Key Tips for Restaurants Managing Their Online Reviews (Ep 175)

publication date: Oct 10, 2022
author/source: Jaime Oikle with Emily Washcovick

Yelp podcast

Jaime gets with Yelp's Small Business Expert Emily Washcovick in this episode of the podcast to talk all about restaurants and online reviews.

As Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily is in the unique position of having spoken with thousands of restaurant owners about the challenges they face and strategies they employ to overcome them – not to mention discuss their perspectives on online reviews, both good and bad.

She demystifies online reviews and shares info to empower restaurant owners to leverage reviews for marketing and customer service transparency. Emily talks about taking an active role regarding online reputation so business owners can foster deeper connections with customers. “Don’t fear the review” is her mantra – by not engaging with reviews, businesses are missing out on an incredible opportunity.

Emily is absolutely fantastic in this episode! She...

  • Shares the ins and outs of a restaurant's Yelp page
  • Discusses how operators can best take advantage of the features available
  • Get's into handling negative reviews (and positive ones)
  • Talks about the power of multimedia in your listings
  • Gives her thoughts on the "sweet spot" for response time
  • Shares tips on delegation of the tech to manage your listing
  • And a whole lot more...

Don't miss it!

Subscribe / Follow / Like the Podcast at YouTube or iTunes to not miss an episode. Drop us feedback via email, Facebook, or Twitter.

Or listen...

Link: Yelp for Business

Or Read...We've made a condensed article version available below...


Key Tips for Restaurants Managing Their Online Reviews

As Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick is in the unique position of having spoken with thousands of restaurant owners about the challenges they face and strategies they employ to overcome them – not to mention discuss their perspectives on online reviews, both good and bad.

She demystifies online reviews and shares info to empower restaurant owners to leverage reviews for marketing and customer service transparency. Emily talks about taking an active role regarding online reputation so business owners can foster deeper connections with customers. “Don’t fear the review” is her mantra – by not engaging with reviews, businesses are missing out on an incredible opportunity.

It was great getting a chance to meet Emily -- here is part of our conversation...

Jaime: I’m sure most people are familiar with Yelp, but let's do a quick intro.

Emily: Yelp is a platform that connects people with great local businesses. I happen to be on the business side on, or Yelp for business owners. It is predominantly a suite of free tools that allow business owners to put in information about who they are and what they do online. It also allows them to connect with customers. They can reply to reviews and post information about their business, the offerings they have, and the menu items they serve. It’s a great platform for business owners to digitally talk to their customer base, and get in front of diners who are in their local area searching for what they provide.

Don't Fear the Review...

Jaime: A quote I saw recently said, "don't fear the review." Restaurants should want and encourage that feedback process that happens with reviews, wouldn’t you say?

yelp quoteEmily: There are tons of misconceptions or fears when it comes to reviews for a lot of business owners. And that normally circles the fear of the critical, thinking that a lot of consumers turn to an online platform when they're upset. But on Yelp, over 75% of our reviews are neutral to positive. And there are more five-star reviews than one, two, and three-star reviews combined. So I always tell my business owners, you're missing out on a ton of opportunities if you're focused on and fearful of the negative. But of course, you want to have a strategy in place for handling critical reviews. Whether positive or negative, all online reviews are an opportunity for you to reflect on your customer service practices. Just over 50% of consumers expect a response when they write an online review. By simply not having a strategy or not replying to reviews in general, you're letting down half of your customer base. When it comes to a critical review, I need business owners to understand that consumers are smart. They don't just look at a critical review and think, “Okay, this business is bad.” They look at it from the perspective of maybe this consumer's needs weren't met or they had different expectations than what they experienced. By responding to reviews and having an active role in that online reputation, you can show customers that you care about their feedback. It shows that you consider the consumer perspective when you run your business.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the critical, but you also want to be sure to engage with the positive reviews. Anyone who took the time to write a positive review for your business spent money at your business and really enjoyed it. So, keep it simple, but thank them for sharing their experience and welcome them back another time. That can deepen that relationship and make that advocate for your brand more promotional about your business in other ways. Beyond just writing that review, we see more consumers telling friends or family and sharing businesses on social media when business owners are more engaged with that online presence and respond to all of their digital feedback.

Handling Negative Reviews...

Jaime: What are some strategies and tips for replying to negative reviews and getting past that first instinct of being angry about it?

Emily: The biggest thing is acknowledging that it's emotional, and it’s okay to have that upset feeling when you first get it. But we're going to need to remove that emotion before we respond strategically. Since we're the professionals in this scenario, we're going to be the ones taking the high road. We're going to be the ones using this critical review to show who we are. Anytime you respond to a critical review, I want you to think of it as strategic. Start by thanking the reviewer. “Thank you, Emily, so much for sharing your experience.” Even if you don't feel like you want to thank them, that's a great way to start. Then, mention something that they mentioned in their review. Don’t get into every little detail and get into a back-and-forth dialogue with the reviewer. The public response is simply to show that you read the review and want to resolve this issue. So you can then address the item that they mentioned or one item they mentioned, and then take the conversation offline. You can provide them with an email address or a phone number to get in touch with you or write that you sent them a direct message to chat further. And I want to point out that while getting that customer to talk through it with you and potentially update their review is a great potential outcome, that's not truly your goal when you respond. You're responding to reflect who you are as a business and the fact that you care about this feedback, positive or negative.

The last thing I would say when it comes to responding is maybe you're not the sole person doing that work. Maybe you're writing a response and someone on your team is reading it over to make sure it sounds professional before it goes up. But timeliness is of the essence, I recommend businesses shoot to respond within about 24 hours. As a first-hand strategy, remove the emotion, be strategic in your response so that you're not getting into the nitty gritty, and then take it offline. And make sure to involve a team member or collaborator, if you need some help deciding what that ultimate response is going to look like.

Jaime: With restaurants, do you see folks being even more time-sensitive? What’s the sweet spot for a response time?

Emily: When we're talking about restaurants, specifically, that's some pretty immediate feedback that's typically coming in. So timeliness is even more important. What you need to do is look at your operation and set realistic expectations for yourself. Maybe you add checking reviews to the closing checklist. Same with the early morning shift. Check if anything came through from the evening prior. So having the checking be a part of your process is important. The best way to do that is to turn on your notifications. On Yelp, you can have notifications for any review. I know other review sites have that as well. And we have a mobile app for business owners. I recommend everyone download that as it helps you respond in a little bit more timely fashion. But really, I want you to be realistic with your operation. If you're telling your managers they only have four hours to respond and that's causing some undue stress on their other job requirements, four hours isn't going to make a difference much between 24. Having a plan and being aware that you want to be checking in is very important. The other thing I want to point out is that it would be better to wait a little longer and talk to the team member involved in the critical feedback than to just reply generically. So I think that's a part of the timeliness as well. How can you communicate with your team or whoever needs to be involved in the conversation? And then how can you make that reply look like it is with the intent of getting back to them and having a dialogue?

The Power of Stars...

Jaime: Let's go to the topic of stars. You see the literature out there about how a restaurant that has X number of stars gets more business than one with Y number of stars. What do you see there? How do you tell folks to increase their stars?

Emily: Five-star reviews often focus on things like incredible customer service or delicious food. It is about the experience happening within the four walls of your business. So the first and most influential way to influence your online reputation is to do those things that are memorable to your customer. Create experiences worth reviewing. You also have to be mindful of the fact that consumers are smart. If they're looking at a business page that has a couple hundred reviews, it would be odder for them to be all five stars than to have some critical feedback in them. That is something you need to keep in mind. There are tons of studies done that show perfect five-star pages don't necessarily perform better than, say a four-star or four-and-a-half-star page. The reason for that is that critical reviews can build trustworthiness in some instances. As we mentioned before, your establishment isn't made for everyone. You might be willing to serve food to everyone. But maybe your price point isn't on par with what some people are looking for. Maybe the venue or the ambiance isn't really their vibe. Instead of focusing on having a perfect five-star page, you should be focusing on reflecting on who you are and what you do. Let me give a quick example of that. I used to work with a tapas restaurant in the Bay Area. Their owner was very business focused. He hadn't been in the restaurant world before opening the establishment. When they first opened, they had a menu item that was three jumbo meatballs for $15. After a couple of months, they changed it and let you order meatballs a la carte for $5 a pop, and they started getting some reviews about how expensive these meatballs were. So, they switched it back to the other style, which is the same price, just a different way of marketing it, and they stopped getting that feedback. Now on the flip side, when that business would get some reviews about being expensive in general, they would reply strategically and point out that they're a farm-to-table restaurant so their prices are going to be a little bit higher than some other establishments for that reason. That helps validate who they are, and it reinforces customers that want to spend on that additional farm-to-table experience. And it also turns away people who maybe didn't understand that was having an impact on price point. So when you get a critical review, I think it's more important to look at it for insights about your business. Are they having an experience or an expectation that doesn't line up with what you're trying to provide? Or did they just have a different expectation than what your business provides? Remember that a negative review itself is not going to turn a consumer away, but a negative review without a response from your business is a big red flag for a consumer.

I also want business owners to look at positive reviews to gain insights, as well. Criticism isn't the only place to learn about yourself. A positive review might teach you about a competitive advantage you have that you weren't even trying to have. I think bathrooms are a great example. You don't open your restaurant to have the best bathroom, but a lot of customers look at bathroom cleanliness as an indicator of business cleanliness. Maybe you have some cool decor in there. If customers are mentioning those types of things in their positive reviews, it might be something you want to lean more into. So look at those reviews as a way to gain insights, both on what you could do better and what you're doing well already.

Managing Your Yelp Page...

Jaime: Talk about the actual management of the page. I'm sure there are tons of free opportunities. Are there maybe some enhanced opportunities too? What does that look like?

Emily: Let's start with the free stuff because that really is my bread and butter. And that's a vast majority of what business owners can do on Yelp. It starts by claiming at, or just logging into your profile, which you maybe haven't done in a while. When you log in, you're going to see a graph in front of you as well as a toolbar on the left-hand side. The graph is great for data, for up to two years past, it tells you how many people look at your Yelp page, if they click through to your website, and if they called you. So you can get a lot of data there to start with. Then you want to go into the Business Information tab and complete that profile. What do I mean by that? There's an about the business section, a meet the owner or manager section, there's a history. There are all these areas where you can put keywords and phrases for what you offer that will help you appear in search results. Now, this isn't like Google AdWords, you don't want to just write a bunch of keywords separated by commas, but you want to actually write a description in sentence form. Make sure to highlight the menu items or the things that you really want to be found for. Photos and photo captions are another really important and impactful area that you can leverage for free. You can upload unlimited photos to your page. Particularly for my restaurateurs, I want you to have a picture of every menu item with how it's labeled on the menu. Consumers aren't always the best at putting the best photos on there or labeling them appropriately. So as a bare minimum, make sure you do that.

You can also use some paid profile enhancements to change the way your page looks. For example, you can remove competitors from your page or add a call-to-action button that could link through to reservations or an online scheduler. You also can use a product called Connect. Connect is almost like social media posts on Instagram, for example. But it goes directly to diners who are already connected with you on Yelp. Every business on Yelp already has a built-in network of people who have visited their Yelp page before or bookmarked it. When they do a Connect post, let's say to promote a menu item or a special, that'll get sent directly to those users and it'll also get displayed on the Yelp page. So it's a great way to get strategic about what information you want to push to a potential customer or diner. And then, of course, we have the Guest Manager, which is essentially the way that we support restaurants who want to run their front and back of house on one of our products. That includes reservations as well as a waitlist. It allows your diners to get on your digital waitlist before they're physically in your business. It’s very popular for brunch or spots that have super long waits. Imagine I'm at home, checking the wait on my phone for a brunch spot nearby. I can add myself to the waitlist digitally. And in the 10 minutes it takes me to drive there, I can be essentially waiting in line to shorten my wait time at the restaurant.

So those are the free and some of the paid products. The most important thing when we talk about management of the profile is turning on notifications and making sure that you have a system for how frequently you're logging into that account.

Adding Photos & Videos...

Jaime: You talked about photos, are there video opportunities as well? As a restaurateur, I really like the power of video. Do you suggest that?

Emily: On the free side of our platform, you cannot upload videos as a business owner. Consumers can upload short videos. Essentially, you could upload a video to your page from a user profile. I don't recommend doing that as one of your servers, for example, because then the only way it can get removed is through that user. So if you wanted to add videos to your page, maybe as the owner, I think you could do it from your own account. But it is a paid option. Our advertisers get that video feature, and there's even an offering to have it recorded locally using a team that Yelp sends out. So that is for our advertisers to have that professionally curated video that's on their profile.

In general, video is extremely powerful. And that means Instagram, Facebook, and sometimes even Tik Tok for a lot of my restaurateurs. I want you to think of Yelp as more photo and information-driven. It's not a site where you're posting something new every day. It's more about having the information accurate, keeping your notifications turned on, and going in to update that profile when things are new or changing. But I agree with you on the power of video. And I think there's so much power as entrepreneurs, and particularly restaurateurs, in just using the photo app on your phone. Avoid that over-commercialized, staged type of content, and just whip that mobile device out and record video or photos in your establishment to share on social and to promote your business. I love when restaurateurs take a review that they've received and turn it into a reel. Filming their business and putting that review overlaid on top of the visual connects the dots between consumers to point out that you would love to hear their experience as well.

Jaime: Is there anything in parting that you want to add that I didn't ask or I didn't hit on?

Emily: The biggest thing is to remember that if you don't have the time or energy to manage your Yelp account, you want to give that to someone on your team. That could be your child (if you have one that helps out), hostess, or a kitchen member that likes to take photos and wants to take on a little bit of extra work. But being proactive and being a part of the conversation is extremely important. What you don't want to do is let your online presence be run by your reviewers and consumers. You want to play an active role in that. That's all going to start by going to

The other thing I want to point out is when the information on your Yelp page is accurate, that automatically updates a ton of your online presence sites. Almost everything besides Google, so that'll update Bing, Yahoo, Apple Maps, etc. It's in many vehicles' GPS systems. All that Yelp information and data is being pulled from other places. So making sure it's accurate is extremely important.

I also have a podcast in partnership with Entrepreneur Magazine called Behind the Review. It's a great resource if you want to hear firsthand how business owners manage their reviews and what they do in their business to influence their reviews and their reputation. Each episode is about 15 to 25 minutes. It's very laid back, but it is that firsthand experience of what businesses do as well as what motivates consumers to share their experiences.

Link: Yelp for Business


Jaime OikleJaime Oikle is the Owner & Founder of, a comprehensive web site for restaurant owners & managers filled with marketing, operations, service, people & tech tips to help restaurants profit and succeed.