I was recently on my honeymoon in St. Lucia. If you’ve never been, I’d highly recommend it. However, the purpose of this post is not to expound on all of the wonderful things to do on that little island.
Rather, it’s to share my experiences with two restaurants, and to further illustrate how local businesses can no longer afford to neglect their online reputation in 2013 and beyond.
The first restaurant was Doolittle’s in Marigot Bay. Sound familiar? Yes, the original Dr. Doolittle was filmed there 40 years earlier, so it’s definitely a tourist attraction. The restaurant, which sits beautifully on the bay and overlooks the docked ships has been there for 16 years.
The next restaurant was the Spice of India, located in Rodney Bay. It’s a nice little restaurant, just two years old, and serves authentic Indian food.
Which do you think is doing better?
If you said Doolittle’s, you’d be incorrect (note – I realize when a question is framed like this it’s a sure giveaway that the answer is the one not initially expected).
The Spice of India is winning, and it’s not even close.
But let’s look deeper to see why this is.
We ate lunch at the Spice of India. Before we went there, the manager of our villa recommended it highly. Since we liked him, that was excellent social approval. On top of that, he told us that the restaurant was also the top rated restaurant on the entire Island according to TripAdvisor. Now, I know the Caribbean is not known for its food, but authentic Indian? This surprised me.
As we sat down, the owner of the restaurant approached us and struck up a minor conversation. He was very affable, and explained how the food is completely authentic, unlike the other Indian restaurant on the Island which has a tinge of British influence in the way it is cooked. That’s fine – not really an important factor to me, but it does differentiate his restaurant.
As our meal was winding down, he came by again and our conversation began to pick up. When I asked about the restaurant and told him he had come highly recommended, he told me it was two years old and business was booming!
When I asked why, I was told that they take great care of their reputation. He brought a book out for my wife to read which had feedback from customers, and then told me that his restaurant was the top rated on TripAdvisor – irrespective of food style. The very first review he ever received happened to be by the President of TripAdvisor himself, who gave it a top rating on the site.
There are now over 350+ reviews on the site, and he beams with pride over this. And if you ask around on the island for good places to eat, odds are this restaurant will be mentioned by locals and tourists alike.
Now Doolittle’s. We went there our second evening because we were told it wasn’t too pricey and the food was pretty good by the girl at the local market. We didn’t plan for a major night out and figured it’d be a nice meal on the water. Well, the seating arrangement was about the best thing the place had to offer. The waitress didn’t seem overly interested in serving our table, and the resident dog, while sweet, wore out his welcome quickly.
Apparently the owner was there sitting at the bar, which I only guessed because he said goodbye to a party that was leaving while barely turning to look at them. The food was very average – my wife’s mahi-mahi was frozen prior to being cooked and then drenched with too much sauce – and overpriced. My jerk beef burger was US $20.
When we got back to our villa and mentioned dinner, we were told that whenever someone leaves a poor review on TripAdvisor, the owner rips them. Others voiced this too.
Apparently the secret is out.
Every time someone leaves a review for the Spice of India, the owner, Adil Sherwani, responds as well, but in a much more professional manner and often just to thank them again for coming in. This usually follows a glowing review.
So… one business is LUCKY to get repeat business, the other is generating so MUCH business that he’s already expanded the restaurant to include an outside patio, and is moving towards opening a 2nd one on the island.
One has the novelty of being the site of an original movie, which makes for a good story and will attract people, while the other is dominating TripAdvisor – the most important international directory site, which is an even better story and is attracting people over and over again.
Let’s bring this conversation back to local business in general. Regardless of how you advertise your business to win new customers, the next best thing to real word of mouth is online word of mouth, which can be found on local directory sites. The ratings are tallied up and an overall score is assigned to your business.
The old thought was that if a customer had a bad experience they would tell 10-20 people. With the amount of activity that directories receive today (eg Yelp had 84M uniques/mo in Q1), is it safe to assume that that number is multiplied by 100? 1000? More?
I don’t know for certain, but I know it’s a LOT more than 20, and since these directories – accessed via smartphones, tablets or PCs – are typically the last point of contact prior to a customer making a purchase decision, can you really afford not to treat your online reputation like an asset and invest in it?
Only you can answer that question, but from the two restaurants in the example above, the answer seems pretty clear to me.