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April 3, 2014 at 3:10 PM

Rainy days can lower a restaurant’s online ratings. Watch out Seattle eateries!

File photo of Dylan Knutson dining on a rainy day at 88 Restaurant in White Center. By Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times

File photo of Dylan Knutson dining on a rainy day at 88 Restaurant in White Center. By Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times

Bad news for restaurant owners in rainy Seattle: Online reviews get more negative when the weather is bad.

That was one of the findings of a scholarly study on restaurant reviews released Wednesday. Reviews from days with moderate weather were more likely to be favorable than those written during extreme cold or hot temperatures, researchers found. Approval ratings also tended to drop during rain and snow.

It’s not a complete surprise that factors outside the restaurant’s control might affect their online stars. “Psychologists have long known — in the offline world — that sunlight, and weather in general, influences people’s moods, thinking and judgement,” the authors wrote. But the negativity can have real ramifications; one study using Seattle restaurants found a direct link between higher Yelp scores and higher revenues, even after accounting for other factors that might have affected a restaurants’s reputation.

Other conclusions from the new analysis of reviews of 840,000 restaurants nationwide, which were combined with demographics data and information from weather monitoring stations: Restaurants in higher-density neighborhoods were more likely to be reviewed. Restaurants in the Pacific and the Northeast were more likely to be reviewed than those in the Midwest and South. (Portland actually had the highest number of reviews per restaurant, said lead author Saeideh Bakhshi, a PhD candidate in computer science at Georgia Institute of Technology.)

More reviews tend to be written in July and August — and those reviews tend to be more negative. Budget restaurants tended to get fewer reviews. The higher the education level in a region, the greater the chances of the restaurants in that region being reviewed online. Racial diversity did not have an effect on ratings. And Seattle, yes, had lower-rated restaurants than sunnier (but not too sunny) climates.

Bakhshi said in a phone interview that the idea for the study actually came about when visiting family in Seattle. “We were looking for restaurants on online review sites, and we were so surprised that most of the places were low-rated…” she said. “In Atlanta, it’s so easy to find places that are 5 stars or 4.5 stars, but in Seattle most of them were 2 or 3, 3.5.”

They ate out at a few of the places regardless, and thought “they were actually pretty good,” on par with restaurants in Atlanta that had better reviews.

The restaurant ratings data the authors used, written between 2002 and 2011, came from a database including Citysearch, Foursquare, TripAdvisor and a number of other sites. Yelp data was not included; it was not available with all the variables they wanted to analyze. Bakhshi said she would expect Yelp results to be similar.

Is there a take-home message for diners looking online for the best bite?

Possibly it’s just to adjust their expectations to the cities where they’re eating out. For instance, Bakhshi said, when Seattleites travel to Atlanta and look online for dining recommendations, “They’ll be surprised that there are so many highly rated places… Don’t get excited too much, that Atlanta has so many good restaurants. It does, but Seattle is even better, I think.”

Bakhshi and co-authors Partha Kanuparthy and Eric Gilbert will present the study next week at the International World Wide Web conference in Seoul.

Comments | Topics: Online reviews, Rebekah Denn, Saeideh Bakhshi

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