How to encourage organic restaurant reviews

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

Hello Lee. My name is … I just opened a restaurant by the name … located at… I would love to invite you to come and check out our food and give us your take. You can also follow us on Facebook or check out our menu on our website. Sincerely, …

This email from a new restauranteur appeared in my inbox last night, right as I was beginning to write this post. It was perfect timing. This guy has got the right idea.

Restaurant owners, I’m going to give you unconventional advice. It runs counter to what scores of internet marketing blogs might tell you.

Don’t solicit or encourage internet reviews from your customers.

Running a new restaurant can be frustrating, especially when you’re not getting reviews. It seems normal to encourage your best customers to review your place. On top of that, a lot of local websites are conducting restaurant polls. It sure would be nice to win one!

This practice doesn’t work and can do you more harm than good. First, readers of online reviews may think the restaurant owner himself is writing shill reviews. This is the conclusion some jump to when many positive reviews suddenly pour in. Second, it undermines the trust that readers put in reviews. So important is trust that the review site Yelp will filter reviews like this from the public. It has been a very controversial plan but it works.

It’s all because good advice is built on trust. Even in the somewhat anonymous world of the internet, readers of reviews tend to trust the advice of those who review a lot. And as a restaurant owner, it is these frequent reviewers you should be going after. You want quality over quantity.

How do you get established reviewers to try your grub? Simply ask. Find the foodies in your area that review a lot, or perhaps find those who love your type of cuisine. Draft a personalized and sincere email invitation, not unlike the one above. Email once but not more. Don’t pester.

Invite a handful of folks to individually come in and personally meet the owner, chef or manager. Give them a warm welcome and perhaps a short tour of the restaurant. Offer them the backstory of the restaurant and some inside knowledge of the operation. Create a connection from the start and build a little repoire.

Offering a free meal is not necessary in my opinion. It’s more important to build a connection and provide some information. Don’t ask for or expect a review at all. The chances are good that you’ll get one and a friendly one at that. It’s hard to be critical of a person or business after they have shown you genuine hospitality. Serving amazing food doesn’t hurt either.

So restaurant owners, please stop trying to stuff the review ballot boxes! Instead try to make customers out of trusted local reviewers. The reviews will come.

3 Responses to “How to encourage organic restaurant reviews”

  1. Greg July 6, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    Thanks Lee. We appreciate your (and others’) reviews. I will give some advice of my own, though:

    When you get too chummy with the owners, it shows. If I see a review with polished pictures of the chef, including more backstory than discussion of the food, I think, “Ok – nice people, mediocre food, will probably be closed by this time next year.” But if I see a reveiw that includes “stealth” pictures of the food from a smartphone, along with a frank discussion of the quality, I’ll put a lot of credit behind that review. In the case of the latter, I’ll usually try the place out, even if only specific items are mentioned as good.

    Thanks for all of your hard work eating!

  2. Zeus July 6, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    Those “polished” photos you refer to are taken only after an undercover visit (or two or more) confirms that the food is worth spotlighting. Only then is the restaurant contacted and photo sessions set up. At least, that is how reputable reviewers do it.
    And I, like many people I know, am interested in knowing about the person preparing my food. Knowing a chef’s background often can shed light on the thought processes behind a great dish. You just have to know which reviewers can be trusted and which are just a step above PR flacks.

  3. Lee July 6, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    The polished pictures come when my photographer wife can join me with her serious camera gear. And like Zeus says, that’s usually after a few visits. But I hear you about being chummy. It’s valid criticism and it shouldn’t taint a review.

    Also remember that I mostly review new restaurants. Given that they are new, I give them a lot of leeway. If I don’t care for a place, I simply won’t review. I’ve passed on many a review for this reason.

Leave a Reply:

Gravatar Image

Switch to our mobile site