The awards recognise the “best of the best”, and award restaurants with a high volume of above-and -beyond reviews and opinions from the TripAdvisor community over a 21-month period.
The Dog at Wingham came in at 9th on the list, an achievement its operator Marc Bridgen called a “lovely surprise”.
The gastropub, which is currently ranked 29th in the country in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropub Awards, is nestled in a rural village between Canterbury and Sandwich.
Bridgen said: “When you’re desperately trying to build and grow a small property on the outskirts of Kent, you sometimes feel that you’re a bit too much of a hidden gem. It’s nice to get the recognition”.
Reviews are encouraged at the gastropub. All guests receive a follow-up email after their stay which gives them the opportunity to provide feedback.
The vast majority of reviews are positive, according to Bridgen, but negative feedback is also invited.
Listening to feedback
Staff don’t take TripAdvisor too seriously, but it’s a “very good barometer of how you’re doing,” Bridgen added.
“Feedback is hugely valuable,” he said. For instance, a guest recently reported that they’d had a fantastic meal with fantastic service but felt the pub hadn’t quite got the background music right.
Bridgen has taken this on board and is now working on a way to control the music. He’d also replied to the guest, thanked them for the feedback, and sent them some complimentary drinks to enjoy on their return.
When a bigger problem presented itself, Bridgen will send the customer a voucher, a complementary meal, and sometimes even a stay on the house.
“We will do anything to get customers to return,” he said. “If it’s a couple of drinks that gets them to come back, then buy more drinks, or have a meal or stay, then it’s a pretty simple marketing tool”.
A learning tool
Positive reviews are also a “fantastic tool” to motivate the team. “They are working their socks off in a very challenging environment,” said Bridgen. If a member of staff is named in a review, they are awarded with a round of drinks or a meal.
However, it’s the negative stuff that the team learns more from, the owner added. “I don’t think anyone can get it right all the time,” he said, “and you learn more in life from your mistakes than you do from your success.”
Fewer than 1% of TripAdvisor’s 8m listings are awarded ‘best of the best’ status. So what makes the Dog at Wingham stand out from the crowd? “Dedication to quality and consistency,” was Bridgen’s answer.
He also has advice for pubs wanting to raise their profile with guests. First off, you have to make sure your product is as good as it can be, and to consistently maintain that.
Secondly, the greatest form of marketing is word of mouth, with guests able to invite new people to the pub and spread the good reputation.