If you own a restaurant or cafe, chances are you probably dislike review websites, even if you achieve great results. Unfortunately it’s mostly because the reviews that stand out aren’t necessarily the glowing referrals praising your every dish and move, but more likely the 1 star complainers who didn’t like the person sitting next to them and decided to slam your store for letting said person in. The Internet has provided a playground for the “masses are assess” mentality where people who are completely unqualified, have been given the power to voice their lack of qualification for others to hear. Still, that’s not to say that all reviews are useless rants of drivel, in fact some can really offer excellent tips that may actually help your business.

Remember the days when people would offer you feedback by coming to your counter and suggesting that your coffee was excellent but the mugs were awkward to use? Well people don’t seem to do that anymore in fact, they are far more likely to go to Yelp and write it out for everyone to see, which is why you need to be looking there as well. Now, I’m not actually suggesting that you listen to all the reviews (in fact I’d probably consider maybe 1%, if that) but in doing so, you may get a sense of what your customers a saying. Maybe you’ll pick up on a trend. If everyone is complaining about the same thing, you may well have an issue to address. That’s why you should be trawling.

So where to go and what to do. Here are some tips:

Yelp – Probably one of the more popular review websites. Many suggest that recent changes are impacting their numbers and there are stats to support it but it still has a huge user base and you should find a number of useful reviews of your place (hopefully).
Chowhound – one of the better review websites. While they have a smaller user base, they tend to be more knowledgeable than other sites.
GAYOT (pronounced guy-OH) – I find the website to be pretty awkward to get around and the ads are a bit much but they have a decent amount of reviews that you may need to check out.
CitySearch – this one always surprises me mostly out of the fact that people actually use it. Generally not a great deal of insight but they do have numbers.
TripAdvisor – a slick site with a huge volume of reviewers. Less about locals and more about travelers.
Urban Spoon – this fairly new player seems to have really benefited from having one of the more interesting iPhone apps and continues to be highly mobile.

Other notables include www.opentable.com, www.menupages.com, www.menuism.com, www.boorah.com, www.frommers.com

Quickly becoming essential tools that help to monitor chatter online is twitter which allows you to add the name of your restaurant as a search and then check regularly to see if people are talking about you. Google Alerts can also provide some info mostly when someone posts a blog about you.
And finally, the latest trends are pointing towards foursquare and gowalla as being new players in this space.

Even if you’re not using Social Media as part of your marketing mix, you really should be paying attention to it as quite often, potential visitors may be swayed by these reviewers, like it or not.