Curious about that new restaurant across town? You can always go online and see what diners have said about it.
Not a bad idea, but you’ll also want to check the weather—on the day each review was written.
A new study that tracked over one million online restaurant reviews finds the evaluations are driven not only by food and service, but also by meteorological conditions.
"The ratings for a restaurant when the user visited it in moderate weather conditions are likely to be higher than ratings when the visit was during very cold or very hot weather."
Specifically, it finds days that are warm (but not too hot) and rain-free tend to produce the most positive notices. Cold and/or wet patrons are, not surprisingly, tougher to please.
Researchers Saeideh Bakhshi and Eric Gilbert of Georgia Tech and Partha Kanuparthy of Yahoo Labs examined more than 1.1 million reviews of 840,000 restaurants in 32,402 cities spread across the U.S. Using the CityGrid database, they obtained data from a variety of sites, including Citysearch, AllMenus, Foursquare, and GrubHub.
They collected demographic data on each restaurant that was reviewed, including median income and education level of the neighborhood where it is located. In addition, they compiled information on the minimum and maximum temperature on the day of each review, and whether it rained or snowed.
The key results: “In all cases of precipitation ... the rating is affected negatively,” the researchers write. Users consistently rated restaurants lower on days when it rained or snowed—even if the rain wasn’t heavy.
Outdoor temperatures similarly impacted the scores. “The ratings for a restaurant when the user visited it in moderate weather conditions are likely to be higher than ratings when the visit was during very cold or very hot weather,” they report. Days that are warm, but not too hot, put people in a particularly good mood and inspire positive notices.
The researchers also found a seasonal trend, perhaps related to the positive impact of warmth. “Diners tend to give lower ratings to restaurants in the summer months of July and August,” they write.
“Psychologists have long known—in the offline world—that sunlight, and weather in general, influences people’s moods, thinking, and judgment,” the researchers note. “Both seasonal and daily variations in weather have been documented to have effects on mood, depression and behavior.”
So, by all means, take those online reviews into consideration before making a restaurant reservation. But know that (a) they are snapshots of an experience that occurred on a specific day, and (b) people’s judgments are influenced by all sorts of factors—including the weather.
After all, doesn’t food taste better on a warm, sunny day?