The next time you're at a restaurant, don't feel compelled to hide the fact you're tweeting a picture of your dinner — the owners should actually be thanking you.

According to a recent report by The NPD Group, the key to a successful restaurant business in 2013 will depend on the company's ability to use social media — and take advantage of the customers using it.

“Restaurateurs should never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth,” said Robert Carter, executive director of Foodservice at The NPD Group in a press release. “It’s less about restaurants getting ‘Likes’ on Facebook and more about engaging and interacting with your customers.”

These days, people look at restaurant reviews online before spending their cash. The report found that 35 per cent of full-service restaurant visitors said they relied on word-of-mouth recommendations or feedback from social media sites before visiting the restaurants themselves.

And while most restaurants welcome their customers' opinions, some companies seem to be doing a better job than others. Social media expert Aaron Lee says businesses should try to keep their restaurants more human by tweeting back to followers, responding to comments and thanking customers online. For example, after a customer at Boloco, a burrito joint in New England, tweeted about feeling like vomiting after eating there, the restaurant replied with an apology.

Lee also observes a positive feeling toward restaurants that have replied to negative reviews online about customer service, and even a U.S. Domino's that made a video apologizing to a customer after messing up their order.

But as we've seen over the years, social media can also cause harm. There have been extreme cases, as with Ottawa restaurant co-owner Marisol Simoes, who was sentenced to 90 days in jail after she was found guilty of creating a fake dating profile for a customer who wrote a negative review about her restaurant Kinki and Mambo online.

While others (both big names and consumers) took to the web just to write their opinions, some became stories in themselves. In 2012, chef Anthony Bourdain's heated email concerning Maclean's magazine's 'Best Restaurants' list took off after the publication omitted two favoured Montreal spots. A New York Times reporter's honest review on Guy Fieri's restaurant resulted in plenty of press as well.

But, Carter adds, in Canada, the food industry could be doing a lot better. Full-service dining numbers lag behind those experienced in 2008, and while social media sites continue to become more popular, restaurateurs should work toward excelling in customer service, food and creating a memorable atmosphere first.

How often do you write restaurant reviews online? Are they always honest? Let us know in the comments below:

LOOK: 10 of the most scathing reviews in the past few years.

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  • The New York Times, 9/18/2012. Read the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/dining/reviews/le-cirque-in-manhattan.html?_r=0">full review</a>.

  • The Observer, 11/22/2008. Read the full review <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/nov/23/buddha-bar-restaurants-jay-rayner">here</a>.

  • The New York Times, 10/26/2005. Read the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/26/dining/26rest.html?pagewanted=all">full review</a>.

  • The New York Post, 9/25/2012. Read the full review <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/eats/restaurant-review-joanne-trattoria-article-1.1167790">here</a>.

  • The New York Times, 8/7/2012. Read the full review <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/08/dining/reviews/nicoletta-nyc-restaurant-review.html">here</a>.

  • The Guardian, 4/9/2010. Read the full review <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/apr/10/colony-london-restaurant-review">here</a>.

  • The New York Times, 6/7/2011. Read the full review <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/dining/reviews/imperial-no-nine-nyc-restaurant-review.html?ref=samsifton">here</a>.

  • GQ, September 2011. Read the full review <a href="http://www.gq.com/food-travel/alan-richman/201109/alan-richman-m-wells-restaurant-scandal-review?currentPage=all">here</a>.

  • Vanity Fair, April 2011. Read the full review <a href="http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2011/04/lami-louis-201104">here</a>.

  • Washington City Paper, 7/13/2011. Read the full review <a href="http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/youngandhungry/2011/07/13/cooking-the-books-choking-down-history-at-jose-andres-america-eats-tavern/">here</a>.

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