How Should Restaurants Tackle Fake Online Reviews?

upset restaurant customers

January 18, 2023

In this day and age, a restaurant’s online presence could be even more important than its physical presence.

According to the new TripAdvisor “Influences on Diner Decision-Making” survey, 94% of US diners are influenced by online reviews. Basically, the vast majority of your customer base could be swayed one way or another, depending  on how good or bad your online reviews are.

This brings us to the inevitable challenge: up to 15% of online social media reviews are fake, according to a research by Garner Inc. This could really hurt your business: a Harvard Business School study found that every incremental star earned on Yelp translated to a 5% to 9% effect on revenue. This effect is especially prominent in smaller cities, where one or two bad reviews on Yelp could literally doom a business.

Sure, haters are gonna hate. But you need a strategy to minimize the negative repercussions they bring to your business. In this blog, we’ll discuss the different types of fake reviews, how to spot fake reviews and steps to take to fight them.

Different Types of Fake Reviews

Before we can talk about how to combat fake reviews, we first have to understand what we’re dealing with here. There could be many types of fake reviews, posted with different intentions, by different sources using different mechanisms. Please note that fake reviews are different from bad reviews. While bad reviews might be a disgruntled guest venting about a disappointing experience online, a fake review could carry false information or is not based on an actual visit at all.

Here are some typical types of fake reviews out there:

  1. The “Sabotage”: These fake reviews are typically motivated or supported by your competitors to harm your business or drive your customers to a competitor.
  2. The “Activist”: Such reviewers leave bad reviews not because they’ve dined at your restaurant, but because they’re motivated by other publicized events in the society. For example, local bakeries were attacked online because there was one bakery appearing in the news for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding.
  3. The “Mistake”: Sometimes a customer might have had a bad experience at another restaurant, but mistakenly left the review on your page because you share a similar name or geographical location.
  4. The “Bot”: These are reviews not left by actual humans, but by a piece of software or lines of code at scale. 

How to Spot Fake Reviews

So how can you spot fake reviews from real ones?

Right off the bat, your instinct might be able to tell you. Perhaps the review mentions a dish you don’t serve, or in general the description doesn’t apply to your business at all. 

If the review is associated with an account or contact information, you can check out their social media account and email address to see if they are indeed genuine. If you want to go one step further, you can try to find out if their IP address is indeed in the “correct” country as indicated in the review, or behind a secure browser or VPN.

However, sometimes fake reviews are difficult to recognize because there’s no additional information attached to a star rating. In this case, we recommend that you politely respond to the review to ask for more context. Whether the reviewer responds or not, the public can see that you’re handling the issue with sincerity and professionalism, which will help with building a positive perception of your brand.

It’s important to also assess whether the fake review is a one-time occurrence or part of a smear campaign. If you’re receiving hundreds of one-star reviews within a short period of time, you might be the victim of a coordinated attack. We’ll detail how to handle both situations in the next section.

How to Deal With Fake Reviews

So you’ve identified the fake review suspects, what next?

Depending on the situation, the handling might be different. But in general, below are the tried and true steps to abide by.

1. Seek more information politely and professionally.

This is a great opportunity for you to demonstrate that you care about your customers. Politely respond to each reviewer and ask them to contact you privately and provide more context so that you can properly address the issue. You can send them a structured feedback survey like this one used by Blaze Pizza to ask more detailed questions about what went wrong. This step also helps you separate fake reviewers from the real ones, as fake reviewers are unlikely to reply with any details.

2. Get more happy customers to review you publicly.

Given the rampant fake reviews on the Internet, consumers have also learned to take things with a grain of salt. If you have enough genuine positive reviews online, it could compensate for the negative ones. However, you need to make sure that these reviews are fairly recent, given that 73% of consumers think that reviews older than three months are no longer relevant.

The good news is that this could easily be done with automation. You can set up personalized email templates encouraging people to leave a positive review on Yelp or Google, and Tattle — upon receiving a 5-star feedback survey from a customer — will automatically send the email to the customer with a link directly to your Yelp or Google page. This has dramatically boosted the number of positive reviews for restaurants, and ensures the timeliness of your reviews on an ongoing basis.

3. Open up direct, private feedback channels for your customers.

Besides hurting your business from a topline perspective, fake reviews also don’t provide you with any valuable information as to how to improve on your customer experience.

In fact, not just fake reviews, online and social media reviews in general don’t really offer actionable feedback. Known to be vague, unverifiable and oftentimes text-heavy, online reviews make it impossible to distill key learnings and action items by sifting through hundreds of reviews and communicating that to your teams at a location level. We have a more detailed blog on why the three most common ways for customer feedback collection ultimately fail.

Instead, more and more restaurant brands are using causation-based, structured surveys to collect detailed customer feedback and uncover root causes of issues. A feedback platform like Tattle also automatically identifies your top improvement opportunities and monthly objective for each restaurant unit using a proprietary algorithm. In addition, the platform handles automatic guest recovery, while also prompting your happy customers to leave online reviews.

And now, over 200 hospitality brands across 9,000 locations are using this all-in-one Customer Experience Improvement (CXI) platform.

4. Alert the review site — if necessary.

If you believe that you’re the target of a smear campaign, alert the review website. While most likely these sites don’t really take actions or provide any resolutions, it doesn’t really hurt either.

The reason review sites are less likely to address most fake reviews is because there’s just not enough information for them to make a judgment call. For example, Google’s statement regarding flagged reviews is: “Google doesn’t get involved when merchants and customers disagree about facts since there’s no reliable way to discern who’s right about a particular customer experience. Read the policy before flagging a review.”

5. Leverage public relations.

Lastly, if your situation calls for it, some public relations could help. This is only if your situation has gotten out of hand and has amassed public attention.

In this scenario, you need to stick to the facts and objectively acknowledge the situation. It’s also helpful to state your stance on welcoming customer feedback, and channel them through your open, direct channel as stated in Step 2. Depending on the scale of your brand, you could seek the help from your PR agency, or publish a press release, or simply publish a blog on your website to clarify your side of the story — all of the above would allow you to control your narrative.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, fake reviews aside, what truly matters is a consistent, good customer experience. That’s the only way to win repeat customers, convert people into your strong advocates and grow organically.

For that, you need an improvement-focused feedback platform like Tattle. This is the all-in-one solution that does it all: from collecting detailed customer feedback surveys with a whopping 94% completion rate, to winning back dissatisfied customers at a 70% success rate, Tattle is what keeps you close to your customers.

If you want to learn more about how the platform works, feel free to schedule a quick demo with us via this link!

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