This week, I was on a panel at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in San Francisco. The panel was about restaurant criticism in the age of Yelp, and one of my fellow panelists was Morgan Remmers, Yelp's Manager of Local Business Outreach. The issue of how restaurateurs can raise their ranking came up, and Remmers offered some advice on how to get that star rating up.

It's no wonder businesses would want to raise their star ranking, even just a little. Last year, research out of UC Berkeley showed that a half-star increase in a Yelp rating led to a 19 percent increase in bookings. Prior to that, a study from Harvard Business School found that a one-star increase in a business's Yelp rating increased revenue 9 percent. So getting that star rating up, even a little, makes a big financial impact.

As a critic, my main advice for getting that rating up is simple: Don't suck. But Remmers has some other advice, which she was kind enough to share with us:

Top 3 Tips for Restaurateurs on Yelp

From Morgan Remmers, Manager of Local Business Outreach

3. Increase Awareness About Your Yelp Presence

Include Yelp signage on business cards, in your email signature and in your restaurant: Bring awareness to your customers about where they can find you online. Check out Yelp's flickr page for signage made specifically for business owners.

Set up a check-in offer and/or Yelp Deal: Consumers can search exclusively for businesses with a check-in offer or Yelp Deal on the mobile Yelp app, and with more than 45% of Yelp searches happening through mobile devices (as of Q4 2012), optimizing your listing for mobile search is imperative. Added Bonus: Customers that check in to your restaurant or purchase a Yelp Deal are reminded of their recent visit and asked if

they're interested in leaving a review the next time they use Yelp's desktop platform. They can also share these check-ins and Yelp Deal purchases with their friends on Yelp, Facebook and Twitter, increasing the visibility of your business.

2. Add Content to Your Business Listing

In addition to the reviews that appear on a Yelp listing, restaurateurs can also add information about their business to help consumers determine where they'd like to dine. Begin attracting new customers by using the following free tools in your Yelp Business Account.

Add Business Information: The more information a consumer has when

making a buying decision, the better. Be sure to add a website, menu and business hours as well as a description about your restaurant.

Upload Photos: Adding photos is highly recommended. In fact, people

searching Yelp stay on a business page with photos two and a half times longer than one without. Interior and exterior photos of your restaurant in addition to beautifully plated menu items are a good start.

1. Respond to Your Reviews

On Yelp, once you claim your free Business Account you have a suite of free tools available, including private and public messaging tools, to connect with consumers that have written reviews about your restaurant. Sending a private message is much like sending someone a personal email and is visible only to the reviewer. This tool is best used to thank patrons for writing

a positive review and is also a good first step to get more information from a customer about a less-than-positive experience.

You can also post public comments which, when used properly, can be your greatest

PR tool. While you still want to address the reviewer directly, a public comment posts right underneath the review you're responding to for all consumers to see. This tool is most effective when you respond diplomatically, thank the reviewer for their feedback and state your policy or clarify any inaccuracies in the consumer's review.

Other strategies came up during the panel, one of which kind of echoes my “don't suck” advice, and that is this: With online reviews, service matters. The phrases “good service” and “bad service” are used incredibly frequently, Remmers said, and, unsurprisingly, are some of the biggest indicators of a high or low star rating from the user.

One chef brought up the problem of disgruntled employees posting bad reviews, or other users with unfair agendas. Yelp will look into these reviews if you flag them, Remmers said, and will be especially likely to remove them if you have supporting evidence.

So there you go. Use these tools to get that rating up, and again, don't suck.

See also: Top 5 Ways to Promote Your Restaurant: Flavor Flav + Yelp Abuse + Samples

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