Online Restaurant Reviews: Avoid the surprising 1-Star Review

Managing the Customer Experience Disconnect

The rise in online review platforms such as YELP and OpenTable is resulting in a customer behaviour shift that is leaving restaurant operators surprised and concerned. Restaurants are losing out on the opportunity to improve unsatisfied customer experiences, as more guests find comfort in sharing their dining experience online versus directly with restaurant management. The result: bad reviews that could have been avoided.

Reducing surprise guest reviews can be improved by better managing the guest experience in your restaurant from the minute they walk through your door to the time they leave.

Hospitality Consultant Phil Shumeiko has managed restaurant operations for more than 10 years, and knows firsthand how critical the guest experience is to the ongoing success of the restaurant. Phil shares the steps that restaurants can take to better manage the guest customer experience.

Understanding Guest Perception

Perception is reality, when managing your customer experience.

The first step is being able to accept the reality that there may be a problem and your restaurant may be at fault. It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about realizing that you did not manage your guests’ expectations and your team has let them down. The opportunity lies in recognizing the reality to change the outcome.

Guest experiences with your restaurant begin the moment they browse your website or contact you to book a reservation. In the guest’s perception, these moments are all grouped into your restaurant experience. From a host not being at the door when the guest arrives, a table mix-up, to a long time for the first beverage, these small issues can upset the rest of the experience. Viewing guest concerns as finite occurrences without attempting to understand the root cause is a common disconnect within the service industry.

Understanding what customers experience with your brand, prior to them even walking through your front door, can help improve their dining experience.   Hosts or greeters can inquire about how the reservation process was when confirming bookings, or ask if the customer found parking ok, and servers can inquire how their day is going. Polite small talk showcases interest and concern for the customer’s happiness.

 Control What You Can

Some aspects of the guest experience are out of your control, such as an unpredicted rainstorm when you have a packed patio and house, or a chicken wing recall on wing night. Focus on controlling the elements of the guest experience that you can, and train your team to gauge your guests’ moods and agenda, referred as “thinslicing”.

  • Checkpoints– these guest experience checkpoints are your biggest opportunity to ensure your team is on the right track. The host or greeter, the server introduction, initial beverage delivery, food delivery, and food quality check-in.
  • Training your people – nothing is more vital to the success of your restaurant business than the team you build. Ensure you take the time to train your team to become experts of the guest experience, understanding your expectation, the guest’s expectation, and where the opportunities for error exist for prevention.
  • Website browsing experience – have your menus up to date, professional food photography, and an easy way for guests to contact you to make a reservation or order takeout.
  • 3rd party reservation systems – features such as OpenTables ‘guest notes’ are a great asset to building a personalized guest database to share with your team. “May I bring you some sparkling water with lime for the table Mr. Wilson?” – yeah, it’s just as impressive in person.
  • Brand matches product offering – don’t over promise and under deliver. Ensure your food photography is representative of the served dish. If you are marketing your restaurant as a fine dining experience, then don’t have guests seat themselves.
  • Value proposition is essential – whether it is in quantity or quality of the food being served, ensure the prices you are charging are aligned with guest’s value perception of your menu offering.
  • Culture is everything – controls and genuine concern for the guest experience stems from building a culture within your team of personal accountability. Hire empathetic and passionate people and be a culture champion from the start – your team needs a leader
  • Consistency is key – the guest’s first dining experience at your restaurant sets the expectation for all future dining experiences. Consistency in food quality, service time, staff friendliness, and atmosphere are critical to managing the guest experience.
  • Look for signs– train your staff and management to look for changes in body language, tone of voice, avoidance of eye contact, and consumption time should all be monitored.

Appreciate the Direct Feedback

Guests voicing concerns during the dining experience is happening less frequently as more choose a digital review platform to share their feedback. If a guest has found the confidence to address a concern while still dining, they are trusting your team will manage their expectation to rectify the situation. Empathize with them, and get to the root cause. The slightly undercooked steak is general not the problem but your teams lack of empathy may be. This is your team’s biggest opportunity to change the outcome, and not be surprised by a new online review!

You are the driver of the guest experience, don’t let it drive you.


Expertise provided by Hospitality Consultant Phil Shumeiko


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