review, in which you apologise, clarify and mention your action plan.

You could also offer the customer something as compensation, like a discount on their next meal. And don’t retreat from a bad mention on that platform with the most instantaneous reach, Twitter. Your social media person should give real-time feedback to the manager. Retweet a bad review with the steps you’re taking to fix the issue, to show you care about customer service.

We’re serving fresh ideas all the time. If you fancy a few, feel free to send me a mail at duncan@thecuttingedgeagency.com

Duncan Fraser-Smith is the founder of The Cutting Edge Agency that specialises in the development and creation of benchmark F&B concepts through conceptualisation and training, as well as sourcing and partnering with international brands and high-profile chefs to successfully establish their presence in the Middle East.

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