Bad Weather Leads to Bad Restaurant Reviews, According to New Research

There are plenty of motivations for leaving a less-than-stellar restaurant review. Maybe the service was slow and unfriendly. Perhaps the food was cold, bland, and unappealing. Or, as a few new studies suggest, maybe the weather just sucked.

Believe it or not, bad weather does seem to affect our likelihood to give a restaurant a poor review. That’s according to a trio of studies conducted by Ohio State University that collectively covered most of the country. In each case, the quality of the weather on the day participants dined out was positively correlated with their thoughts on the quality of the restaurant visit itself.

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The first study looked at comment cards from 32 different Florida franchises of a “national fast-casual chain.” The sentiment expressed in the cards was graded on a one-to-five scale, and researchers compared that rating to weather reports from the National Climatic Data Center at the restaurant’s location on the day of the review. Out of 14 total weather variables, researchers found that three were most likely to negatively impact attitudes about a restaurant: rainfall, hot temperatures, and high barometric pressure. On rainy days, for example, customers were nearly three times more likely to leave negative reviews.

The two other studies, both conducted online in different parts of the country, yielded similar results. In one, 158 online respondents who dined out in the past 24 hours were asked to describe the weather right before their restaurant visit, rate their mood at the time, and provide a “word of mouth” style review explaining why they would or wouldn’t eat there again. Results showed the weather mattered, at least indirectly: good weather was correlated with a good mood, which in turn increased the likelihood of a positive word of mouth review.

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The bad weather equals whiny customers corollary also held true when the researchers targeted Americans in the Midwest, Northwest and Northeast, regions known for variable (and frequently crappy) weather. The online survey asked 107 respondents if they’d gone to a restaurant in pleasant or unpleasant weather within the past week, what their mood was at the time, and to provide a word of mouth restaurant review. Once again, bad moods were tied to bad weather, yielding bad reviews.

To the team at Ohio State, the collective results were clear. “Restaurant managers may see more than the usual bad reviews on certain days, and it may have nothing to do with the service or the quality of the food,” study co-author and assistant professor of hospitality management Milos Bujisic told Science Daily.

So is there a particular reason that bad weather affects restaurant reviews? “A rainy day may put employees in a bad mood and that will affect their service,” Bujisic theorized. “Managers need to explain that to their employees and work to keep them motivated.”  

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Obviously a restaurateur can’t control the weather, but knowing that it might impact their Yelp rating can at least encourage them to take some proactive, mood-boosting measures. “[Weather] is something managers should pay attention to,” suggests study co-author and visiting assistant professor of hospitality management at Ohio State Vanja Bogicevic. “Think about creative strategies to make customers happy. Maybe offer a free drink or play more upbeat music.”

So, the next time you step out of a downpour and into a Panera, don’t be shocked if you hear some obnoxiously peppy EDM blasting from the soundsystem. Hopefully that doesn’t inspire a wave of bad Yelp reviews for entirely different reasons.

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