Google customer ratings more important for restaurants than hygiene ratings, study finds

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A good Google review rating from customers is more important for restaurants, and more likely to draw in more customers, than a good health and safety rating, according to new research from Durham University Business School.

The study was conducted 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, in order to understand the impact that both ratings systems can have on restaurant’s popularity, and thus 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 restaurants’ 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 allows customers to make a judgement on a restaurant based off other previous customers opinions.

Whilst a UK Food Hygiene rating offers an independent body rating conducted through an official inspection, revealing essential private information about the services e.g., health and safety, cleanliness etc.

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

Dr Zhibin Lin says: “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 that review ratings are playing an increasingly influential role in consumer patronage, whilst 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 such as health and safety, which customers cannot review themselves, and determine whether or not they can trade.

Dr Zhibin Lin says: “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”.

This research highlights the importance of third-party customer reviews in the hospitality industry and the huge impact these can have, both on boosting clientele and potentially impacting promotion and pricing strategies.

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.

The research can be found in the journal, Annals of Tourism Research.