“Guest experience does not end when people leave your restaurant. There’s a societal engagement around what people choose.”

This sentiment, shared by Results Thru Strategy’s managing partner, Fred LaFranc, was at the core of a recent webinar, hosted in collaboration with Merchant Centric, Firehouse Subs, and Toojay’s Gourmet Deli.

The conference focused on extending a restaurant’s brand beyond the physical locations, and across multiple social media and review sites. View the full webinar or read the summary below.

LeFranc mentioned that people no longer look to typical food critics when deciding which restaurant to choose, and instead, turn to friends and family members; something that is becoming easier with the advent of social media and business review platforms like Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google.

Reputation Monitoring and Management

“You would never accept a guest complaining at your restaurant and not getting a response [from your franchise manager], but there are thousands of reviews online that are missing replies,” said Merchant Centric’s co-founder, Adam Leff.

Merchant Centric’s Senior Vice President of Strategic & National Accounts, Connie Shelton, continued this idea by saying,

“We’re attending all of these conferences, and people are talking to the market about how to listen to their guests; and they’re feeling that they are engaging because they have Facebook pages, and they do regular Facebook posts; maybe an Instagram. In their minds, they are doing social engagement, and yet, they are missing these important guests who are talking to them on Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor. In some cases, many of these businesses haven’t even set up or claimed [these pages], where their guests are trying to talk to them.”

Let’s consider a restaurant guest who orders no mayonnaise on her sandwich, but gets a thick spread anyway.

Likely, this person will complain about the order in person. To ensure the guest’s satisfaction, the team leader would take care of the issue right away. This not only makes this instance right, but increases guest loyalty which increases revenue.

These kinds of complaints happen daily face-to-face, but they also happen online. People have learned that they no longer must complain in person, and often, prefer sharing complaints from a keyboard.

Businesses who engage with reviews, earn more repeat guests, more reviews, higher ratings, and an increase in revenue.

In fact, According to Harvard Business School, a one-star increase in a business’ rating, can mean a 5 to 9 percent increase in revenues.

Adam Leff concurs with this study, and shared his own findings from Merchant Centric.

“Across many different brands, we’ve found the increase in revenue anywhere from 3.7 percent, up to 17 percent.”

A person whose complaint is addressed, in person, or online, is not only going to come back (meaning additional future revenue), but she will also tell her friends and those friends will tell their friends (meaning even more revenue). In the digital age, leaving a review has a domino effect. If complaints are genuinely addressed, guests will likely update once negative reviews, to a positive star-rating. This leads to an increased positive impression of the brand, with more guests encouraged to engage.

Moreover, by addressing a concern about mayonnaise on a guest’s bread, the staff will be better prepared to not make the same mistake in the future. Again, businesses who engage, earn more repeat guests, more reviews, higher ratings, and an increase in revenue.

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Katie Milligan, Manager of Guest Services at Firehouse Subs, agrees.

She, and her team, oversee monitoring and engaging with reviews for over 1,000 locations.

 “We have had an increase in review activity since joining on with Merchant Centric,” she said. “Our star-rating has increased, which in turn, leads to more foot traffic and increases in sales.”

Chris Artinian, CEO of Toojay’s, has had similar success in monitoring and engaging with his guests online.

“The Key is taking and displaying ownership in what we do,” he said. “As online reviews continue to become more frequent and relevant … the technology through Merchant Centric has really allowed us to maintain our best practices … and maintain that ownership … the key is a timely response. In terms of overall ratings, this has really made an impact. We’ve monitored guest satisfaction, we’ve improved the overall ratings … we connect with our management and our guests … it all helps us become better equipped to guide and grow sales.”

Merchant Centric, he said, has “really become a part of our brand.”

For Toojay’s, reviews are a daily constant and something they have tackled head-on with the help of Merchant Centric, who has learned the voice of their brand, and assists with daily review replies.

This is something their guests have responded well to, as do other guests across brands, across industries, and across the country.

“85% of customers say that they want to engage with a restaurant that will engage with them through their reviews,” said Connie Shelton “Right now, only 30% of the restaurants across the nation are engaging back with their guests online.”

Data Analytics and Reporting

Just as positive feedback happens, complaining happens, Adam Leff explains. Human beings, by nature he says, are people who like to complain.

“Just ask my wife,” he quipped.

It’s important to determine, however, which of these complaints are meaningful versus what he calls “noise.” It’s also important to consider how many complaints your restaurant can get within the same theme before revenue is negatively impacted.

Example of comparing negative themes by top/bottom revenue performance to find negative revenue impact.

Example of comparing negative themes by top/bottom revenue performance to find negative revenue impact.

Themes that may impact revenue include:

  • Service
    • What are the expectations surrounding food delivery?
      • For casual dining, restaurants may need to address repeated complaints that food is taking too long to get into the hands of guests.
      • For fine dining, there may be complaints about food delivery time, but those may simply be “noise,” and less important to the guest’s overall rating.
    • Inaccurate Orders
  • Surroundings
    • Are multiple people complaining about noise? Will this keep them from coming back?
  • Product
    • Are the portions the appropriate size to satisfy the guest?
  • Price/Value
    • Is the price justified by the food offered?
      • Clearly, a high end restaurant would not want to lower prices based on a few people who were upset by the dollar amount; this may vary by food type, as well as frequency of repetitions.
  •  Staff
    • Things like product knowledge and behavior, repeated regularly, can definitely influence revenue.

“Through proper social media management monitoring, you’ll be able to know exactly what your guests are upset about and fix it,” mentioned LeFranc. “So many times, we’re looking at competition or external things that we can’t control, and then we say, ‘well maybe more advertising will help us.’”

He explained that in fact, all you really need is to capture data from various review sources, and then address those concerns, to satisfy guests and increase revenue.

Shelton agreed, and warned, “If you haven’t put first things first, which is your online reputation, we don’t recommend you go out and spend all of this money for ad, radio, and TV campaigns.”

She said this would merely direct consumers to unattractive listings, and when they see that restaurants aren’t engaging, “that will help [customers] choose a competitor over you.”

View full webinar: