A study was published in the Papers in Applied Geography journal, which found that negative reviews soon after a restaurant's inception can greatly damage its chances of success. It also discovered that a neighbourhood’s median income determined whether a restaurant got reviewed at all.
“These online platforms advertise themselves as being unbiased, but we found that that is not the case,” said Yasuyuki Motoyama, lead author of the paper and an assistant professor of city and regional planning at The Ohio State University.
“The way these platforms work, popular restaurants get even more popular, and restaurants with some initial low ratings can stagnate.” - Yasuyuki Motoyama
The study examined restaurant reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor for about 3,000 restaurants in Franklin County, Ohio. The reviews were analysed by rating and geographic location. Demographics for each neighbourhood were calculated, as well as the socioeconomics of each neighbourhood, based on household income. Restaurants in poorer areas were less likely to be reviewed at all.
The study found that restaurants with smaller reviews on those sites were more likely to have a negative overall rating.
"The more reviews a restaurant received, the higher the average rating of the restaurant,” said Kareem Usher, co-author of the paper and an assistant professor of city and regional planning at Ohio State. “But this has implications: If one of the first reviews a restaurant receives comes from a dissatisfied customer, and people check that later and think ‘I don’t want to go there’ based on that one review, then there will be fewer reviews of that restaurant.”
When a restaurant received a large number of reviews, the likelihood of an overall positive impression increased.
Motoyama claimed that negative reviews can significantly affect a restaurant’s success, with early bad reviews leading to increased negative feedback. He suggests that perhaps the platforms could delay publishing reviews early in a restaurant’s business cycle, at least until a certain body of reviews has been allowed accrue.
“Maybe these online platforms can withhold reviews until a restaurant gets a certain number of reviews – say, 10 or more,” he said. “That way if there are two or three customers who are very dissatisfied with a particular experience, they are not directing the restaurant’s success or failure.”