There was a time when the only way to keep a pulse on guest satisfaction at a restaurant was to hire secret shoppers or collect comment cards. Now, the Internet gives guests the power to share their thoughts—positive, negative, and everything in between—24/7 on review sites, social media, and directly with restaurant brands.
But what do you do with all that feedback? Enter sentiment analysis, a tool that is quickly becoming essential for restaurant brands to manage their reputation, enhance the guest experience, and curb negative trends before they impact sales.
Why Guest Satisfaction Matters More Than Ever
Before we explain what sentiment analysis is and how to use it, let’s talk about why guest satisfaction matters in the first place.
Everyone knows that guest satisfaction can directly impact check size, tip amount, and the number of return visits, but with the ubiquity of online reviews, feedback can also make or break your brand’s reputation, acquisition efforts, and bottom line.
For context, according to the 2020 Local Consumer Review Survey, 93% of consumers look at restaurant/cafe reviews before deciding where to eat—the highest percentage of any industry. The majority of consumers (63%) use Google to find information about local businesses—including reviews, contact info, hours, etc.—and only 48% would consider using a business that has fewer than four stars.
In other words, happy guests equal more revenue.
The Challenge of Managing Guest Feedback
Considering how influential restaurant reviews can be, it’s not enough to simply monitor what’s being said online about your dining experience. Brands must actively engage with all guest feedback—good and bad—whether it’s shared on a public platform like Google, or privately via an automated survey.
Take a second to think about how your brand currently manages feedback. How many platforms do you have to log into to monitor reviews? Do all the right people in your organization have access? How many reviews has your team responded to, and how quickly?
If you’re like most restaurant brands, there’s some room for improvement.
Identifying trends when feedback comes in from multiple disparate sources is nearly impossible. And without context from your restaurant's customer relationship management solution (CRM), there’s no way to connect the dots between reviews and everything that happened during the guest’s visit. On top of it all, few restaurant operators have the bandwidth to manually comb through dozens of reviews and respond thoughtfully.
How Sentiment Analysis Can Benefit Restaurants
Sentiment analysis—the automated process of determining whether guest feedback is positive, negative, or neutral—helps you convert the noise of all those reviews into a crystal-clear signal that allows you to take one-to-one action with guests and team members.
With the right tool, you can:
- See reviews from multiple sources—surveys, social media, and Google—aggregated in a single dashboard
- View guest sentiment overall, by location, or by category (i.e. service, food, etc.)
- Connect individual reviews to guest profiles within your restaurant CRM for added context about their recent visit, frequency, lifetime value (LTV), etc.
- Filter reviews by source, location, date, rating, keywords, etc.
- Respond to individual reviews without having to log in to multiple platforms
- Quickly see which comments have not yet received a response
- Monitor trends over time and, when necessary, escalate reviews to the appropriate department
- Stay on top of new reviews with custom daily reports delivered right to your inbox
Sentiment analysis can tell you what your guests are thinking, but then what? How do you act on that feedback?
How To Act on Guest Feedback
With sentiment analysis, you have a single source of truth that allows you to evaluate reviews—by content and context—not just the overall rating. Restaurant brands can use this information to identify trends and make targeted improvements that build long-term loyalty and grow profits.
Here are a few ways to make guest feedback actionable:
1. Seize Opportunities for Improvement
The best sentiment analysis solutions categorize feedback by content so you can easily identify opportunities for improvement in all areas of the business, like service, food and drink, value, facilities, overall experience, reservations, waitlist, pickup, and delivery.
You can then drill down into each category to diagnose negative trends before they impact sales—and, most importantly, make the appropriate changes.
For example, if you notice a lot of negative comments about wait times, you can see which shifts are having the most issues, and look for ways to improve. It might mean you need a new restaurant waitlist system that reduces manual work and guesswork for the host staff, uses automated text updates to keep guests informed, and offers the ability to join the waitlist remotely right from your Google listing.
Don’t be afraid to get creative. If multiple commenters say the drink list is too limited, you might consider launching a cocktail naming competition to engage guests and let them know you are working on expanding the menu.
2. Start a Dialogue With Guests
By directly responding to feedback in an authentic and caring manner, restaurant brands can express gratitude, demonstrate hospitality, and show respect and empathy, which builds trust with current and potential guests.
A modern sentiment analysis tool will enable you to reply directly to guests across platforms from a single dashboard with one login. When you spot opportunities to win back guests, invite them to contact you directly so you can make it right. As for positive feedback, be sure to thank the guest and encourage them to connect with you the next time they visit.
3. Personalize the Guest Experience
When feedback is tied to guest profiles in your restaurant CRM, you can use context about their visit history to engage with each guest on a more personal level—online and during their next in-person visit.
Within the reply to an online review, you could reference the anniversary that the guest was celebrating or the seasonal milkshake they enjoyed. And, as a follow-up during their next in-person visit, you could show a positive reviewer your gratitude by having their favorite beverage prepared ahead of being seated, or slip some branded swag into their curbside pickup bag.
This additional layer of context also ensures that operators know which feedback deserves the most attention (i.e. high-LTV guests vs. a one-time guest from a year ago), and can escalate it if needed.
4. Foster Accountability Among the Team
The fact is that restaurant operators simply can’t witness every single guest interaction. As such, they need a way to keep a pulse on their team’s performance. By starting each day engaging with guest feedback and sharing key takeaways with the team, managers can foster a culture of shared accountability.
Consider each guest review and survey an opportunity to praise and constructively coach team members, so that everyone takes pride in the restaurant’s success. Transparency ensures that every team member feels recognized, valued, and aware when improvements need to be made.
For a real-world example, check out this case study to learn how BelAir Cantina, a Wisconsin-based restaurant brand, leverages sentiment analysis.
Signing Off on Sentiment
Feedback management has come a long way since the days of secret shoppers and comment cards. If you’re not leveraging a sentiment analysis tool to monitor guest satisfaction over time, respond directly to feedback, and enhance the dining experience, you risk losing valuable guests, and ultimately, revenue.
Photo Credit: Helena Lopes from Pexels
93% of consumers look at restaurant/cafe reviews before deciding where to eat—the highest percentage of any industry.