April 1, 2024

How (and Why) To Get 100s of 5-Star Reviews for Your Café, Bar, or Restaurant

Steal the tactics and techniques we use to get more (and better) reviews for our clients.

Interior of Norwood Cafe in Burwood

This is part one of our series on local SEO for cafes, bars, and restaurants, where we cover the tricks and techniques we use to grow our clients’ businesses. More coming soon. Stay tuned.

Why do reviews matter for local businesses?

Almost everyone checks reviews before visiting a new venue. Somewhere between 92% and 99.9% of people, depending on who ask.

It’s often the final hurdle you have to cross to convince a new customer to give you a try.

But, more importantly, reviews help new customers discover you, too.


They help Google decide whether to recommend you

Have you ever searched something like 'cafes melbourne cbd' and seen something like this?

This is called the Local Pack. It’s one of the top 3 ways customers discover new businesses.

How do you think Google decides which cafes to recommend?

In part, based on reviews. They want to give the best recommendation possible, so naturally they’re going to choose the more popular businesses.

(They also consider obvious factors like your website rankings, as well as less-obvious ones like how long people are spending in your business and how often they return.)

If you click “More places”, you’ll see a full map of the area. Google will highlight the top 10-15 relevant businesses. Like so:

Many, many people use this feature to decide where to go.

Especially for cafes and bars, they are looking for the best, closest option. They will compare you directly against your nearby competitors and make their decision largely off first impressions.

They help journalists decide who to write about

I can’t recall ever hearing anybody talk about this, but it is an absolutely critical aspect of local SEO.

Google recommends businesses that other people are talking about.

Journalists review popular businesses because they want to appear beside them on Google. They make their money when people visit their website. They hope that by attaching their name to growing businesses they will be more visible, get more clicks, and make more money.

You win majorly if you can get both Google and the journalists on your side. They feed each other in a virtuous cycle.

And in addition to improving your position in the Local Pack, reviews from these journalists on sites like Broadsheet and UrbanList can also give your website rankings a serious boost.

We’ll cover this in more depth in our future article on ‘backlinking’. Stay tuned.

How to get more reviews?

Ask for the review. Seriously.

Don’t ask, don’t get. So ask.

But be strategic.

You want a steady stream of 5-star reviews, not a deluge of 1-stars and complaints.

Here are some rules we’ve seen work wonders:

Ask the right customers for reviews

Your staff don’t have time to ask every single customer for a review, and you wouldn’t want them to, anyway. You want to maximize your chances of getting 5-stars, so you only want to ask the happiest customers.

Here’s who you should target.

  1. Your regulars.
  2. Any new faces you see come back for the second time in a week.
  3. Anyone that goes out of their way to compliment your food, service, or atmosphere.
  4. Anyone who sticks around for a chat.

As a general rule, avoid asking anyone who looks like they’ll experience technical difficulties just trying to leave the review. You know the ones. Sorry, gran.

Be careful about how you ask

Loyal customers are far more important to your business than a few extra reviews. You want to avoid any strategy that feels transactional or cheap.

The more human, the better.

Here’s two quick rules based on human psychology that practically guarantee a good good result.

  1. Give, then ask.
  2. Detach the giving from the asking.

I’ll give you a practical example that worked on me personally, then break down why it worked so well:

I was in an (honestly, quite dingy) burger joint in the airport killing time with my partner before our flight. I ordered a regular combo: burger, chips, drink. My partner wasn’t hungry, she ordered nothing.

Ten minutes later, the cook brought out my food. He leaned in a little, lowered his voice, and said, “I didn’t think this was enough for both of you so I cooked you some extra chips. Have a great night.” And left.

Later on, when I went to pay, the waitress asked for a review. I was more than happy to give them 5 stars.

Was this a coordinated dance on their part? Possibly. But having one person spoil me and another ask for the review ensured it didn’t feel like a transaction.

I like them. I want to help them. That’s reciprocity.

What most places do is try to bribe their customers with 10% off in exchange for the review.

That’s a terrible strategy.

It’s so obviously transactional that it severs all emotional connection. In their eyes, you are now a business, not a special place in their heart. You’re like KFC.

Also, nobody is excited about 10% off in 2024.

(I don’t think anybody has ever been excited about 10% off*.)*

FAQ: Should you buy reviews?

No. Never.

Firstly, because you will get caught and you will get penalized. Anything that violates Google’s ToS is a bad for SEO in the long-term. Google routinely updates their algorithm to punish violators en masse.

Secondly, because it won’t work even if you get away with it.

Picture this — two reviews, two accounts:

One account has been in continual use for eight years. They’ve been browsing Google, sending email through Gmail, using Google Maps a few times a week, and leaving occasional reviews at stores they really like for almost a decade.

One account was created a week ago in Serbia and has already left 300 reviews on a bunch of random businesses they obviously never visited.

Which review is Google going to weight more highly?

The one that seems like it was written by a human.