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Online restaurant reviews have big impact on business

April 12, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
More and more businesses across the country are reaching out to customers who leave bad reviews online, and they're not always trying to make amends. Sometimes things get nasty.

For Eric Winick, it all started soon after he wrote a mixed review online for a restaurant. He raved about the food, but with a fidgety 2-year-old child in tow, he was frustrated dinner took an hour to be served.

"I said in the review that they had taken a ridiculously long time to bring the food," Winick said.

He was surprised when he received an email from the restaurant's owner asking him to take it down.

"He said something along the lines of , 'We're trying to make a go of it in this area, we all have families to feed,' and sort of trying to prey on my sympathies a little bit," Winick said.

In an extreme case, things got hot in the kitchen for an Atlanta restaurant earlier this year when it launched a Facebook and Twitter campaign identifying a customer who left a bad review, and the food fight went viral.

Social media expert Patrick O'Malley says the effect Web posts now have on companies can make or break their reputation.

"A single person can now go home, get on Facebook and tell 500 or 1,000 people what they think of your restaurant," he said.

The impact is immense. A Harvard business school study found that a one-star increase in a business' rating on the online review site Yelp leads to a 5 to 9 percent boost in revenue for independent restaurants.

"In the last few years, it has changed the way we have done business," said Zalmi Duchman, founder of TheFreshdiet.com.

Duchman is among the business owners who have made the request to remove reviews. He explains to customers how damaging negative comments can be and asks them to remove them.

Sometimes it doesn't work, but sometimes it does.

"We've found in the past the faster you react to the customer, the better chance you're going to have to get that customer to remove their negative review because they see you take their comments and their feedback seriously," said Duchman.

Online review site Urbanspoon says it actually encourages businesses and reviewers to connect and warns customers that many companies take what they type very seriously.

"For a small business, their business is an extension of who they are. There's a real emotional connection to that," said Urbanspoon's Kara Nortman.

In the end, Winick told the restaurant he wasn't removing his review. The business ended up apologizing for reaching out, but didn't offer any incentive for Winick to come back and give them another shot.

"I thought it was a waste of time, frankly, on the part of the restaurant to do that," said Winick.

Urbanspoon says it encourages and depends on customer reviews, but says consumers should remember that businesses sometimes make mistakes. If a company reaches out to you looking to make amends, it might be worthwhile to give them a second chance.

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