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Everyone has a Letter Grade in Their Window Now

If you haven’t heard yet, Yelp is now displaying health inspection scores on your restaurant page. Which means, every restaurant in the country could have a health inspection letter grade in their online window. Make sure you read the whole blog as I put together a list of things all restaurant operators should start doing in regards to this move by Yelp.

There is a great Forbes Article entitled Yelp To Display Health Inspection Ratings On Restaurant Pages Nationwide that I encourage you to read. To save you a little time I will summarize the big bullets from the article below:

  1. Yelp will be posting your Health Inspection Score on your business page.
  2. They plan to have 750,000 health inspection scores posted by the end of the year. There are about 1.1 million food service establishments in the US.
  3. They are getting the data from local governments and a startup named HDScores.
  4. HDScores has 1.2 million scores in 42 states
  5. Yelp gets 30,000,000 unique mobile visits a month, 50% of those are restaurant searches.
  6. “A Harvard Business School study, in collaboration with Yelp and the City of San Francisco, found that displaying restaurant hygiene scores on Yelp led to a 12% decrease in purchase intentions for restaurants with poor scores compared with those with higher scores.” – Forbes Article

What does all this mean to restauranteurs? It means that you have to actually take Yelp and your restaurant’s cleanliness more seriously than ever before because not doing so could affect your revenues and profits.

A lot of operators have scoffed at Yelp reviewers and Yelp the company for years. Thinking that every bad review was a competitor trying to steal your business or some snobby know-it-all that thinks they are a professional restaurant critic.  In addition, Yelp hasn’t always been the best corporate partner, accusations of review placement manipulation and strong-arm advertising tactics have been lofted at the site.

The fact is this, by posting health inspection scores, Yelp just made itself more relevant for restaurant patrons than it ever was before. With Yelp displaying health inspection scores, right next to customer reviews, pertinent data about the business, links to making reservations, and links to the menu. Most savvy customers are going to look at Yelp before they even visit the restaurant’s website.  Because the restaurant’s website isn’t going to advertise that they got 70% on their last health inspection, but it will be right there for the Yelp customer who is reviewing your Yelp page.

At first glance, Mr. Mike’s 3 stars and captioned reviews would not stop me from trying this restaurant, Their 58 out of 100 health score would. 

One thing restauranteurs have to acknowledge is that patrons have always cared about restaurant cleanliness, they want to eat in clean restaurants that serve safe and delicious food.  In the past, there was never an easy way for them to add health inspection scores into their decision-making process because it wasn’t easy to get them.

Now that this information is available, look at bullet point 6 above – a 12% decrease in purchase intent for low hygiene scores, you better believe that it will enter into their decision-making process. If you have a low Yelp star rating and a bad health inspection score, you could be in real trouble.

Another thing to consider with Yelp posting health inspection scores, it’s going to be a flawed process. HDscores and Yelp are dependent on county health departments to provide them with the inspection data. Each county is staffed differently and they all have different procedures for handling health inspections, critical violations, scoring, reinspections, etc..

In some cases, a restaurant might get a bad health inspection score with a lot of critical issues but they might correct all critical violations while the inspector is on site. They have a low score but have fixed their issues and are technically safe for business, it won’t matter because the low score is what is going to be recorded by the health department.

Another nightmare scenario for restaurant owners, you get a bad health inspection score and can’t get reinspected for 90 days because the county is backed up. Who knows how many times HDScores or Yelp query the health department databases to update their info or how quickly the health departments get their data updated from their inspectors? All of these time lags could affect how long a bad score stays up on Yelp’s website.

Normal people outside of the food service industry don’t understand the nuances of health inspections and they don’t care. Click here to see a summary of the health inspections for Mr. Mike’s above, I got to this page by clicking on the Health Score link right next to their health score on their Yelp page. The general public isn’t sanitarians and won’t know why bumpy surfaces on walls or the lack of a thermometer could be huge issues.

The general public assumes that all health inspections are equal, they are fair, and that they happen in a timely manner. They trust that the health inspector is looking out for their best interest and they are willing to believe them. My point is this, you aren’t going to be able to educate the general public on the in’s and out’s of health inspections and defend a bad score, they could care less about all the injustices in this system, they are just not going to eat at your restaurant.

The only way to make sure that these health inspection scores don’t hurt your business is to get A health inspection scores every time. The only way to do that is to implement basic sanitation and food safety programs in your restaurants and hold your teams accountable on a shift-by-shift basis to following those procedures so you are 100% ready for every health inspection.

For years, we at OpsAnalitica have been preaching for an increased emphasis on food safety, restaurant cleanliness, and increased hygiene. To be honest, this messaging has never worked for us. Restaurant Operators haven’t been reaching out to us saying, help make me safer so I can protect my customers and my brand. The reason why is because, before this move by Yelp, a bad health inspection score didn’t affect most restaurants in the country. You got inspected maybe twice a year and probably corrected most issues while the inspector was on-site. The score wasn’t posted anywhere that your customers could easily find, only a few jurisdictions post letter grades in the window, so a bad score didn’t affect customers perceptions of the restaurant. That has changed.

Here are some steps that restaurant operators need to take immediately to ensure that their restaurants aren’t negatively affected by their Yelp Rating and Health Inspection Score.

Yelp:

  1. Claim your Yelp page. An unclaimed page makes it seem that management is disengaged from its customers.
  2. Respond to good reviews by thanking the customer for their patronage.
  3. Try to contact customers that wrote bad reviews and handle customer complaints that show up on the site within 24 hours. This shows that management cares about its customers. Offer restitution for angry customers in exchange for getting them to remove or amend their reviews to show that you addressed their issues. Some people will abuse this, but in the long run, it is better to not focus on the negative scammers but to focus on wowing every guest that comes to your restaurant and to protecting your Yelp Reputation.
  4. Flood Yelp with good reviews of your own. Incent customers to review your restaurant on Yelp to ensure that you get a high star rating. Hand out cards with a shortened URL to your Yelp page or send an email with a link for a review. Offer a free dessert and have an iPad in the store, have them check-in and give you a good review and then buy them a piece of pie or cake. Every Yelp star is worth a potential 5 to 6% increase in sales. My guess is that sales stat is lower for chain and franchise restaurants but now that Yelp is showing health inspection scores, I will bet that those restaurants will start getting searched more.
  5. Accept that Yelp is a necessary evil and that it adds value to you and your customers. They provide guests with a way to learn about your business and communicate with you about their experiences in a more open way than you typically get from a one-on-one interaction or a guest satisfaction survey. In addition, they provide you with a free business web page that is on one of the most searched websites in the world. Search your restaurant and I guarantee that your Yelp page will be prominently featured on page 1 of your search results.  According to the Forbes article, Yelp is the 25th most visited website in the US. I’ve said this before many times, I was a traveling consultant for years, I used Yelp all the time to find restaurants in the cities I was visiting, I’ve never had a bad experience at a 5 star rated restaurant that I found on Yelp.

Better Health Inspection Scores:

  1. The only way to ensure that you are going to get A’s on your health inspections is to run an A restaurant every day.  It’s not hard to do and it is what you should be doing.
  2. There are two major components to running A restaurants. Proper Procedures and Execution. Most chain restaurants have food safety procedures in place and that doesn’t guarantee that they will get an A.  Procedures aren’t enough you have to hold your team accountable to executing on those procedures every shift.
  3. If you have procedures in place focus on execution. Focus on getting your teams to follow your procedures every shift in every location. It is better to focus on high compliance for a couple of critical checklists than to try to get low compliance on a lot of checklists and procedures. High compliance on critical checks!!!
  4. If you don’t have procedures in place at this time, take critical items first approach.  Look at your local health inspections, identify the critical violations, and build procedures that check those violations every shift. If you just focus on critical violations, you will run better restaurants and you will ensure that you are not going to get dinged on an inspection.
  5. Ditch the paper. Most companies still use paper checklists, you can’t get any accountability on paper checklists. You don’t have any visibility into whether or not your procedures are getting completed if your teams are doing them accurately, or that they are identifying critical violations.  Running restaurants using paper checklists is harder than it needs to be for managers at all levels of the operation. Using a digital checklist platform, like OpsAnalitica, can provide you with effortless accountability, real-time notifications, and digital record keeping of your safety procedures.
  6. One more note on ditching the paper, digital record keeping is coming to restaurants. It has already been mandated for food manufacturers and everyone is expecting that it will be implemented by the government in the next 1 to 3 years. If you are looking to focus on execution, run better restaurants, get an A on your next health inspection, and be ready for the future, you should look at moving from paper to OpsAnalitica, a digital record keeping and shift readiness platform.

Yelp has made itself more relevant than ever by posting health inspection scores on their site. I predict that this is going to change how people decide which restaurants they are going to visit by putting more emphasis on food safety, which is good for consumers and ultimately good for the industry. For restaurants to be competitive and to not have their health inspection score affect their sales, they are going to have to focus on cleanliness and food safety as core values of their operations because if they don’t their failure is going to be on their Yelp profile.

One of the core values of the OpsAnalitica Way, our guide to multi-unit operations, is control what you can control. Restaurant operators need to realize that they are in complete control of what happens in their four walls. Food safety and clean restaurants aren’t just under their control they are their responsibility to their customers and their brands.

We know that this is going to be an imperfect process and a lot of restaurants are going to get hurt in the short term as they get bad health inspection scores and those scores stay on their Yelp profile longer than they should due to inefficiencies between all the parties involved.  This is going to sound like a jerk thing to say, I don’t care. I don’t care one bit. Don’t have dirty restaurants, that is what we should be focusing on.  Focus on being great and doing what you are supposed to do and this change will not affect you at all and may even help increase your sales.

One last prediction, I bet that Yelp will see an increase in monthly restaurant traffic over the next 6 to 12 months because of showing Health Inspection Scores.

If you want to learn more about the OpsAnalitica Shift Readiness and Digital Record Keeping platform, please go to OpsAnalitica.com.

Good luck