Do People Trust Online Restaurant Reviews?

If you own a restaurant, online restaurant reviews have probably been a topic of conversation from time to time. Recently, the question of whether or not the majority of frequent diners read and react to online restaurant reviews has created a lot of curiosity among staff members here at Palm Beach Cuisine.

If you perform an online search for companies that have conducted surveys centered around online restaurant reviews, you will not find a great deal of information. Most of the stats we found on reviews were not product specific and did not come from polling a group of consumers. In fact, many of the reports published by a variety of companies and bloggers used various resources comprised of collected data on people who bought products online and were vague and misleading.

What do we mean by misleading? Let's look at one example. We found an online business blog that published a report last year stating that 96% of Americans shop online. True or False? Back in 2016, Pew, a real research company that conducts surveys, published a report stating that 13% of Americans do not use the internet. If 13% of Americans do not use the internet, how can any company report that 96% of Americans shop online? If you're interested in reading accurate stats on consumer behavior regarding online reviews, you'll want to read a report Pew published in December of 2016. Pew Report

We were really hoping to be able to gather some insightful information to take back to our restauranteurs without burdening our subscribers with email surveys. Many Restauranteurs in Palm Beach County want to know how many people actually read and react to reviews posted on popular review sites. Unfortunately, this information does not appear to exist. If you ask a representative from a company that promotes restaurant reviews for stats on consumer participation, you will be told that almost everyone reads and reacts to reviews. Of course, they do!

On January 2, 2018, We decided to conduct our own survey. We would send a one question survey via email to many thousands of our subscribers. Below was the email that was sent out on January 3, 2018.

"Do you trust online reviews for local restaurants or allow online reviews to dissuade you from dining at a restaurant you might consider visiting? Yes or No.
Before you make your selection, think carefully about the question. If you would be dissuaded from visiting a restaurant that had a one or two-star rating next to its name, then you would select YES. If you would put off trying a restaurant until a later date because you had seen a one or two-star rating for that restaurant, you should answer YES. If you would try a new restaurant regardless of its ratings, you would select NO. If you rarely look at reviews and ratings for restaurants you visit, your selection would be NO."

Our findings:

On January 8, 2018, we totaled the numbers. Precisely 19.6% of the people that participated in our survey answered NO and 80.4% answered YES. Regardless of how you view this survey, we found it to be quite alarming, as should any restauranteur.

A word of caution to consumers that use restaurant reviews as a guide to better dining. During the past year, Palm Beach Cuisine has been monitoring many online restaurant reviews posted on several of the top sites. We discovered that some of the reviews were written by disgruntled employees or by individuals that may have received compensation to write a review. We are also privy to first-hand knowledge of one such case where a small group of degenerates targeted a local Palm Beach County restaurant owner for assassination by reviews. The store owner we are referring to was hurt by this and it took months to have the reviews removed. While we applaud the efforts of the management teams of some of these review sites for filtering out the absurd and ridiculous from legitimate reviews, we feel it is extremely difficult and perhaps even impossible to filter out all of the reviews that are disingenuous. This is unfortunate because it does not take many one-star reviews to paint a bleak picture for any given restaurant.

Here is an example of one appalling review we found on one of the top review sites: "I have never eaten here and probably never will. Heard from someone who went into the kitchen and was horrified at the dirty conditions". This person who wrote this review did so having never dined at the restaurant. There are many reviews such as this one.

People should also recognize that everyone's palate is different as is the perception of individuals regarding good or bad service. Most of us wouldn't consider giving a restaurant only three stars for a five-star meal served because the water brought to the table did not have ice, but people do things such as this. Too many of the restaurant reviews are disingenuous and quite frankly, absurd and spiteful and offer little insight regarding the quality of the food or service.

The next time you are considering dining out, pick a restaurant and be adventurous. It's not as if you are purchasing a car or major appliance for your home. It's one meal and God willing, you'll get to experience many more.

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