There was a time when the word of the professional critic was decisive in shaping public opinion about a new restaurant or diner. Patrons curious to know whether a new eatery was worth the money had little option but to either seek word of mouth or consult the review in the local newspaper. Times have changed, and now, thanks to the Internet, consumer reviewers have taken the place of professional critics in terms of shaping the public perception of an eating establishment.

A new report finds that some frequent restaurant patrons log in to Yelp, Google, or Foursquare to log feedback on every meal they consume, sometimes amassing hundreds of highly opinionated reviews of local restaurants. This is good news for consumers who enjoy sounding off about their dining experiences, but potentially devastating for restaurants; according to Reputation Changer, reviews from consumers can prove detrimental to a restaurant's fortune.

Reputation Changer is an industry-leading reputation defense company, and has offered its online reputation management services to restaurants across the country. CEO Cliff Stein has responded to the new report with a press statement, emphasizing the incredible sway that consumer review sites hold over the restaurant-going public. "People don't have to wait for a local newspaper critic to write about new restaurants anymore," says Stein in his new press statement. "Now, consumers can be out running errands, or even driving to a restaurant, and use smartphones to quickly access ratings from Yelp. Truly, consumer restaurant reviews are more numerous and more accessible than ever before."

In addition to being more numerous and more accessible, restaurant reviews are also more influential. According to Reputation Changer, reviews from consumers are often the deciding factor in the decision to dine at a particular establishment. "It's easy for an individual to do a search for local pizza places, and quickly scan the Yelp ratings that come up," Stein says. "If you own a two-star pizzeria, but there are five-star pizzerias all over town, then your restaurant is bound to suffer—not just a bad reputation, but declining sales."

Stein also says that responding to negative reviews is not always as simple as restaurant owners think it is.

"A lot of restaurant owners think that resolving the problem makes the negative review go away," Stein says. "Therefore, we see a lot of restaurant owners who get negative reviews and then issue apologies to the reviewer, even offering coupons for free meals. That's a nice gesture, but it does not always help the restaurant owner recover his or her reputation; often, those negative reviews remain out there, for all the world to see, even after an attempt at reconciliation has been made."

According to Reputation Changer, reviews should not always earn a response anyway. "Thinking that restaurant owners need to respond to each and every review is erroneous," Stein says. "It is certainly a good idea to politely respond to positive reviews, and even to acknowledge constructive feedback." Responding to negative reviews, however, can often make a restaurant's reputation woes even worse. "A response typically just makes the review rank better in search engines—meaning more people will see it," Stein says. "When a review is bad, the last thing in the world you want is for even more people to see it!"

That's why many restaurants turn to professional reputation repair firms, like the one run by Stein. "Reputation Changer reviews the individual needs of each client, assessing negative consumer feedback and other defamatory listings that may be out there," Stein says. "Then, we form a tailor-made battle plan. We cannot promise the ability to remove negative reviews, but we do help restaurants to suppress bad reviews, making sure that they are seen by as few people as we can."