An astounding 92% of consumers read online reviews (up from 88% in 2014), according to a recent survey by Bright Local, with restaurants being among the most popular businesses that consumers are interested in reading reviews on.

By now, there are a ton of other review and rating sites out there, but the original review site – Yelp – remains the biggest.

Your restaurant’s Yelp profile has a strong impact on whether potential patrons ever walk through your doors.

With that kind of influence over your business, what can you do to make Yelp work better for your restaurant?

Claim your business on Yelp

yelp-claim-businessOne of the easiest – and most effective – ways to manage your Yelp presence is to claim your Yelp Business Page.

Once you claim your business page, you’ll be able to respond to reviews with direct messages or public comments. You can also easily update and manage your business hours, contact information and more.

Claiming your business is fairly easy and straightforward. You can begin by visiting and clicking on the red “Claim your Business” button at the bottom of the page. You could also just search for your business on Yelp and claim your business from there.

Keep your recent reviews positive

Nearly 90% of consumers read less than 10 reviews before they form an opinion on your restaurant.

This places significant importance on your most recent reviews. If your most recent reviews are negative, then many folks won’t bother to scroll any further.

Your goal is to make sure your restaurant is seen in a positive light immediately. But, that’s a tricky goal to achieve, seeing as the nature of online reviews skews toward the negative: unhappy patrons are far more likely to air their grievances.

How do you keep your most recent reviews favorable?

waitstaff-customersMake it easy for all of your customers to provide feedback. You can do this by following up with your patrons via email or text messages, asking for their honest feedback.

And while prominently featured Yelp stickers and follow-up emails or texts help, you might also consider training your wait staff to encourage patrons to visit Yelp to provide a rating. Your wait staff knows firsthand whether patrons are having a positive or negative experience. If it’s clear that a certain party is pleased with your food, atmosphere, and service, capitalize on that by directly asking for a quick rating.

You may also want to sign up for a notification system that lets you know when a review is given low ratings (1-3 stars, for example) so that you can follow up with the reviewer. In the speed-of-light world we live in, following up with reviews as close to in real time as possible can help you combat new negative reviews that rise to the top of the heap.

It’s also important to note that old and stale reviews hold very little value to the average Yelp visitor. Bright Local’s survey suggests that 44% of Yelp users find reviews that are older than one month to be irrelevant.

By following up with your patrons, and involving your wait staff in soliciting diners who clearly had a positive experience, you can ensure that your Yelp profile is updated and, for the most part, skewed toward more favorable reviews.

Understanding why, how, and when Yelp excludes reviews

On average, 25% of all reviews are filtered out, according to Yelp.

Understanding Yelp’s formula for excluding reviews can help you better manage your presence on the platform.

For years, Yelp has faced accusations that it allows companies to pay to have negative reviews removed – accusations it has always vehemently opposed.

However, there are a variety of reasons why reviews may be excluded, including:

  • If it appears that several reviews were made from the same IP address
  • If reviews appear biased and were posted by a competitor, a disgruntled employee, or if it appears as if the business owner solicited friends or a family member

Another type of review that Yelp often excludes is a review made by a novice or infrequent contributor. In a 2013 Yelp blog, the company explained the reasoning behind this type of exclusion:

“You would probably place more weight on recommendations from people who have tried every place in town and from people whose tastes you share than recommendations from folks who rarely go out to eat, who seem like they might be too close to the owner to be unbiased, or whom you have just met and don’t know much about.”

You can also ask Yelp to consider removing reviews, but only if these reviews violate the site’s terms of service, including that:

  1. Reviewers must be at least 18
  2. Users can’t write a fake or defamatory review
  3. Businesses can’t trade a review with other businesses
  4. Businesses can’t compensate someone for writing or removing a review

Bad Yelp reviews may not be the end-all for your restaurant. Here’s why:

reply-reviewsIt’s rare – if not just plain impossible – for a frequently rated restaurant to not receive its fair share of negative comments.

But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Generally speaking, customers know that bad things happen to even the best businesses. In fact, they tend to be skeptical if every rating out there has 4 or 5 stars. A few less-than-favorable ratings help solidify the authenticity of your Yelp profile.

What customers can’t accept is a restaurant owner who either dismisses a negative review or comes across as arrogant in a response.

When you respond to a negative review (and you should respond to negative reviews), you have the opportunity to prove your worth and value to future prospects. They’ll assess how you handle a bad situation. If you succeed in your response, these future patrons will have the confidence that if they, too, have a negative experience, they’ll be taken care of.

Yelp is an unavoidable part of your business – embrace it to capitalize on it

Yelp is the king of online reviews and ratings. And even if you don’t create a page for your site, your patrons can do it on your behalf simply by publishing a review. Like it or not, most of your Yelp reviews are going to stay.

Rather than ignore them, work toward encouraging more of your patrons to contribute. The more positive reviews on your Yelp page, the less likely new prospects will be scared away from those inevitable low ratings by disgruntled consumers.