Food for thought: Annapolis-area restaurants seek balance in online reviews ; Annapolis-area restaurants seek balance in online reviews [Capital (Annapolis, MD)]
(Capital (Annapolis, MD) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Restaurant customers are increasingly posting their thoughts - good and bad - about their dining experience online. Earlier this year, the market research firm Ipsos did a poll that found 78 percent of Americans aged 18 to 64 said that online reviews influenced their purchases.
A customer recently called Crush Kitchen & Winehouse to thank the staff for the great service, and the owners asked for a favor in return.
Danny Lledo encouraged the customer to write up everything he said and post it on Yelp, an online site consisting of customer reviews. Crush's Web page links to the site and the 76 reviews posted about the Annapolis restaurant. And even with a four-star rating, there are times when reviewers post complaints that can range from the prices to the food.
"We're in an age where anybody can be a restaurant reviewer, and if they have a big enough audience they can be heard," Lledo said. "There are a lot of player haters out there."
These days, verbal compliments are fine and good, but area restaurateurs are finding that online posts are the ones that have the most impact. Statistics on this issue vary. Earlier this year, the market research firm Ipsos did a poll that found 78 percent of Americans aged 18 to 64 said that online reviews influenced their purchases. When it comes to restaurants, 27 percent of all adults post or read reviews and more than 30 percent said online reviews influenced their decisions, according to the National Restaurant Association's 2012 Household Survey.
Nevertheless, that exposes businesses to wider audiences and they have to take the good with the bad.
"When you start waging a war with those things, it does you no good," said Rusty Romo, owner of Harry Browne's in Annapolis. "I don't think (a bad review) can make or break a place if the consumer is educated, smart and does their homework."
There are times when the motives behind the reviews are questioned, with some positive posts possibly coming from staffers and negative ones stemming from disgruntled employees. With negative reviews, it is often best to locate the commenter and offer some form of apology, University of Maryland professor Hank Boyd said.
"You want to be proactive," said Boyd, chairman of the university's marketing department. "You can't let it slide by and think it will go away ... Now consumers have more information, we can talk to each other and we have the power."
University of Maryland marketing professor Rebecca Hamilton agreed.
"When there's a service failure, customers are sometimes persuaded by these efforts by the firm to right the situation," Hamilton said. "It's certainly a good strategy to fix the problem, and consumers have more power because their complaints are more public."
Sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon and OpenTable offer consumer-based reviews for restaurants around the country. But there is also a contingent of local reviewers.
Earlier this year, a Severna Park resident created a Facebook blog called Severna Park Reviews, which evaluates businesses in the area. The blogger -- who would not reveal his or her identity -- said the site was created after a negative experience with a local business. Since launching in May, the site has received more than 2,600 likes and almost always gets a response from the business being reviewed.
"This gives everyone in the area the opportunity to be able to communicate their concerns or praise to all of our neighbors, and also gives the business owners the chance to respond or react to customers' requests," the blogger wrote in an emailed interview. "Anything can be overcome as long as you have excellent customer service. If the manager or owner honestly cares about the customers and the customers feel they are important, everything else comes naturally."
Annapolis resident Dave Skolnick began posting reviews on Yelp after discovering an online forum devoted to restaurants in the Chesapeake Bay area. A self-described foodie, he said he is looking for establishments that serve one-star food at one-star prices and four-star food at four-star prices. An online complaint about a soggy roast beef sandwich at the Boatyard Bar & Grill resulted in a followup and an apology from the owner.
"Some restaurants that get almost uniformly bad reviews are not paying attention," Skolnick said. He uses online sites to help him decide where to eat, but he also checks out the reviewers' rating history. "There are people who just like to complain. If a reviewer put in 87 reviews and 80 are one star .... I know they are a pessimistic person."
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