Of course, that depends on who you ask. As a hungry consumer, I applaud Google’s recent decision to include more local business results. Check out this search for restaurants in my town:

Previously, a local search would only turn up maybe four or five results. And now—10 results on the first page, and thousands more if you click “More results near…” A clickthrough on one of these restaurants leads to an overview page featuring details, photos, web pages, and—most importantly—reviews.

The world of customer reviews can be a frightening place. But whether or not you have joined the online conversation, you can be sure that people are already talking about your food, your service, atmosphere, and prices. (And if they aren’t, why not?)

Well over half of all online searches go through Google, and Enodis reported recently that in their research, almost 3 out of 4 respondents go online to investigate quick-serve and casual dining establishments (“Trends and Directions: The Dynamic Consumer Landscape” June 2007). I’m certainly one of those people, and you can bet that I read customer reviews before I pick a place to eat. I also look for an official website, but a few good reviews will convince me to give a restaurant a try.

Yes, negative reviews are a part of this whole process, but whether you read online reviews or not, about 75% of your customers will. If you serve good food and actively encourage customers to write online reviews, you increase the chances of seeing a positive return with very little investment.

Google pulls reviews from many different review websites, and weights their importance differently. There are several sites that are pretty well known (Yelp and Tripadvisor, for example). But for a more complete list of hospitality review sites (including some in languages other than English), read this blog from SearchEngineGuide. (And anyone interested in optimizing their own website for search engine results should add SearchEngineGuide.com, to their list of favorite resources.)

So go for it! Get your restaurant’s champions typing and get new customers coming through your doors.

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