In December 2005, Grand Forks natives Shawn Clapp and Jonathan Holth opened The Toasted Frog in downtown Grand Forks, North Dakota, opening a second location in downtown Bismarck, North Dakota in 2010. The Toasted Frog is an eclectic and fun restaurant and lounge with an extensive martini, wine, beer, and spirits selection. Its menu is diverse, and its customers are loyal. Join us in this interview with Holth as he describes how he uses social media to connect with his customers.
Jon, you are very good with social media and staying connected with your customers and employees. How did this come about?
Having said that, I use each time that I post something as a learning tool. I keep record of which pictures go over well and which ones don’t. When I post about a certain menu item, wine, beer, or martini, I track the comments and “likes” and then use that information to help decide what we serve and how much to charge for it. When we’ve made menu changes, we’ve asked our customer base what they’d like to see.
I learn something from every interaction with our guests that I have, whether that be in person, an e-mail exchange, or social media.
What are your preferred social networks that you use, and why?
Currently we use Facebook and Twitter more than anything. Over time, we’ve developed a rather large fan base for a small business on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheToastedFrog), and Facebook has some great options to reach a lot of people on a moment’s notice. We have our Twitter account (@TheToastedFrog) linked to Facebook, so each time I post something on Facebook it posts to Twitter as well. It saves time, and I reach two separate audiences at once.
I don’t really think there are two audiences that I should direct different posts towards, but I know that there are some people that prefer Twitter, and some people that prefer Facebook. Doing it this way I can reach both of those people at the same time. All of the posts are intended to reach everyone who is interested in The Toasted Frog, with the goal of additionally reaching someone who might not have been a fan of ours previously.
How often do you monitor social media and review sites for your business?
I check for new reviews each morning right away, and then every couple hours throughout the day, typically. This might seem like overkill, but new reviews can post at any time, and I feel like it’s important to either respond or take action as soon as possible. Even when I’m on vacation, or just away from the restaurant, I monitor them via the review sites’ mobile apps.
In today’s society, online reviews are king of our industry. You won’t find many successful restaurants (especially in larger communities) that have a negative online presence. There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t speak to a guest in the restaurant that tells me that they are here because of tripadvisor, yelp, or urbanspoon. So, the greater your standing on those sites, the greater your chances of attracting new customers. These review sites need monitoring, because if you want to be successful, you have to use customer reviews as training tools to improve the overall experience.
Do you respond to customer reviews?
I don’t have a set policy; I take it on a case-by-case basis. The little bit of research that I have done on how to handle online reviews mostly always states that you should respond to each review or most reviews, whether it is positive or negative. This aspect of handling review sites is where I differ from a lot of the professionals that speak on the subject.
I think there’s something to be said for reviews speaking for themselves; sometimes a response can take away from the information provided by the reviewer. If the last sentence of a review states, “I can’t wait to go back!”, that’s extremely powerful and I don’t want to add anything that might erase that last thought in someone’s mind. There is a certain flow to reading reviews of restaurants.
Typically, those that are searching for a restaurant won’t go to a review site and read just one review of a restaurant. So, if there are four consecutive extremely positive reviews in a row, I’m not going to do anything to interrupt that flow of positivity. If a customer visiting that site can read 4 consecutive positive reviews, then that’s the best advertising that I can receive. Adding a “thanks for the review, we hope you come back soon!” comment after a review doesn’t add any validity or genuine quality.
I do feel it’s important to thank people for positive reviews, though, so I try to send the reviewer a private message thanking them. Doing this encourages them to continue using review sites.
The public response to a negative review can be just as helpful for your business as a positive review. -Jonathan Holth, @TheToastedFrogClick To Tweet
As far as negative reviews, I typically always respond, especially if the reviewer gives specific examples of what made their experience less than desirable. Our goal in this industry is to create an experience that makes the guest want to come back for more, so if someone doesn’t have that experience and is kind enough — or mad enough — to tell me why, then I feel I owe it to them to let them know that not only do I care, but I’m going to do something about it.
I usually respond to negative reviews by both making public comments, and by sending the reviewer a private message. I send them a private message because I feel like it’s important to address the person one-on-one, rather than in a public forum. I want the person to give me as much information as possible, so I can really break down the situation and what went wrong, and then convey that to my staff to begin a dialogue with them about steps that can be taken to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. I also feel it’s important to have this dialogue before I respond publicly, otherwise I may jump to a conclusion without getting all of the details. After this private dialogue with the reviewer, I then respond publicly as quick as possible.
The public response to a negative review can be just as helpful for your business as a positive review, or, if the response is presented improperly, it can tarnish the restaurant’s image more so than a string of bad reviews. That’s why it’s important to gather as much information as possible before posting a public response.
What kind of guidelines do you use when it comes to negative reviews?
Earlier I talked about flow.
If I have a negative review sandwiched in between a few positive reviews, it can disrupt the flow for a reader. However, if I can respond to that review in a way that makes the reader leave the page knowing that I cared about the fact that the reviewer had a bad experience, and I took the steps to correct it, then that tells the reader that we care about what happens within the restaurant, and we’re not just there to serve food and collect money.
I always thank the reviewer for their feedback, and let them know that we use customer feedback as training tools. Then, I address the problem in a very specific manner, and if possible, explain why it happened, while making sure to not excuse the mistake. I always make sure to apologize, because regardless of whether I agree with the guest’s assessment or not, that’s how they feel, and it’s not my place to tell someone how they feel. Truth be told, I am always genuinely sorry when someone doesn’t enjoy themselves in our restaurant. And then, I typically always end by again thanking the guest for their feedback. If I haven’t done so privately, I’ll also take the opportunity to give the reviewer my contact information, so we can discuss their previous, and hopefully next experience. There are a few simple rules that I follow to ensure that I don’t post a negative or damaging response to a negative review.
- Acknowledge the customer’s dissatisfaction. Show remorse that they left unhappy.
- Don’t get defensive. Defensiveness = guilt and readers can sniff that out from a mile away. It’s ok to admit that you screwed up, or that a policy, dish, drink, or service method is worth reviewing.
- Be polite, and convey a genuine tone in your message. If you sound rude, or arrogant, or grandiose, people will assume that those are your predominant traits, both personally and professionally.
- Always have a peer review your response before posting it. More often than not, they’ll see something you didn’t.
- Remember that if customers didn’t give you negative feedback, then you wouldn’t know where you could improve. Negative feedback is important to the success of any business, and how it’s handled is crucial to the retention of customers. Customers can accept that stuff happens, but most of the time they can’t accept that stuff happens and no corrective action is taken.
Which customer review sites do you monitor?
I always check TripAdvisor and Yelp, because they seem to have the most traffic in our region. Urbanspoon is another one that I check, but not as frequently. I prefer TripAdvisor, because I seem to talk to more people that use that site than any other.
Yelp is set up a little different in the sense that they filter some reviews, so only certain ones are viewable. Sometimes they filter positive reviews, which is disappointing. In addition, you can become a business member on Yelp for something like $300/year, and in doing so, they will filter out negative reviews and prominently display positive ones. That to me seems like buying a ranking, which takes away from the unbiased customer vantage point. No thanks, Yelp. (I’m sure if someone at Yelp sees this we’ll have some more positive reviews filtered!)
How valuable do you find these types of sites?
Extremely. Online customer reviews have taken over as the best form of advertising for a restaurant. The information provided is useful both to potential customers and to business owners, and it doesn’t cost a dime.
Do you ever use what you find on these sites to rethink how you are doing things?
As I’ve stated in previous answers, most definitely. The information provided turns into our best training tools, and in many instances has reshaped practices, recipes, and policies within the business.
Your online presence as a business can separate you from your competition. -- Jonathan Holth @TheToastedFrogClick To Tweet
What advice do you have for other businesses regarding social media and customer reviews?
Just be active. Post frequently on social media. It shows that your business has life! Interact with your customer base as often as possible. When you receive positive feedback, pass it on to your employees. They’ve earned it. Remember that negative reviews are opportunities, not setbacks. Keep tabs on everything that is said in reviews, and keep an open mind about it. I might think I just created the greatest drink in the world, but if four people think it’s terrible, then I should probably reconsider. Your online presence as a business can separate you from your competition in today’s world, and it doesn’t take a lot of time, energy, or resources to develop that presence.