Yelp is a great tool and a major annoyance for modern business owners, especially for restaurateurs. Long gone are the days when all a restaurant needed to do was set up shop, hope for a review in a local paper, some foot traffic, and word-of-mouth recommendation to drive business. There are over 1 million restaurants in the United States as of 2021. That’s quite a lot of competition.
Anyone reading this is probably somewhat familiar with Yelp already, but it’s helpful to have a little background and understand how the platform came to be what it is today.
History of Yelp
Yelp was founded in 2004 by two former PayPal employees. Initially, it was little more than email infrastructure allowing a small group of people to swap business reviews. It became what it is today in large part due to aggressive fundraising. They also continuously evolved their services to meet demand. The name is supposed to reference both “yellow pages” and “help.”
It wasn’t until 2005 that Yelp launched the first website version that looked somewhat like the Yelp of today. That was when they honed in on the importance of user reviews, giving them equal importance to professional reviews. The platform just kept multiplying from that point on.
Yelp began to allow business owners to reply to reviews on their page for free in April 2009. They kept growing, and in the following year, they integrated the restaurant reservation app OpenTable into their platform, allowing users to book tables directly from a restaurant’s page. The company went public in 2012. From there, it has continued to grow.
Some Yelp statistics are publicly tracked. Eighteen percent of reviewed businesses on the platform are restaurants — only the “home and local services” category boasts an equally large share of platform reviews. Additionally, 51 percent of all reviews are 5-star.
The app is on 31 million unique devices. There are 224 million total reviews. In addition, 503,000 different businesses are paying for advertisements on the platform.
All this to say: Yelp is a hugely popular platform and, if you’re a restaurateur, it would not be wise for you to avoid leveraging it in your marketing strategy. Every restaurant should have an online presence that includes at least an official website and a maintained Yelp page.
Yelp for Restaurant Owners
The core function of Yelp is that the public uses it to write reviews and find businesses based on reviews other users have already written. Basically: you want to get your customers to give you good reviews so that it’s easier to attract new customers.
If you haven’t already, the first thing you want to do is officially claim your Yelp page. It’s easy to do; look up your business, scroll down the page, and you’ll see a link to claim the business. They’ll ask you a few validation questions, and you’ll soon have a little bit more control. There are a few crucial reasons to claim your page.
- Update your business information, including contact info, hours, amenities, etc.
- Receive and respond to direct customer messages.
- Respond to customer reviews
More features are available if you upgrade your business account for a small fee, but these core features should be enough for most people. You want to have your key business information as up-to-date as possible to manage customer expectations. If customers have direct questions, they’re probably considering spending money at your restaurant.
You should be responding to customer reviews. If there’s an especially nice, long, thorough, positive review, you should respond to thank that person. Maybe offer them a drink on the house next time they come in — show that you’re engaged because other people viewing your page will see that you’ve responded and that you’re an attentive person.
Responding to negative reviews is even more critical. It allows you to address the issues that person had with your restaurant directly. Was the food cold? Was it underseasoned? Was their server rude? This is an excellent opportunity to get real-time insights from your customers, address them, and improve your business. Users can always update their reviews, so it’s also an excellent way to turn negative reviews into positive, 5-star reviews.
The other reason to get on Yelp is that you can pay a small fee for advertisements. Users searching “restaurants” in your area, for example, will see your business at the top of their search. This is an excellent way to ensure that local members of Yelp’s millions-strong user base are aware of your restaurant.
Restaurant Marketing Tips
As illustrated above, you should be using Yelp, if not for advertising, then at least for managing customer reviews and expectations. That said, it should only be one part of a multi-faceted marketing strategy. Below is a quick primer on building that strategy, with links to other articles on this site that can educate further.
First, do some research to understand your “buyer persona.” Then, set a marketing budget. If that budget is low, don’t worry, there are still many routes you can take. Next, do a little bit of research to gain an understanding of current restaurant marketing trends. Make sure you have a website, social media accounts, and a basic social media strategy. Then start implementing your marketing strategy.
Digital marketing is only one part of a healthy marketing plan. While most Americans are online these days, many aren’t, and everyone still lives in the physical world. Research billboard advertising in your area. If it’s in your budget, you should rent one. People have to go to the grocery store about once a week; take advantage of that with grocery store advertising.
Shopping cart advertising rates are very affordable and give a great return on investment. Cartvertising is the best, most convenient way to reach customers exactly where they are. Hire a freelance designer to help you create an ad, think of some special deals to highlight within the ad to entice customers, and see what happens!
Remember that marketing is an iterative process. If one ad doesn’t work, consider why and try again. There’s probably not a need for you to do a complete restaurant rebrand; refocus your efforts. Instead, use advertisements to drive awareness of your business and use Yelp to manage customer expectations.