Restaurant reviews are not what they used to be. There is rarely a covert guy crouched over a folded notebook secretly taking notes about his dining experience. Instead, everybody's a critic. With easy access to social media platforms, restaurant reviews don't just come from professional foodies. Instead, any diner can leave a review or post a photo for all future patrons to see. Luckily, with a few tips, these modern capabilities can benefit your restaurant and brand. Here's what you should know.

Be Proactive

When you're expecting the health department for an inspection, you likely prepare your establishment by sanitizing surfaces, checking thermometers, making sure the kitchen is clean, and so on. But shouldn't you always operate with food safety in mind? After all, if the inspection was to take place on an unsuspecting Tuesday afternoon, you should be prepared and ready to go. The same should—and must—be said of "surprise" reviewers. If every dish that's sent out of the kitchen has the goal of impressing customers, they will be worthy of a positive review, and will have a better chance of being photographed, shared, and commented on. In other words, every plate should be appealing to the eye and shareable.

Create Unique Hashtags

Trending topics are easily detectable with the use of hashtags, and the use of tags can help start conversations and get patrons commenting. So why not create your own? Somewhere on your menu or in your establishment, let diners know that you have a hashtag that's unique to your operation. You could start with a general tag that includes the name of your restaurant, or you could get more specific and focus the suggested hashtag on a current special offering. For instance, do you have a cool barbecue special on your menu for the month? Create a unique hashtag and display it next to the special on your menu. Not only will this help generate buzz on social media, but the unique hashtag will remain on social media long after the promotion ends, which will continue your marketing efforts without much work.

Return the Favor

When a diner shares a positive review or post about your restaurant, let them know that you appreciate their time. Share their Instagram post on your own account and mention the diner by their handle. You could go even further and message them to express your gratitude, or give them a discount code for their next visit with the hope that they will continue to post, share, and spread the word about your offerings.

Today, most diners have social media accounts that they use to share photos and thoughts with their friends, family members, and followers. So instead of preparing for a food critic, like restaurants once did, it's important to put your restaurant's best food forward at all times. By consistently striving to produce shareable dishes, and promoting specific hashtags, you can help generate buzz around your brand and your offerings.