Have you ever found yourself scrolling through online restaurant reviews, chuckling away at some of the things people have written? It’s easy to see when someone has thrown the proverbial dummy out the pram, and many of the reviews you read should be taken with a pinch of salt.
That being said, they’re actually incredibly influential when it comes to where we choose to eat. A 2018 research study by TripAdvisor told us that 87% of people in the UK are influenced by online reviews when deciding where to eat. The same percentage of people are inspired to try new restaurants based upon TripAdvisor’s recommendations; such is the trust we place in the site when on the lookout for new eateries.
And when people take to the internet to vent their fury at a particular restaurant, it’s actually extremely damaging to the business. 94% of people say that an online review has motivated them to avoid a business altogether, while 87% of customers would simply avoid using a business if it only had a one or two-star rating online. While negative reviews may well be justified, we should think twice before taking everything we read about a restaurant as gospel.
So, with all this in mind, what should we look for in a restaurant review? How do we tell if someone has had a genuinely bad experience, or whether they’re blowing things way out of proportion?
Here are ten things you need to consider when reading restaurant reviews.
1. Stick to reviews published on trusted sites.
The most trusted review platform for the hospitality industry is TripAdvisor. This should always be your starting point for reviews of a restaurant you’re interested in visiting. However, you will also find trusted reviews on platforms like Google My Business, Yelp, and perhaps even TrustPilot. It’s best to stick to trusted sites when searching for reviews about a business, as the internet is filled with dodgy message boards where people can get carried away with their opinions. If a restaurant has received an award like TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice, you can be confident of a great meal and good service.
2. You can learn a lot from the management responses.
It’s highly entertaining to scroll through the interactions between customers and management. Because TripAdvisor and Google My Business give business owners or management the opportunity to respond to customer reviews, it gives you a great insight into how the business treats its customers. In the UK, 94% of people say that they read management responses and use them to influence their decision about booking a particular restaurant. You can learn about a restaurant’s professionalism and dedication to customer service by how they respond to reviews online. Responsible business owners will do everything they can to try and keep their customers happy, while others will be more than happy to argue their corner! Either way, it makes for interesting reading.
3. Investigate their presence on social media.
Who isn’t on social media these days? You can try your hand at a bit of investigative journalism and see what a certain restaurant has been up to online. Facebook, in particular, is an essential hub for restaurant reviewers. 72% of customers have used Facebook to make restaurant or retail decisions after reading reviews, looking at comments, and checking out the photos uploaded to the restaurant’s page. As well as being an easy place to check out reviews, you’ll also find lots of special offers and discounts posted on Facebook. You could bag yourself a bargain by booking a table at a certain time or on a particular night, so it’s well worth checking out social media before heading out.
4. Fake reviews are legit. Know how to spot them.
Believe it or not, people (and businesses) are sad enough to write and publish fake reviews. In 2018, TripAdvisor moved quickly to quash claims that one in three reviews are fake when the story hit the Australian Press. One in three! While that does seem a little high, you need to be aware that fake reviews really are a thing, so you need to know how to spot them. The best way to identify fake reviews is by paying attention to what they actually say and whether they are relevant to the restaurant in question. If someone says that a Chinese restaurant in Kent serves up the best Margherita pizza outside of Naples, you can be sure you’re looking at a fake review. To save you the hassle of reading things carefully, you can pay close attention to verified reviews, which guarantees that the person leaving the feedback has actually been to the place in question.
5. View negative reviews with a pinch of salt.
Every business is bound to receive a bad review once in a while. But when you’re reading negative reviews, it’s important to be objective. On average, a customer is 21% more likely to leave a review after a negative experience than a positive one, which stands to reason. While some people try to be fair when leaving constructive criticism, others don’t hold back and blame the restaurant for pretty much ruining their lives. When you’re reading these reviews, take them with a pinch of salt. When people are angry or upset, they’re likely to blow things out of proportion and exaggerate, particularly when they’re sitting behind a computer screen telling the world how a restaurant ruined their twelve year old’s birthday party.
6. Give restaurants the benefit of the doubt.
If you’ve heard great things about a particular restaurant from friends or family, but you’re unconvinced by some recent reviews, give them the benefit of the doubt and experience it for yourself. In some instances, a flurry of negative reviews in a short space of time could be the result of one specific thing (a staff shortage, a change in suppliers) and might affect a restaurant’s overall review score. If you decide to go and are pleasantly surprised, be kind and leave a positive review about your experience. Don’t forget that restaurant owners are human, and they’re allowed to make a mistake once in a while.
7. Be mindful that not everyone posts a review.
It’s easy to forget when reading reviews online that not everyone leaves a review. We’ve already noted that people who have negative experiences are more likely to leave a review than those that enjoy themselves. In fact, only one in eight diners tend to leave reviews after visiting a restaurant, meaning the vast majority of people that booked on a particular night didn’t talk about their experience. So, while one customer was devastated that she had to wait thirty minutes for her drink because a waitress forgot her order, the rest of the customers probably had a perfectly enjoyable evening.
8. The devil’s in the detail.
Customer reviews are getting shorter. In fact, the average review has reduced in length by 65% since 2010 and is now roughly the same length as a Tweet. It’s common to see a super-short headline followed by a brief sentence and star rating summing up a diner’s experience. However, if you really want to get a good idea of what a restaurant is really like, you’re much better served reading longer reviews where customers go into detail about their experience.
9. Look for patterns in the published reviews.
While some reviews will be noteworthy because they are incredibly positive or negative, it’s helpful to cast your eye across a number of reviews and try and identify some patterns. If more than five people have made the same comment about the rude waiter who spent more time on his phone than running food, the chances are it’s probably true. This is also true for positive reviews. If people can’t stop raving about how tasty the sticky Teriyaki beef was, or think the lemon souffle was the best they’ve ever tasted, you should trust them!
10. Check the date of the review
There’s little point in making your decision about whether or not to attend a restaurant because they once served mouldy bread with the soup starter five years ago. Afterall, so much time has passed between then and now, and the venue may well have even changed hands in the time since. Most review sites enable you to organise the customer reviews by listing the most recent at the top of the list, which ensures you can get to the most recent comments first. Reading these will give you a good idea of how the restaurant is currently performing and will be a huge factor in your decision making.
To wrap things up
Customer reviews are super important when it comes to which restaurants people choose to book. But as potential customers, you don’t have to believe everything you read! Try and be objective when reading people’s opinions about a particular restaurant and remember that those who’ve had a bad experience are more likely to want to share it. You should view reviews as guides that introduce you to the best places to eat with your family and friends. But don’t get caught up in the negative comments, as you’ll find them everywhere you look! Instead, give a restaurant the benefit of the doubt and experience things for yourself.
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