By Alex Koons

Yelp and Google reviews have the power to build up or break down a restaurant’s reputation. While they may sometimes be a source of irritation for the business owner, it’s crucial to stay on top of these reviews with the vigilance of a hawk. Any public forum where your food, your service, your brand and your business can be critiqued deserves a certain amount of care and attention.

It’s like peeking into the digital pulse of your restaurant and checking its health.

Look, I understand: Not every review is going to lay out the raw facts, and there are certain things at my restaurant that I won’t alter or, quite frankly, can’t change. If a review starts by complaining about prices, decor, music choice or parking, chances are I’ll skim right past it.

Related: How to build a positive pizzeria culture that sells more pizza

But whether it’s a rave or a rant, it’s always a smart move to drop a comment or slide into those DMs and chat with them about their experience.

Just taking a moment to drop a quick “thank you” after someone leaves a positive review can really go a long way. It’s like telling them, “Hey, I’m here, and I care about what you think.” And you know what? Even when the review isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, showing gratitude is still key. Digging into what went wrong, why it happened, and really understanding the customer’s perspective—that’s the real game-changer. Putting your ego aside and just listening.

In many cases, the negative reviews are even more crucial than the glowing ones. For instance, when someone complains about pricing, it gives you an opportunity to publicly comment on that platform about the whole-grain flour you use, the top-of-the-line cheese and pepperoni, or your organic produce. I would recommend never making excuses, though. Even if you had five employees call out that day, your inventory order didn’t show up, and there was a hurricane outside, never make your problems the customers’ problems. They don’t want to hear excuses.

closeup of a young caucasian man using a smartphone in the street, in front of a restaurant, reading the online reviews of the premises or reserving a table

Getty Images / nito100

When you show that you’re all in on making things right, it’s like a magic trick. Someone who’s super-disappointed can actually turn into a regular just by feeling like you’ve got their back. Trust me, a little empathy and a touch of the right approach can turn an “I’m done with your restaurant” into a loyal fan who’s just had a hiccup. It’s all about that personal touch, my friends.

Just a short while back, I completely dismissed these review platforms and the individuals sharing their opinions. Opening up Hot Tongue Pizza really showed me how influential these platforms can be in bringing people through your doors. It hit me that these platforms are powerful tools—tools I shouldn’t take personally, but ones I could be using to my advantage.

Related: Lessons I’ve learned at Hot Tongue Pizza

For a fresh-faced business or a seasoned neighborhood favorite, it’s a real game-changer to gather up those reviews.

And you know what I’ve figured out? People don’t want to think any more than they have to. That’s where Yelp and Google come in, guiding or even practically pointing people to the places they should check out.

Honestly, that’s one of the major reasons why you have to keep your reviews in check, no matter if they’re singing your praises or laying down some tough criticisms. The internet is like your trusty compass. If those signs aren’t pointing toward your shop, well, let’s be real: Snagging new diners is going to be one heck of an uphill battle.

Every review, whether it be praise or critique, still serves your shop in a positive way. What do they say? All press is good press, right? Feedback, irrespective of its shade, can remain a positive force, as long as you unwrap it like a gift, not a personal attack. So, instead of looking at these sites like another pain in your neck, use them like a lighthouse for your business to cut through the fog that is the internet search.

Alex Koons is a pizza industry consultant and the owner of Hot Tongue Pizza and co-owner of Purgatory Pizza, both in Los Angeles.