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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

 

 

Social Media Influence on Restaurant Patrons

Caught an interesting article on VegasInc.com about social media in the restaurant industry and effective it is in attracting customers. You might be surprised by some of these findings. I was.

  • adults who use Instagram has doubled in two years from 13 percent in 2012 to 26 percent in 2014
  • 62% of Americans say social media has no effect on buying decisions
  • the average restaurant has a mere 3 percent engagement rate on social media
  • social media, online reviews tend to have a greater effect on smaller, higher end restaurants

The article goes on to bash Yelp, calling it the yellow pages with pictures and that most of the reviews lack substance with more focus on smaller, personal things vs. the food or the service. We’ve talked a lot about Yelp this year and most of the feedback about Yelp from restaurant operators tends to be negative.

While social media seems to be less effective in restaurants, what they found works best is old fashion schmoozing and coupons.

  • inviting people to try food
  • boast about your staff
  • make regulars feel special when they show up
  • stand behind your product
  • ask guests to come back and bring their friends
  • 90% of people said a coupon will influence their buying decision
  • 78% said word of mouth will influence their buying decision

The article concludes by saying that you need to know your audience. A lesson here can be taken from JC Penny when tried to go the Nordstrom route and not have any sales. It flopped big time. Their clients are accustomed to sales and deals so when that stopped so did the shopping. They quickly changed back. Know what your customers want and make sure you give it to them.

I have copied the full article below.

If you build it — a social media bridge to restaurantgoers — they will come, right?

Not so fast.

Social media is all the rage: The Pew Research Center reports adults who use Instagram has doubled in two years from 13 percent in 2012 to 26 percent in 2014.

But a majority of Americans — 62 percent — say social media has no effect on their purchasing decisions. In the restaurant industry, the Sprinklr Social Business Index reports the average restaurant has a mere 3 percent engagement rate on social media.

That means restaurants would be better off ratcheting down their social media expectations and connecting with consumers offline. Offline word-of-mouth, from face-to-face or phone conversations, has a significant advantage (50 percent vs. 43 percent) over online interactions with respect to purchase intent, a Keller Fay Group TalkTrack study found.

The good news is there are lots of ways to engage customers offline, including stellar food and service, loyalty programs, friendly hosts and servers, charity work and community involvement.

The perks and pitfalls of social media

Armand Iaia, regional manager for the Chicago-based restaurant consulting firm Cini-Little International Inc., says social media messages often are perceived as just another form of advertising.

“Many people are immune to this kind of advertising and do not pay attention to it. I don’t,” he said.

But Gary Worden, a restaurant operator and publisher of Restaurant Startup and Growth magazine, said social media can play an important role for smaller restaurants. Good reviews can boost business.

“Independent restaurants particularly seem to generate a good number of reviews that can have an effect on prospective guests and guest visits,” Worden said. “The higher the restaurant menu prices or if the guest has friends or a special occasion, the more influence the social media reviews can play a role.”

Examine the source

Still, “while social media will influence people and help or hurt the innocent, I say examine the source,” said Steve Nachwalter, CEO of the Nachwalter Consulting Group in Las Vegas. “In human decision-making, there are always internal representations made in regard to how each individual receives and processes information.”

Yelp, which publishes crowd-sourced reviews about businesses, by definition is subjective and therefore can harm businesses if reviews are negative — even if they are unfair.

“Logically, we can’t punish the chef for a mistake the waiter made and subsequently bash a restaurant that has amazing food,” Nachwalter said. “In the same vein, a less-than-great place receives five stars because the hostess is hot or because the greeter made them feel special.”

Nachwalter said he viewed Yelp as “an online Yellow Pages with photos.”

“I don’t pay too much attention to individual reviews because I’ve seen too many unprofessional and untrue reviews,” he said. “I’m not in a position to judge people one way or the other, but I am intelligent enough to know when someone is bashing a place over personal nonsense.”

What can be a more effective method of attracting and maintaining customers is schmoozing.

Restaurant owners “should invite people to try their food,” Nachwalter said. “People are visual, so show pictures. Talk about your staff, make them real and personal. Stand behind your product and make everyone aware of your presences in the space. Make regulars feel special. Make a big deal when they come in. Mention bringing their friends. Ask directly for referrals.”

Employees can help if they have been trained on how to connect with customers and how to give them the experience they want.

“It all starts at who represents your brand,” Nachwalter said.

Explore the workplace

Whereas digital advertising appears to do little to influence consumer dining decisions, customers have a harder time turning down rave reviews or good deals.

Almost 90 percent of people surveyed by WorkPlace Impact said a good old-fashioned coupon influences them, while 78 percent said word of mouth did.

Since Americans spend a large share of their lives at work, the workplace becomes a natural venue for people to share opinions, experiences and recommendations with co-workers — including about where to eat.

“A lot of the decisions (people) make about dining are made while at the office,” said Tara Peters, director of marketing at WorkPlace Impact.

Peters’ firm helps restaurants reach workers during the workday with the goal of attracting new customers.

“When we are running a marketing program for a restaurant client, we will send their materials to businesses close to their restaurants” and have employers hand out coupons to workers, Peters said. “Employers in our network love giving their employees these perks. ”

Know your audience

Despite the power of face-to-face interaction, restaurants aren’t about to abandon social media, which means it is important owners learn to view it accurately and use it wisely.

Making social media more effective comes down to knowing your audience, Nachwalter said.

“The top restaurants don’t offer coupons, just like heart surgeons don’t offer two-for-one,” he said. “Decide what your audience wants, and give it to them.”

Restaurateurs also have to take negative comments in stride and trust people will see through insincere reviews.

Nachwalter recalled one eatery with amazing reviews.

“There was still a lady who did not love it,” he said. “Her reason was because, even though she loved the food, the flower they make out of gelato did not look floral enough. So she gave them one star.”

Yelp responds to critics

On May 22, 2015 we wrapped up a blog series on Yelp. Click here to read the wrap up post. As a Yelp user I recently conducted a search for a restaurant in West Palm Beach and I saw this new message, starting with “Your trust….”, from Yelp right below Recommended Reviews.

Screenshot 2015-07-09 21.53.27

I clicked on the link and read the page where Yelp gives their side of the story on reviews and yelp advertisers getting preferential treatment.  Yelp went so far as to provide examples of how users can prove to themselves that Yelp doesn’t alter reviews. I ran the test search that they provided, ironically the top two businesses that were returned had closed.

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With their test search none of the top results were current advertisers. I did a secondary search of motels that were pet friendly in Odessa Texas trying to see if the Quality Inn that was returned on my google search would show up, they did but they weren’t currently advertising. The top search result was an ad for the La Quinta, see screenshot.

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When you look at the search results you will notice that the ad spot doesn’t show the star rating or the number of reviews like the other results. It is also apparent that the it is an ad with the yellow and white ad flag in the upper left corner.

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When I clicked into the ad, I got the normal Yelp page and saw that this particular property had a 1.5 Star rating with plenty of bad reviews.
In our last blog on Yelp we called on Yelp to provide more transparency about reviews. This is a good first step. Here’s a link to the Yelp FAQ, http://www.yelp.com/advertiser_faq.