Hygiene is vital but Google stars help eateries clean up

curry2Consumers now put more trust in the number of Google stars a restaurant gets rather than its cleanliness rating through a UK Food Hygiene inspection, with decent third-party customer reviews now the ultimate icing on the cake for the hospitality industry.

So says a new study published in the interestingly titled journal, Annals of Tourism Research, led by Dr Zhibin Lin, Associate Professor in Marketing at Durham University Business School, alongside colleagues from the Faculty of Business and Law at Northumbria University.

The research was designed to understand the impact that both ratings systems can have on a restaurant’s popularity, and consequently their promotion and pricing strategies.

The researchers assessed all restaurants in Newcastle which had both a Google review rating and a UK Food Hygiene rating, and collected other data including prices, types of cuisine, social media coverage, and geographical location.

Google review ratings are used as an indicator for other consumers on the quality of the restaurant, and allow customers to make a judgement on a restaurant based on other previous customers’ opinions.

Meanwhile, a UK Food Hygiene rating offers an independent body rating conducted through an official inspection, revealing essential information about the services, such as health and safety, cleanliness, use of additives and their handling of allergy advice.

The researchers compared the UK Food Hygiene rating and Google review rating to the number of customers who attend these restaurants, also taking into consideration the additional variables.

The study concluded that while a good food hygiene rating is important, a strong online Google customer review was by far the most important aspect for a restaurant in terms of boosting clientele.

Dr Lin said: “The rating systems of tourism and hospitality services are instrumental for both businesses and consumers. Businesses use them to determine their promotion and pricing strategies, while consumers rely on them to make an informed decision.

“Our research shows the incredible importance of these ratings to restaurants and which they should focus on most if they want to boost clientele.”

The researchers believe their results indicate review ratings are playing an increasingly influential role in consumer patronage, while the guidance of official ratings is decreasing.

Nevertheless, they state that official ratings are still necessary for the industry, as those schemes focus on inspecting the private aspects of the services that customers cannot review themselves, and determine whether or not they can trade.

Dr Lin added: “Our findings further suggest that restaurants which strive to improve their services can simultaneously charge a higher price and attract more customers, as long as they are providing a good service. Therefore, this shows the huge impact genuine customer reviews can have on a business”.

The researchers suggest restaurant owners should look to place a greater emphasis on providing a high-quality service to earn positive customer reviews, but to also ensure that hygiene checks continue to be passed, so that their business is seen as safe and transparent.

Though the study is limited to the restaurant industry in one city, the researchers state their findings are relevant for all restaurants across the UK looking to boost business.

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