Yelp ratings are highly subjective. That is, in fact, the whole point of the site: for five minutes, anyone can be a restaurant critic. But your idea of “dirty” or “unsanitary” may not be the same as mine. Health inspection scores, though, are based on a list of predetermined metrics. And now the app version of Yelp will include popup alerts warning users about restaurants in Chicago and L.A. that scored particularly poorly on their more recent inspections. (A pilot program has already been underway in San Francisco since 2015.)
The warning will only pop up on listings for restaurants that scored in the bottom 1% of inspection rankings, the Chicago Tribune reports, and list the violations found. (“Common violations include not having adequate hand-washing sinks and improper date marking, according to Yelp.”) In Chicago, that accounts for 30 restaurants. The data comes from HDScores, a third party aggregator that scrapes government websites for information and compiles weighted scores. A 2013 study in L.A. after new regulations required restaurants to display their health inspection scores found that hospitalizations related to foodborne illnesses declined by 13%. See? Shame works!
Yelp already includes health inspection data in its listings, but users actually have to look for it. In San Francisco, the popup warnings have already have a noticeable effect, according to a Harvard Business School study. Per the Tribune: “Once the pop-up alerts were added in 2015, affected restaurants saw purchase intentions drop an additional 7%, and the number of reviews for those restaurants declined 11%.” The study also noted that restaurants that were flagged tended to clean up their act and got off the naughty list after their next inspection six months later.