Food trends come and go, but one thing that may never fall out of vogue is the power of a positive review from a restaurant critic. Between social media and down-to-the-minute news cycles, a glowing recommendation from a reputable local or national source can travel fast – and be more cost-effective than buying ad space.
As many restaurant owners and managers know, getting critics in the door, let alone earning their praise, is easier said than done. Here are a few recommendations for luring the food elite into your establishment and encouraging a positive endorsement:
Critics don’t limit their palates to new restaurants. Major menu overhauls, a redesigned dining area, head chef shuffles and special events are reason enough to lure in local reviewers. Getting in touch with critics when you plan to roll out a seasonal menu or debut a novelty dish (such as a $100 cheesesteak) could be the motivation they need to swing by. Whether or not you get in touch with critics directly, proper training following a major restaurant shift or leading up to events is key to offering both general customers and critics exemplary service.
Most food critics concede that reader interest plays a major role in which restaurants they choose to review. To capture critics’ attention, encourage diners to share about their experiences on their social networks and consumer review sites. The more grassroots buzz you ignite, the more likely word will spread to the top of the food media chain. Make sure to also track any buzz surrounding your restaurant, as it’s likely to attract critics. For example, if one of your dishes is trending on social media, you can have extra ingredients for that dish on hand and be ready to answer any questions critics might have.
Once a critic decides to review your restaurant, his or her first encounter with your business weighs heavily on the final assessment. Where that interaction takes place, however, may not necessarily involve ordering or eating. Ensure each of your restaurant’s touch points – including your online reservation service and your own website – offers an inviting, intuitive diner experience.
Critics don’t just judge food; they’re assessing your restaurant’s atmosphere (and everything that contributes to it). Poor lighting, high noise levels and dirty floors or tables can leave a bad taste in any diner’s mouth, even if the kitchen turns out flawless, Instagram-worthy plates. Your employees can also be the deciding factor between a three- or four-star review. To be as accommodating and knowledgeable as possible, all front-of-house employees should be trained on proper service etiquette and menu specifics. One way to keep staff on their A-game is to find photos of well-known restaurant critics and offer staff an incentive for spotting them first.
Every day and mealtime, your food, employees and décor are all things you should be proud of, because you never know when a critic will inconspicuously pass through. A positive review is a critic’s way of recommending that hungry readers give your restaurant a try, so you should always strive to live up to the high praise long after you earn your stars.