Online dining reviews mean everyone is a critic who can have a major effect on your success. As the trend continues to gain steam in senior living, more residents are embracing new ways to make their opinions count. Senior dining reviews can offer valuable insight into your program and operations, and navigating them comes with its own unique set of guidelines and challenges.

Here are five tips to garner top reviews in your senior living community:

1. Provide more ways to weigh in.

First, aim to get as many reviews as possible. Offer residents multiple opportunities to provide feedback, including comment cards, town hall-style events, e-mail correspondence and online forms. The key is to make the process easy and accessible.

Some seniors are very tech-savvy. For instance, I know a 94-year-old woman in one community who uses Sodexo’s mobile app, Bite, religiously. Before every meal, she’s on her smartphone tracking her nutritional data and, afterward, she sends a review directly to the on-site chef.

Others opt to jot down feedback in pen or tell you on their way out of the dining room. Whatever the method, encourage residents to make a habit of leaving a review.

2. Respond and act.

Prompt response is crucial to ensuring that residents believe their opinions are valued. How you react is even more important.

Actively engage residents on a personal level, educate them about dining operations, be direct about potential solutions or corrective action and ensure that you leave the lines of communication open.

If you welcome residents into the process and show that you’re willing to work with them, then you’ll win both respect and better dining reviews.

3. Be transparent to build trust.

Be open about your reviews and how you’re responding to them.

More senior living communities are recognizing the advantages of monitoring and replying to reviews on Yelp and social media sites such as Facebook. Post comment cards and e-mailed reviews to a website and bulletin board, so residents can see what others are saying.

This simple step signals that their feedback carries weight and ensures accountability on both sides. It’s also an opportunity to turn negatives into positives by showcasing your staff’s strong customer service skills.

4. Previews = better reviews.

Bringing the kitchen into the dining room and letting residents see firsthand how their meals are prepared can go a long way in ensuring top marks.

Also, when rolling out new menu items, it’s important that residents know what is coming up on the dining calendar and believe they’ve had a say selecting their meals. Several communities preview new plates at special happy hour events, which include a talk on ingredients and nutritional benefits, a cooking demonstration, tastings and an open forum for discussion.

These focus group-style meetings give culinary teams a chance to tweak recipes to boost satisfaction. They also help promote positive reviews by building excitement and generating interest in new dishes, especially exotic or ethnic cuisine.

5. Know your customers.

Dining reviews reflect more than just the quality of the food and the atmosphere. At heart, they reveal your ability to stay in touch with your senior living community.

Success can be as simple as actively listening to your residents. For example, in some high-end communities, basic, casual options, such as an all-beef hotdog, or comfort food, such as liver and onions, regularly earn rave reviews. In others, informal surveys showed that switching up the menu to occasionally offer breakfast items for dinner was a guaranteed hit. Keep your finger on the pulse and you’ll get high ratings again and again.

Achieving positive dining reviews is an ongoing task. To succeed, leadership must invest itself fully in the dining program, consistently request feedback, be open to constructive criticism and act quickly and effectively.

Remember, a majority of seniors spent decades cooking for their own families. They’re coming to the dining room with their own views based on their own experience. Most importantly, they’re also used to calling the shots.

Even if the dining experience is exceptional, they need to feel their voices are heard. Many times, that can be the added flavor that rounds out an already-delicious meal.