TripAdvisor – A Restaurant’s Best Friend?

I’ll be the first to admit it: TripAdvisor is a pain at the best of times, an unregulated, unelected free-for-all. It’s a bit of a joke. Or that’s what we all like to imagine.

But has anyone actually taken the time to look beyond the criticism, to analyse the real impact and influence of such a behemoth on this industry? My personal enthusiasm for the dreaded TripAdvisor is well known, so I’m going to stick my head on the block and make the case:

If you’re a restaurant, TripAdvisor has to be your friend!

Welcome to the world of user-generated content

One of the most interesting things is how quickly we’ve all adopted online reviews as part of life, like they’ve always been there.

Customers can now access independent, real-time reviews on a far wider range of hotels, restaurants and other leisure destinations than ever before – from the best place to spend a weekend away to where to have lunch.

TripAdvisor started up in 2000, a year after Google and five years before Facebook and Twitter. But it was never intended to be about users’ opinions. Originally, it was to focus on a mix of official words from guidebooks or critics’ reviews in newspapers and magazines. A helpful digital combination of all. So far so good.

Then one day, someone added a little button for visitors to add their own reviews. Take-up went crazy. Website visits and registered users skyrocketed. Do you know what happened? People were more interested in the user opinion than the ‘professional’ opinion.

Today, around 200 new contributions are posted on TripAdvisor every minute. Yes, every minute!

The opinion consensus

As a restaurant marketer, I’ve been trying to make sense of guest influence in restaurants for 20 years, and I don’t think I’m alone in believing the user review has been the single biggest game changer in restaurant marketing in that time.

What’s clear to me is this: people trust people like themselves. TripAdvisor has simply provided a platform for this.

The usual complaints

What’s funny to me is how nobody has a problem when they get a nice review, only when they get a bad one. So, instead of thinking about the reason someone posted it, they moan about TripAdvisor. It’s like having a suggestions box and shouting at the box when you don’t like the suggestions.

Another frequent argument is, ‘If you have a complaint, you should make it at the time’. Well, I for one go out to enjoy myself. Nobody likes a complainer, not your friends, guests, colleagues or anyone else. The only people who complain in restaurants are the types of people who relish the chance to wield some power over some poor, unsuspecting  young server. No, normal people keep these things to themselves.

So what can we do about it?

Now that the restaurant industry has begun to realise that the user review cannot be ignored, it’s time to think cleverly about the positives. TripAdvisor is quite possibly one of the industry’s best sources of feedback one could ever wish for.

It was Gordon Gekko in ‘Wall Street’ who famously said, ‘The most valuable commodity I know of is information’. Well, feedback is your information. We all know it’s crucial, which is why every serious consumer business in the world invests so heavily in it. TripAdvisor gives people the best chance to let you know what you’re doing right or wrong, and that information should be relished. Ignore it at your peril.

Lastly, there is customer loyalty. Think about the process of leaving that review: the guest has paid their bill, gone home, then taken the time to leave their review. Good or bad (but usually good, it has to be said), the urge to share is there. If it is a bad point they want to share, we have to consider why they want to do this. Spite? Pure vengeance? I’m not sure. I like to think it’s mostly a cry for help. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve contacted guests after they’ve left bad reviews, reasoned with them, killed problems with kindness, and they’ve become our best ambassadors and most loyal regulars to this day. People feel let down, unloved perhaps. TripAdvisor gives you the chance to love them again.

I believe that what we have to accept is that TripAdvisor and the user review are here to stay. It may not be perfect, but if you’re looking for pure unbiased guidance then neither is the PR/Journalist self-preserving model that has existed in old-world reviews for years. People are not stupid, they don’t go to TripdAvisor for the last word; it simply provides another opinion.

James Lewis
Creative Development & Marketing

Big Flavour