Magnus Hultberg has worked with online marketing and reservations for restaurants since 2005. As a product manager at Livebookings, he spends his time polishing Freebookings, a free online reservations for restaurants.

There is more to “The NeverEnding Story” than a cheesy movie score and wacky ’80s hairdos. We can take a few cues on the importance of managing your online reputation from this classic fantasy story.

Much like young Bastian in the movie, doing business in the restaurant industry means we run the risk of feeling bullied. With online-review sites and social media being an ever more important source of customer inspiration and advice — and some now even saying it is surpassing search — the nitty-gritty on any product or restaurant is only a tap away on a smartphone.

In fact, some restaurant owners may even see a parallel between the onslaught of online commentary and “The Nothing,” which threatens to engulf the fairytale world of Fantasia. However, unlike the movie, we don’t have an empress to turn to for help!

While I hope you don’t feel “The Nothing” threatening your world, thinking about how to deal with unhappy customers is a healthy exercise. Rather than taking a reactive approach to negative comments, some proactive planning helps alleviate the burden and keeps you focused on what’s important: having happy customers. They are your best marketing scheme.

Here are five tips to make your online reputation shine.

1. The best defense is a good offense. In this context, it means remembering what triggered a negative review usually was something that happened (or didn’t happen) in your restaurant. Reduce the risk of poor reviews by continually reviewing the end-to-end customer experience as they enjoy your hospitality. Are customers leaving your restaurant thinking they have to tell all their friends? Why not? Find out!

2. Don’t beat around the bush. If people have something to say, ask them to say it straight away so you can address their complaint as soon as possible (perhaps even before it ends up on Yelp, or at least get the comment that you dealt with the issue as soon as you were made aware of it). Ask before they finish their meal; have comment cards on the table; place QR codes on the comment cards and your receipts leading to an online feedback form; and e-mail a follow-up if they booked online. There are many ways to open direct communication with the customer.

3. Pay attention to the grapevine. While online comments can seem scary, it is a unique asset to help you respond to customers and learn where your business can be improved. Use automated tools such as Google Alerts and TweetBeep to get e-mail notifications when something new is said about you online. For every new comment, try to find out the background and the root of the issue. Then eliminate it to try and ensure it won’t happen again.

4. Extend your hospitality outside your dining room. Use the unique ability of the online space to contact customers talking about you. A simple “thank you for coming” goes a long way, and for those negative comments, showing in public that you are caring and capable enough to address customer complaints adds to your image of a great host.

5. “But you don’t have to take my word for it …” The days of having customer quotes on your website are over. Today, customer quotes are more real, more recent and more trusted in places you can’t touch (never, ever, fake a review). But your customers can! Encourage customers to leave their positive opinions online, and don’t be afraid to suggest a site such as Yelp, Urbanspoon or Foursquare.

There is no such thing as getting rid of online reviews, or removing the risk of a negative comment. And you don’t want to, either. There is something dubious about a place that only ever receives five-star glowing reviews or that doesn’t have any reviews at all from the past six months.

Bastian, our boy hero from “The NeverEnding Story,” ended up saving the kingdom and through his imagination restore the world to its former glory. Like in the movie, the shining stars of the online reputation game are those who manage to keep the story going, making it obvious that customers are having a good time. Be that restaurant.

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2 Responses to “Managing your reputation online is a never-ending story”

  1. Leigh Pinkston says:

    One of the best things you can do is be present in your restaurant so that you can address any possible problems before the guest walks out the door. Once the guest is gone, there is nothing you can do. He or she is likely to tell friends and family, and that means social networks. To that point, it's a good reminder that people are already discussing your brand online. You should be guiding the discussions, not letting people ran away with your brand's image.

  2. beatrice214 says:

    Wonderful post -Thanks for sharing this article with me and your reader. I have add your site to my bookmark for search any more article that I am search then I come for your site first for search.

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