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Is it OK to give customers incentives for good reviews?

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Question:

I saw your article about combatting fake reviews. We have a lot of negative reviews from previous years that aren’t fake, but things have improved since then. Can I try to counteract those [negative reviews] with good ones? Should I be asking guests? Is it legal to provide an incentive for a good review?

– AGM

Answer:

In addition to fake reviews that might be posted on review sites by shady competitors, scammers who ask for money to have them removed, or former disgruntled employees and their friends, sometimes you simply get—and possibly deserve—bad reviews.

Unfortunately, those who take the time and effort to write a bad review are often those guests who have a particularly terrible experience and feel compelled to share it with others. The same may be true for enthusiastic guests who had a wonderful experience dining with you.

What is often missing from review sites is your majority of perfectly content guests who are neither angry nor overjoyed but simply feel they got what they paid for and had a fine experience. If you can encourage a portion of those guests to review you positively, it can work well to boost your ratings and overshadow the hate.

I have seen operations encourage guests to review them via signage, a note on the check, a verbal request from the server or host upon exit, or a response from the manager in reply to praise. Any of these strategies can be fruitful, and I would encourage you to see what works to balance bringing in good reviews without guests feeling like they are being pestered or have a burdensome homework assignment.

I have also seen operations offer a discount or free item on a future visit in exchange for a positive review. I would advise against offering incentives for reviews, as this could both violate the terms of review sites as well as Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines. Based on the FTC’s Endorsement Guides, it can get messy for you and the guest if the reviewer does not disclose that they received an incentive in exchange for posting the review. Likewise, disclosing that they did receive an incentive to post a review, while ethical, may have readers lose faith in the objectivity or authenticity of the review.

As always, this opinion column is not legal advice and local regulations may vary. Check with your attorney and restaurant association for guidance specific to your needs.

More on managing guest reviews here.

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