Reputation Defenders

The Reputation Management Restaurant Franchises Challenge Explained

The Reputation Management Restaurant Franchises Challenge Explained
Amy Bess
Reputation Defenders Team
9 min
Reputation

The Reputation Management Restaurant Franchises Challenge Explained

Fast food restaurants settle for a unique place in the dining ecosystem. People turn to them when they want something quick, cheap, and familiar. People typically don't expect an outstanding experience from these establishments - that's why it's fast food, after all! But even so, problems can arise, and customers have high expectations for quality and service - after all, nobody likes a burnt hamburger or bad customer service.

Restaurants get blamed if anything goes wrong during dining out, whether at the regional or local level. For example, when Chipotle suffered its E. coli snafu, the brand lost customers across the board, while Domino's faced a lawsuit over wire brush bristles found in a Domino's pizza. Both cases dramatically affected the overall brand's online reputation overnight. But there is also a much quieter problem that fast food restaurants can encounter: review decay which affects individual franchises, often unbeknownst to them until they check their Yelp page one day and all those four-star reviews from last year have somehow disappeared from the front page (Gasp!).

Reviews: The early warning system

Admit it; you've read reviews before dining to confirm your enthusiasm for a night out, or come prepared for the worst. For some restaurants, consistently bad reviews are a source of dread and a clarion call to investigate what is wrong.

A single bad review may often be a person who got up on the wrong flank of the bed and should not be taken too seriously. But while such unlucky (or grumpy) diners are unlikely to influence trends, consistently bad reviews point to an inescapable conclusion -- something is amiss with the restaurant. The most commonly cited complaint online is bad service, and fortunately, there's some context that those disgruntled customers can turn to explain why this might be occurring.

On the one hand, this can be expected as pay is often too low for workers to paste on a fake smile extended in the face of harsh or angry customers. They have bills to be paid, after all. Compounded with long hours (and not always scheduled rest) and difficult environments that lack meaningful opportunity for career growth or advanced understanding of gastronomy further pushes them into survival mode -- paychecks only bring smiles until work begins again.

The facade will eventually crumble, and a bad review may result when it does. But suppose great names start yielding consistently poor results from usual practices. In that case, a deeper problem may be uncovered by investigating other areas, such as mismanagement or overall business strategies used by those entities operating multiple locations under the same umbrella.

Cleaning up old reviews

When restaurants have high employee turnover, management and menus change, and the restaurant is different from one month to the next or year to the next, it might be possible to remove some bad reviews. That's because bad online reviews are stuck in time while a restaurant evolves.

Take, for example, the negative review of a Carls Jr. in Houston that was posted two years ago. The customer complained about the long wait for their food due to staffing issues. Since then, the restaurant has undergone several changes in management and culinary direction — but the old review still appears on Yelp and Google Maps, causing potential customers to pause before dining there.

Gated vs. non-gated review management systems

Review management systems are designed to make collecting customer feedback easier and more automated. They come in two primary varieties: gated and non-gated. Gated review management systems, also known as "intent-driven" systems, are the most efficient at generating positive reviews for businesses. These systems ask a recent customers if they had a good experience before sending them to a review site like Yelp or Google to leave their opinion or submit a customer service request depending on their answer.

Gated review systems can be an effective tool for increasing positive reviews and maintaining brand reputation -but they should be used responsibly and with caution. Yelp, Google, and other third-party review sites do not like it when people use gated systems, so you must pay close attention to their guidelines about such practices before creating a gated review system for your business. While these sites may not favor this type of approach, there is no denying that it is more effective than non-gated systems.

Review sites that plague fast food chains

For fast food restaurants, Yelp is often the biggest pain in their wallet. Every restaurant owner knows that bad customer reviews on Yelp can affect how people frequent them. Many people will Google the name of a particular restaurant plus "reviews" or "ratings" to confirm their decision to try it out. The results are usually an entire page filled with Yelp reviews, favoring the customers who searched for them.

But Yelp is one of many review sites worth mentioning - Zomato.com (formerly Urban Spoon) can also affect how people frequent restaurants. Other review sites like Google My Business, Facebook, PissedConsumer.com, Gripeo.com, ConsumerAffairs.com, TrustPilot.com, FourSquare.com, and GrubGrade.com should not be ignored either since they are all players when it comes to consumer reviews—even if they have a relatively small market share compared to Yelp and Google My Business respectively. Fast food chains don't normally have OpenTable.com or TripAdvisor.com reviews, so those are two not to worry about, but some of these can be removed under certain circumstances, and most cannot; therefore, it is important to respond quickly and politely to negative comments that appear on these websites no matter what kind of business you own or operate so as not alienate potential customers and avoid further negative reviews in the future.

Local review results: Knowledge panel

When a searcher drills down to the exact address of a franchise or any business location, they are often greeted by something special above or near the traditional search results—a Knowledge Panel. A Knowledge Panel in Google encapsulates many different data points served in one place.

It includes images, map data, reviews, peak times addresses, and more. The exact ingredients in a Knowledge Graph change for different locations and industries; it's put together by an artificial intelligence-like system using algorithms and its database of information sources. It seems like most local restaurant locations don't always "claim" their knowledge panel when they appear on at least Google Maps, which can be a mistake because claiming a business can add a level of control to what is seen in the graph. This allows businesses to highlight materials that frame the brand in the best way possible without mixing up with competitors' content.

Pay attention to more than just reviews.

For any single-location business or franchise, reviews are important. Whether it's a Dunkin' Donuts, Cinnabon, or KFC, people review your business on the web. But it's important to note that reviews aren't all that matter. If we take KFC, for example, as a typical type of search result profile (the brand), we find many results and impressions available beyond just reviews.

Social media conversations and reviews of various types in different places power both organic and paid searches within Yahoo, Bing, and Google. Intentionally optimizing this content can tremendously impact visibility while building the marketing collateral any restaurant needs to remain competitive, so much more than just a good review.

Large chains have larger problems.

When comparing small, family-run restaurants to large corporate entities, it's easy to see that small eaterie have certain advantages. They can move quickly and adapt to perceived demands; for example, they usually have the luxury of choosing the neighborhoods in which their restaurants are located and the clientele they seek to attract. Small restaurants can also more easily raise prices due to their less competitive landscape. Meanwhile, when ingredients like gluten-free bread or organic beef become an attractive point for customers, small establishments are often the first ones on board, representing a particular niche market.

On the other hand, larger chains struggle with constraints—not only from corporate headquarters but also from a wider customer base that expects consistency. Menu decisions are often set at a far higher level than for smaller businesses and are expected to please many different groups of diners across multiple states or countries. Some may argue that larger chains lack flexibility, but this is not always true since local outlets can suggest and test new menu items before being pushed across each location nationally or internationally. While some may prefer local independents over well-known restaurant names, we should never overlook major chains' sheer marketing power and infrastructural advances.

Franchisees: Too busy to be PR experts

Franchisees are often-crazed people, trying to learn as much as possible and execute well. They follow a corporate playbook that leaves little room for personal touches despite what their marketing department may say. Often we see unclaimed online profiles auto-generated by companies like Yelp and Google. There needs to be more proactive review and reputation management since they need more time and resources to devote to it. The images portrayed online are 100% user-generated, with no owner input. Some will arguably have cleaner bathrooms than the average franchisee, but it may be fine in a densely packed environment with other franchisees nearby.

These busy folk may be attentive owners who know exactly what their customers need but need more time to manage their online presence. That's why it's so important for brand leaders to take into consideration every last piece of public relations relating to their franchises, from helping set up profiles properly to addressing negative customer experience notices promptly within 24 hours after a complaint is first seen – even if saying "We are looking into this case and would love for you allow us to make this right" can drastically improve relationships between the business and its patrons.

Reputation management for franchises

Franchisees across the country have found success in reputation management through their local co-op. The idea is simple: Pool resources from a group of regional franchisees and uses those funds to fund a long-term online reputation campaign. Costs become very manageable at this level as project management can be shared between each location, allowing for a larger network of customers to benefit from the same strategy.

Sentiment analysis is also performed on all locations to identify the biggest problems with customer engagement and satisfaction, particularly those that affect nearby franchise locations. Because one location affects another, most franchisees are happy to have the biggest issues dealt with first. A co-op-based system can implement proactive review systems, allowing real, positive reviews to drive into the sites that need them most, meaningfully impacting rankings over time.

Restaurant Reputation Management FAQs

If you are a restaurant manager or owner, you may be wondering how to manage the reputation of your business. While some reviews can be removed, it is often difficult and lengthy. Instead, it is best to leverage the rules search engines go by to enhance your reviews. Here are answers to some common questions about Restaurant Reputation Management.

Q: How Can I Improve My Restaurant's Online Reviews?

A: New reviews are often considered more relevant than old ones, so it is important to maintain a constant flow of positive reviews to muzzle old bad reviews. You should also ask customers directly for reviews after they have enjoyed their meal. Offer incentives – such as discounts or free appetizers – for leaving a review with a 4-star rating or higher on your restaurant's Google profile page or other popular review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Finally, don't forget about social media engagement! Reply appropriately and quickly to both good and bad comments on various platforms throughout the digital world where customers may comment on your services.

Q: What is the most important review site for restaurants and fast food chains?

A: Regarding restaurant and fast food chains, Yelp is the most widely used and influential review site. This is no surprise, given that Yelp boasts more than 225 million reviews for over 5 million businesses. As a result, most online review management strategies focus heavily on Yelp.

Other sites like Google My Business, Facebook, TripAdvisor, Zomato, OpenTable, and Zagat have also been gaining traction among consumers. In particular, Google My Business rankings affect local search positioning and rapidly become an important part of any well-planned online review strategy.

So while Yelp remains the definite leader in the restaurant and fast food chain reviews, it is also essential to pay attention to other sites. Focusing too heavily on one platform will limit your potential significantly.

Q: What is Google's Knowledge Panel?

A: Google's Knowledge Panel is a brief encapsulation of data features accumulated from multiple sources about your business. It provides a detailed, brief overview of your business on the first page for search engine results without the user having to scroll past other sites' owner's sites or competitor's content. Google draws information provided in the panel from many different sources. Some are straightforward, such as professional standard biographies and reviews; others could be more obvious, like selecting descriptive social media posts and photos.

The Knowledge Panel includes customer reviews, links to book appointments or reservations, menus or services, website information, phone numbers or email address links, images of history or the inside of physical stores, hours of operation, and more. Also included are basic facts such as what type of company you are (non-profit organization), if you are part of a larger group (Gift Shop Ltd.), and important customer details such as membership fees.

Updated

December 30, 2022

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The Reputation Management Restaurant Franchises Challenge Explained

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