Can I Yelp You?
How restaurants utilize social media to protect their image
Since the rise of social media, it seems like everyone feels they can and should voice their opinion — especially when it comes to food. There was a time when only official critics or restaurant reviewers for large media outlets would lay down the law when it came to doling out opinions on service, ambiance and, of course, the quality of food. But now, everyone is a critic.
With sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor and Open Table, word of what goes on inside restaurants and bars can spread lightning fast. As a service provider, whether you’re an owner, chef, server, bartender or host, you now have an additional job to monitor all those places where people can talk about you — good and bad. But when it comes to responding, think about how you want to handle that before pushing enter or send.
“The key to social media is to definitely respond,” said Kevin Boehm, co-owner of Chicago’s Boka Restaurant Group (BRG), which owns a number of restaurants including hot spots Girl and the Goat, GT Fish & Oyster and the Michelin-starred Boka. “If you’re ever going to respond though, it has to be done with sensitivity and don’t get into arguments on social media.”
There have been many occasions where a chef or restaurant owner has replied to a negative Yelp review and it has backfired. Even the 2014 movie “Chef” starring Jon Favreau as the titular chef, demonstrated what could happen when a chef gets into a Twitter feud with a prominent critic: The chef’s vitriol directed at the critic went viral after the chef thought he was sending a direct message, but instead sent it to his public timeline. The downside: the tweet subsequently got retweeted countless times. The upside: his follower count exploded.
“We use Twitter less as a company platform, it’s more about the personality of the individual people.”
– Kevin Boehm, Boka Restaurant Group
In reality, however, when it comes to customer service, you want to respond privately, according to Mike Schatzman, who owns Chicago’s Union Sushi and The Franklin Room restaurants. “We refrain from responding online because it isn’t as personal,” he said. “We don’t like engaging in online wars because when you’re speaking from the heart it’s more personal directly, but can be interpreted the wrong way online. We do it the old fashioned way: via phone or email.”
Both Schatzman’s and Boehm’s teams monitor all the social platforms to see what people are saying about their restaurants. If a customer had a negative experience, they can follow up and remedy the situation. Schatzman said they used to respond online, but found they would sometimes experience backlash. Instead, they’ll have weekly meetings to discuss online chatter and in some cases will even send a customer a gift certificate to encourage them to give the restaurant another chance. “We thank them for their feedback and maybe explain what may have happened,” Schatzman said. “When we reach out personally, people are surprised and appreciate it.”
Boehm said his team looks at various sites, including Yelp and Open Table, daily and will respond directly to people who have posted both positive and negative reviews. “Both of these forums give you ways to respond to people,” he said. “It’s about responding in the right way: being apologetic, being empathetic, inviting them back in, being able to be introspective and say, ‘Maybe we did screw up,’ especially if you see things that have been repeated a few times. If you read in a week that your restaurant is too loud, maybe it’s too loud.” That exact thing happened after they opened GT Fish & Oyster. Many people complained both online and in person about the noise. How did BRG respond? They invested in quality padding and other tools to help absorb the sound and it made a big difference to reduce the noise level.
Being on social media isn’t just about squashing a negative experience. The Boka Group encourages its chef partners like Stephanie Izard, Giuseppe Tentori and Lee Wolen to set up their own Twitter account to engage with fans and have a dialogue. “We use Twitter less as a company platform,” Boehm said. “It’s more about the personality of the individual people.” He also said they use Instagram to showcase food they’re dishing up. “The key is whatever we put out there should be good photography.”
Because if the food you promote doesn’t look good, why would anyone come in? It’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words — and with people shouting all over social media, that can easily be much more.