Anyone who has worked in a restaurant kitchen knows it's noise. The banging of pots and pans, orders being shouted, and the sizzling din of operations in motion. Kitchens can be a deafening place. Imagine that noise enveloping the dining room to such an extent that guests couldn’t see the menu clearly or enjoy their meal without intrusion. Can guests enjoy their meals when noise distorts their experiences? What if that noise doesn’t come from the dining room but instead rises from the smartphones in their hands? Digital noise clouds perceptions of every restaurant to imply that chaos is the norm if we’re to believe the ever contentious online restaurant review.
Technology brought the power of choice with the advent of food review platforms like Yelp. However, do these digital platforms actually help consumers discover food and beverages or are they simply red herrings disguised as red flags? What these review platforms tell operators and can restaurateurs hear anything amidst the noise?
The restaurant industry currently relies on misleading guest feedback ascribed as fact online. A June New York Times article titled “Why You Can’t Really Trust Negative Online Reviews,” states that it’s human nature to focus on negative reviews because those help us better “understand risk and reduce our losses” with full knowledge that “…you can’t please everyone.” The article emphasizes the subjective nature of reviews -- fueled by emotion and driven by a small group of people who actually post online reviews. They typically represent the extreme impressions of customers who love something or hate it.
Additional downfalls of online reviews include small samples, misleading results, potentially inaccurate recollections, and quite alarmingly fraudulent online reviews. For restaurateurs, the reviews are non-representative and -- most significantly -- not actionable. “My chicken was burnt” means little without knowing on which shift this occurred and for what menu item. One instance means little in a sea of operational complexities.
Online review platforms may seem helpful to the consumer in terms of risk assessment (with very little room for discovery), but they offer little actionable insight for the operator to improve their business. This is troublesome in a world where performance is often incentivized. In our digital world, we need a way to quiet the noise of existing food review platforms to instead better collect guest sentiment in a more accurate, more pervasive and more actionable way. We must ensure reliable and timely ways for guests to provide feedback on their dining experience and democratize that data so that everyone can benefit.
Fortunately, we are starting to see the implementation of real-time feedback in other industries, which has acclimated consumers to provide immediate input. Consider the “happy” and “frowning” faces seen in many airport bathrooms asking whether the facilities were clean. Many online retailers program pop-ups which immediately prompt shoppers to share insight on their experience once they have purchased items. Uber requires a rating of your last trip before scheduling a new trip. Now apply this same simple framework to the restaurant industry. After a meal, we can engage in the briefest of digital conversations to collect timely guest feedback that’s then shared with all pertinent parties.
Imagine the same of insights to be gleaned if we actively sought our guests’ feedback before they even left the restaurant. Suddenly, a hundred reviews in a day becomes the norm rather than a few extremes in a week. Imagine linking these reviews directly to a time, a product and a server. Suddenly, these reviews identify specific opportunities within your four-walls because they correlate directly to failures or victories as voiced by real guests in real time.
It’s time to take the power back from the vacuum of online reviews to instead start talking to restaurant guests in real-time. By using their smartphones or the advent of digital check presenters, we can open the line of communication before a guest even leaves the table. The impact of such data at scale will be astounding:
Operators can adjust and develop menu items without going entirely off of gut feel as to what will perform well.
Managers can pinpoint specific opportunities for staff to receive training.
Wait staff can be more appropriately compensated for great work.
Managers can build team morale with positive reinforcement.
Any guest complaints can be addressed before the guest even leaves the restaurant, potentially saving that customer relationship.
Don’t let the noise of review platforms drown out what your restaurant has to offer. There’s no need to operate blindly because there is a better way to gauge guest sentiment and inform business decisions to ultimately improve your bottom line. Transform how you solicit feedback to then transform the guest experience which will transform your business. The online review is over with the advent of real-time feedback. This is a new and necessary conversation.
This article first appeared in Hospitality Tech Magazine