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Eating with your eyes

Audio narration of Eating with your eyes

How online reviews affect small businesses

Business-listing websites like Google Reviews and OpenTable give anyone the opportunity to share their opinion, good or bad. While it can be helpful to customers, it raises the question: what impact do these reviews have on the success of a business?

Online reviews are a critical part of a restaurant’s success, Adam Guild, entrepreneur and marketing expert. Citing a study done in 2017, Guild says approximately 72 per cent of customers won’t go into a restaurant until they look at online reviews. 

Although this might sound intimidating to restaurant owners, Guild says there are ways to ensure online reviews don’t hinder a restaurant’s reputation. 

According to Guild, replying to poor reviews is one of the most effective ways to gain a customer’s trust. “That will change the way you’re perceived by other people, that you’re reliable and accountable when you make mistakes and will lead to a much higher conversion rate as a result,” says Guild.

What happens, however, if a restaurant is constantly gaining bad reviews? 

This was the case for Italian chef Davide Cerrentini. Owner of the Botto Bistro, an Italian restaurant in Richmond, California, Cerrentini saw his restaurant grow successfully after its opening in 2009. His restaurant had garnered positive reviews on major sites like Google Reviews and Yelp. 

In 2014 he was approached by Yelp in an effort to have him buy ads promoting his business on its site. Cerrentini refused to buy ads, saying his restaurant was successful without them. After declining Yelp on multiple occasions, he noticed that many of his positive reviews were being filtered out for negative ones. Several of these commenters gave him one-star reviews. He claims Yelp was punishing him for not purchasing ads. In order to regain his reputation, Cerrentini added a note to his blackboard menu asking his customers to write him a one-star review on Yelp in exchange for 25 per cent off their dinner. 

The campaign attracted mass attention and encouragement from his customers and fans across the world.  This outpouring of support counteracted Yelp’s negative reviews. So, although online reviews had a negative effect on his restaurant’s reputation, Cerrentini now wants to remind other business owners to not be afraid of the Internet.

“I will never suggest any business to not be on any social media platform. You need to build your reputation,” says Cerrentini. “Everybody needs to be on the Internet today, just be cautious with who you do business with.”

This story was originally published in the print version of Emerge magazine.