They want negative reviews.

Botto Bistro, an Italian restaurant in Richmond, CA decided to ask their customers for one-star reviews. In their mind, it was an easy way to subvert online review platforms and gain some much-needed publicity.

It worked like gangbusters.

Thousands of happy customers decided to leave “one-star reviews” lamenting how disappointed they were in Botto Bistro’s tasty food and amazing customer service. Customers who brought in a screenshot of their review received a 50 percent discount.

What does this mean?

Does this mean online restaurant reviews aren’t as important anymore?

Absolutely not.

If anything, the Botto Bistro story makes a compelling case for online reviews. A large segment of their reviews rings true. If they’re negative, they’re focused on genuine complaints. If they’re positive, customers offer genuine feedback there as well.

Davide Cerretini, co-owner of Botto Bistro, states their unorthodox review campaign has led to “more and better customers.

The data backs this up.

Today, most consumers rely on reviews and social media for dining recommendations.

  According to a recent TripAdvisor survey, “Influences on Diner Decision-Making,” 94% of US diners are influenced by online reviews.

  Another study found consumers who take the time to read user-generated content show a 133% higher conversion rate across all industries.

  A recent study by Harvard found a one-star increase leads to a 9% revenue increase for a restaurant. These businesses would see a 5 – 9% increase for each additional star.

See what I mean?

If you’re a restaurateur, online reviews are more important than ever. Your new customers will immediately look for your online reviews. Research shows, a poor review portfolio means a significant amount of lost business.

Understanding customer searches equals more conversions

You’ll attract more customers, leads and sales if you know and understand how customers search for your business. Customers use a variety of searches to identify the restaurants they’re interested in. If they’re searching in Google they may see search results that look like this:

italian restaurants chicago Local Google Search

Customers may also use niche/industry-specific sites to search for restaurants in their target area. Here are a few results from TripAdvisor.

tripadvisor search results

And a few results from Yelp…

yelp search results

Do these search results tell the whole story?

Not so much.

If would like a more complete picture, we’ll need to take a closer look at the relevant keyword data. When I run the query “Italian restaurant reviews” through, we get a more detailed look at the types of keywords customers are using.

Here’s a small sampling.

  • Italian restaurant reviews near me
  •  Italian restaurant reviews Chicago
  • Angelo’s Italian restaurant reviews
  • Italian restaurant reviews TripAdvisor
  • Italian restaurant reviews yelp
  • Best Italian restaurant reviews Chicago
  • Quality Italian restaurant reviews Chicago

When we break these queries down a bit, the searches look a little bit like this:

  • keyword phrase [city]
  • keyword phrase [state]
  •  keyword phrase [near me]
  •  keyword phrase [review site]
  • [adjective] keyword phrase [city]
  • [adjective] keyword phrase [state]
  •  [adjective] keyword phrase [review site]

See the modifiers?

These details give you key insights, showing you precisely what your customers are looking for. If you’re aware of these details you have a clear path to follow. Let me show you what I mean.

  • Best Italian restaurant reviews Chicago. Your customers are looking for a top-rated Italian restaurant. If the keyword volume is there, it may be worth it to pursue local, regional, or national awards.
  •  Quality Italian restaurant reviews Chicago. You want to include data/images that demonstrate the quality of your food or establishment. Purchase from local farms? Mention that in your profile. Is your establishment polished and pristine? Post images in your review profiles showing that.
  •  Italian restaurant reviews near me. If you’re running a small or fast food style restaurant, post incentives on your review profile. Managing a fine dining establishment? Use prestige and social proof elements to lure customers in.

Customers are looking for a variety of details.

  • Location-specific details (e.g. proximity, directions, etc.)
  • A collection of reviews in a specific niche or subcategory (e.g. Italian, Greek, vegan, take-out vs. fine dining, etc.)
  • Validation by way of social proof via reviews, images, videos, awards and third-party recognition (e.g. Michelin stars)
  • Specific entrées, menu items or accoutrements (e.g. gelato, Wagyu beef)
  • Sentiment, recurring themes and key details from other customers (e.g. incredibly clean, generous portions, menu items spicy overall, etc.)

Here’s an example to show you what I mean.

5 star restaurant review on yelp using many descriptive terms

See the level of detail? This customer described the decor, seating, other customers, the food, wine pairing, the taste, the price and his overall feelings on the establishment. It’s quite a lot to pack into a single review. But this customer nailed it.

Don’t have this level of detail in your reviews?

Take a look at your competitor’s reviews to get a sense of your customers wants and needs. Analyze the reviews of a close (local) competitor to identify customer sentiment, objections, expectations, problems and pricing. Then, use the data from their reviews (along with your own), to make the appropriate changes in your restaurant.

Does this mean restaurant reviews are a competitive advantage?


A strong and balanced review profile boosts brand trust and brand recognition. Legendary restaurants focus obsessively on crafting a consistent brand experience their customers. When it’s handled well, these customers don’t just leave reviews, they become evangelists.

Danny Meyer - owner of  Union Square Hospitality Group

Danny Meyer gets it. His Union Square Hospitality Group is the company behind Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Shake Shack and others. He’s fostered a culture of customer service at each one of his restaurants.

Each and every one of his restaurants has been listed in the top 40 of Zagat’s ratings of customer service since they’ve opened. Here’s an example of their legendary service in action.

A woman enters Gramercy Tavern, one of Danny’s restaurants, and she’s upset. She left her purse in the taxi that dropped her off for lunch. She’s hungry, she has no way to pay for her meal, and no way to get back to work.

What a disaster.

The culture of hospitality Meyer has cultivated kicks in. An employee, “Carlo” seats her with the rest of her party and feeds her for free. Carlo gets a co-worker to repeatedly call her cell phone number. Thirty minutes later the taxi driver hears and finallyanswers the phone.

Carlo arranges to meet the taxi half-way, goes there himself, retrieves her purse, pays the driver for his trouble and heads back to the restaurant. He presents the purse to his unhappy customer just as she finishes her lunch!

She’s so happy she cries.

This woman left a glowing review. We’re still sharing the story – almost a decade later. It’s an obvious answer to the question though right? Reviews can produce a competitive advantage on their own, but they’re also fantastic ways to build a strong brand moat.

The kind of moat that commands loyalty, higher prices and eager customers.

You won’t get the restaurant reviews you want

Not on your own.

You won’t be able to personally serve each and every one of the customers that come through your doors on your own. You won’t be able to request reviews from each of these customers either.

You need a system.

With the right system, you’ll know how to request reviews. You’ll also know who to hold accountable for the reviews that come in (positive or negative). There are several ways to request reviews from each of your customers. The strategies and tactics that work best depend primarily on the type of restaurant you have.

Fast food or fine dining?

You’ll need your customer’s contact info, regardless of the type of restaurant you have. If you’re running a fast food or casual sit down restaurant, loyalty and membership programs work are an excellent way to do that. Here’s a brief primer on that.

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