Ignore social media and online reviews at your own risk

Photograph: Shutterstock

It’s no secret that online review sites influence consumers’ decisions—and proactive restaurateurs and bar owners aren’t content to take a passive approach to amateur Yelpers.

Operators may have intuitively known what Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Michael Luca sought to determine when he designed a study to see if online reviews affected a business’s bottom line. He quantified the significance of Yelp reviews and concluded that each ratings star added on a review translated to anywhere from a 5 to 9% effect on revenues (depending on the control variables and means of estimation). 

Those numbers start to add up, especially since three out of four consumers turn to online review sites when they are looking for a place to eat. That means that it’s critical for operators to regularly review their business’s social media accounts and online reviews.

Don Sofer, vice president and owner of New York’s Blockheads, said he never thought an outside consultant could find problems at his restaurants that he hadn’t already identified, but working with Food and Beverage Intelligencechanged his mind.

“Their 360-degree approach was much more in depth than anything we could have undertaken internally,” Sofer said. “It even included an examination of our Instagram account.”

Created by entrepreneur Robert Watman, Food and Beverage Intelligence was conceived to, in Watman’s words, “help a bar or restaurant before someone’s witty critique sends potential customers to a competitor.”

FBI objectively investigates bars, restaurants, nightclubs and hotels and analyzes the factors that influence the guest experience—especially those most often cited by both professional and amateur reviewers on popular online review sites.

Watman uses every tool available to evaluate front-of-house operations, applying a mix of direct observation and undercover surveillance, deploying investigators who often wear glasses embedded with hidden video cameras. TruePic technology, which verifies date, time and location of each examination, provides incontrovertible evidence of employee transgressions.

Watman’s resume includes owning one of the first nationwide concept-club chains, the popular nightclubs Culture Club, Polly Esthers and Nerve Ana, where he successfully hosted an estimated 50,000 guests every weekend. He says this gave him firsthand experience overcoming the challenges of maintaining standards across brands with multiple locations. He also learned the harsh lesson that covert visits were sometimes the only way to pinpoint problems.

“I once found managers opening on a day we were supposed to be closed, using a fake register and pocketing the cash,” said Watman.

Surveillance techniques aside, it is Watman’s operational savvy that separates FBI from traditional secret shoppers. The team works hand in hand with an establishment’s staff to rectify detected issues under real circumstances during its proprietary implementation phase and follows up with return visits to monitor progress.

Artie Lesavoy, managing partner of San Antonio’s Kremlin and Havana Ultra Lounge nightclubs, said he found FBI’s ability to implement new practices the most valuable part of the exercise.

“FBI’s objective perspective and experience with such a wide population of successful establishments in our competitive set proved invaluable,” he said. “We were able to improve efficiency and improve customer service.”

Ignoring online reviews and social media posts can be the kiss of death for restaurants. In an already highly competitive industry, restaurants must deliver satisfaction to guests, and without knowing about any issues customers had, operators can’t make the appropriate changes. Working with Food and Beverage Intelligence can change that—by providing an in-depth overview of what’s working and what customers would change, FBI’s tools make it easier than ever to assess what changes to make.


This post is sponsored by Food & Beverage Intelligence


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