Restaurant visitors have become critics. Reviewing has been democratised by the development of websites like TripAdvisor, in which anyone can share their views on a place they visit.
The rise of the connected world – symbolised by the now-ubiquitous Android and Apple smartphones – has enabled easy access to such sites, both for posting reviews and using them to decide where to eat. As documented here before, that trend is only going to get more significant as people interact more extensively and frequently with social media platforms. Twitter users can cause a controversy – and damage a brand – with a single negative Tweet, should it go viral.
Picture-based forums like Pinterest hint at how this situation could get worse for restaurants with poor standards: a picture speaks a thousand words – so imagine someone snapping something unhygienic in your restaurant and then sharing it with the world. Twitter users can, and do, already share pictures, but this will become an increasingly important consideration for restaurateurs.
Foodservice business owners need to be fully aware of this network of reviews and critiques of their restaurants online. Some tools have been launched that can even allow owners and (for larger organisations) their marketing team to monitor online commentary more closely and effectively. Big chains, for instance, may get vague comments about an unpleasant or unhygienic dining experience at one of their restaurants. But which are they referring to? Tools like the recently launched Venuelabs are adding location traceability to the mix, so comments about a restaurant can be understood in the context of location. Is a negative comment an anomaly in an area that usually speaks positively online about your restaurant? Or is a pattern emerging for one outlet in particular?
These additional tools and features of tracking online commentary show that the biggest foodservice businesses are keen to gain a meaningful understanding.
For many smaller businesses, an extensive range of software and dedicated staff to monitor social media commentary are beyond the resources available – and might be overkill anyway. Nevertheless this is a factor that shouldn’t be underestimated in terms of its importance to your restaurant(s) and brand. Foodservice businesses of all shapes and sizes should do their best to engage customers online and keep an eye on comments – positive and negative – to have a chance to deal with potentially damaging comments.
However a sure way of avoiding the most damning, potentially most damaging material that can make it online is to apply thorough and comprehensive food safety and hygiene practices. Poor service, comments on mediocre food or high prices are all things you will want to tackle; but few can compare to photo evidence of poor food safety or hygiene. Perhaps the most significant step in your online strategy is to go back to the cleaning supplies inventory, and your approach to food safety and hygiene.