Finding a great dining destination has never been easier than it is today with a slew of restaurant locator and review apps for your smartphone. A couple taps using Yelp, Around Me or Urbanspoon and you know instantly what restaurants are nearby. Better yet, you can see reviews of these restaurants from other diners and be able to make an informed decision on where you will be spending your hard earned money.
For the restaurant owner this can be both a blessing and a nightmare. Bad reviews will certainly scare off diners and great reviews will bring them in. As a restaurant owner I know that my restaurants will have good days, great days, awesome days and many equally bad days. Bad days are inevitable. Maybe we were running short staffed, maybe we were much busier than expected, maybe we had some equipment break downs or maybe we were just not running on all cylinders. Whatever the reason it ultimately doesn't matter to the customer. They came in to eat some great food and have a good time. They couldn't care less that the ice machine is broken, Bob called off and somebody didn't chop enough lettuce. However, what does matter to the customer is how you recover from the bad experience. Did we apologize? Did we explain the situation? Did we correct it AND make up for it? Did we give them a reason to come back? How you handle the bad situations will be reflected on your online reviews and could make the difference between a scathing review and a decent review.
While you can certainly encourage your friends, family and favorite customers to write some great reviews on these online sites, in the end you cannot control what a customer ( or maybe even a competitor) writes online about your restaurant. However, what you can do is stay engaged with the online community. Get yourself an "owner" account on these review sites and help control the content and do damage control. Be quick to address bad reviews and thank those who give you good reviews. It is important to the customer that the owner or manager of the business cares enough to be worried about what people are saying. Remember that the profit margins in the restaurant business are usually measured in dimes, nickels or pennies and that potential customer that just drove by your restaurant because of that time you messed up Mr. Jones's order and did nothing to make him happy may have just cost you the days profit.
Alternatively, if you just don't give a hoot, have a solid following or are in a tourist trap check out how Pizzeria Delfina turns lemons into lemonade and turns the table on bad Yelp reviews.