TripAdvisor, and although it has both perks and flaws, the reviews are unavoidable for most restaurants.
First of all, I would say that TripAdvisor (TA) has achieved itself to be the most important media for the hospitality industry, but in my opinion, their credibility of the reviews are not 100% accurate. This means you can post a review in a restaurant even without having eaten there - this is what is very annoying. They also have very poor customer communications even to the extent that they do not respect the restaurant listed nor do they have the qualified staff to manage disputes.
The staff turnover at TA is tremendous, the quality of staff they hire have no background in restaurant or hotel, so they will understand the situation less and make it more incompetent. I have seen many restaurants in France, Bali etc. where they post signs with the word "NO TripAdvisor Reviews". But the sad part is that they have created that media buzz by active marketing which has made them the most looked up reviewer.
They also get hotels & restaurants to pay for a yearly subscription package for added benefits. Many turn this down; the fees are ridiculous. Anyone that has to pay to do this is questionable. Stand independent, gain more credibility, fairness to everyone. My comments above are without prejudice and based on actual experiences.
Having said the above, beggars cannot be choosers, so when you have no choice, we try to work with them. However, there is several things you can do:
1. Position your product correctly - the location of the restaurant, the type of food it serves. Good real pictures are better than pictures that were touched up.
2. When Diners eat at your place, you could give them a small business card for them to post a review of your restaurant. This is a common option, but if you have a guest survey questionnaire at the restaurant and the guest gives you their email, you can send them an email to thank them for dining at your restaurant with a link to post a review.
3. Now, what is so great about posting these reviews? You want your rankings to come up. Number 1 ranking means your restaurant will have a greater chance of gaining diners and also ensures you get Certificate of Excellence awards.
4. Responding to reviews is essential. It shows you care and that you want the best standards and services for your restaurant.
5. Make your staff both kitchen and servers aware of these good comments, but also make them aware of the bad comments as well so they can improve and see what they did wrong. By doing this, you make staff proud of what they do and where they work.
6. If you have a review which seems untrue or a diner who did not eat at your place, you can also bring this to the attention of TA. However, this is the hard part of working with TA - good luck with that!
7. TA provides stickers, flags etc. to their customers to put at your restaurant. They offer this free but remember, they are also marketing themselves which is what they are good at. We do not realise many things until we get unhappy with them for reviews that were not justified but still posted on your page.
8. Do not ask Diners to post a review while they are at your restaurant - this may not be published because they have a way of tracking the IP address.
9. Do not bribe diners to write good reviews e.g. by offering free cocktails etc.
10. Do not be threatened by Diners telling they will write a bad review of your restaurant if you do not give them a discount etc. Its sad but TA definitely cannot see this part of it and so expect no empathy from them. They do not know what the business go through because of false reviews, but as I said, they can definitely improve if they want recognition from customers and not diners.