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PROJECT TAKEOUT

How to help local restaurants without spending money

Seven tips from marketing experts for writing reviews that will actually help the places we love.

Stars are fine, but writing a review that will actually help a restaurant you love will require more details.
Stars are fine, but writing a review that will actually help a restaurant you love will require more details.stock.adobe.com/Андрей Яланский - stock.adobe.com

With COVID-19 forcing several restaurants to close their doors or scale back their services, patrons often ask what they can do to help their favorite local eatery.

One simple way diners can extend their support is by leaving a restaurant review. But to really make a difference, the reviewer must go beyond clicking 5 stars and typing generic phrases such as “AMAZING! THE BEST! WE WILL BE BACK!”

Instead, local marketing experts suggest putting in a few more minutes to get specific about your experience at the restaurant.

Here are seven tips to help your next review serve as an in-kind gesture for your go-to down the street.

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Greg Klee

Go beyond the star

Holly Bruns, cofounder of Local Image Co. digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, explains the reasons why you should leave a thoughtful review with your star rating. “Writing an actual review helps with local SEO, identifying key search terms. It also builds trust with the consumer who is reading the review. Most people will zoom past reviews that just have star ratings to look for more effective content. It provides more constructive feedback to the business.” Bruns says the clients she works with use these ratings to improve, so details are important when leaving your star rating, even if it’s not a good one.

Google is king

Google is the most-used search engine, priding itself on delivering credible, relevant, and timely results to users. Kate Bielinski, director of digital strategy at Sutherland Weston in Bangor, Maine, explains how Google essentially keeps track of a business by how much the business is being talked about elsewhere on the Internet. Google uses this information to make its own ranking system of sorts, which plays a role in which restaurant appears first when searching, for example, “best pizza in Boston.”

Write specific keywords

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If it’s you who is searching “best pizza in Boston,” you know firsthand how important it is, as a pepperoni-lover looking for a place to eat, that reviewers help your cause. When it’s your turn to review, be sure to include the specific dish you ordered, Bruns says. Beyond the food, what was the atmosphere like? Did you have a drink? Was the staff friendly? Is the spot good for a date night or a large party? All of these specifics matter to the restaurant’s ranking and to those looking for a new takeout spot.

Spread the love

While Google should be your first stop, take your good deed to the next level. Bruns suggests copying and pasting that review to all platforms that offer the service: Facebook, Yelp, Trip Advisor, Bing, Yahoo, etc.

Become a consistent reviewer

Since it’s common for diners to show allegiance to many different eateries, Bruns suggests adding some consistency to your expertise as a foodie and becoming a seasoned reviewer. This adds legitimacy to the review as often times various platforms note your dedication with some sort of badge next to your username for all to see.

Avoid leaving emotional reviews

When diners have a bad experience, it’s tempting to let the Internet hear all of the details. “We should always give the restaurant a chance to redeem themselves before permanently damaging their online reputation with a negative review,” says Bruns, who advises calling the restaurant the following day and asking to speak with a manager. “You will be surprised by how many managers are willing to make up for a bad experience.” Bruns says that reviews are almost impossible to remove unless proven to be spam.

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Harness the influencer in you

Don’t forget your own power as an influencer. No matter the size of your Facebook or Instagram following, Bruns offers the reminder that your friends and family also value your opinion. See someone asking for a recommendation on their own social media? Chime in, again with specifics.

What restaurants can do

While restaurant patrons make all the difference when it comes to reviews, Bielinski shares a bit of wisdom for owners and managers, too, to help spread the word: a well-placed Google review button on the restaurant’s website, as well as an e-mail signature that provides a link directly to a review platform.