Decoding the world of online ratings

online star rating

Not too long ago, a call came into the clinical dietitian’s office at Clovis Community Medical Center in Clovis, Calif. The woman on the other end of the line was scheduled for surgery and said she’d read the rave reviews of the hospital cafe on Yelp. She wanted to know if she would get the same food while dining as a patient.

The answer was yes, but the call itself was a revelatory moment for Paul Luchi, the hospital’s director of nutrition and dining services. “I’ve never really needed Yelp,” he says, ticking off the years in his noncommercial foodservice career. He hadn’t even realized that Clovis Community’s Grove Cafe was on the consumer review website, let alone netting four and a half stars with a handful of comments.

While websites like Yelp long have been a factor for restaurants, they’re relatively new for noncommercial operators, prompting questions about how to monitor these sites, whether (and how) to respond to reviews and the various ways of leveraging online reviews. Several operators say these review sites still have negligible effects on their operations or are only just emerging as such. For example, Erika Chesley, associate director of marketing, training and development at the University of Southern California, says the school’s hospitality team is currently undergoing the process of developing its strategy.

For Tulane University’s dining services team, the emergence of online review sites has made responsiveness a paramount concern. Linda Lien-Ribardi, the program’s senior marketing specialist, says reviews mostly are appearing on social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. A Tulane Dining social media specialist combs through all feedback, responding to positive comments with a quick “thank you” and forwarding it to managers, who then use the feedback to encourage and reward employees.

When it comes to a negative comment, the specialist also alerts a manager, who then tries to respond to the student with a solution within the hour. General Manager Thomas Beckmann explains that it’s important to respond to every complaint, because, ultimately, the student diner still will be there every day. “So you try to make it right if possible,” he says.

At Clovis Community, Luchi is still figuring out how to deal with this brand-new frontier. Neither Luchi nor Tulane Dining Services have policies in place against employees engaging with online review sites—either responding to Yelp reviews or posting their own workplace reviews on sites like Glassdoor—since neither workplace has faced any problems with the sites.

But Luchi says it’s important to focus on hospital employees and patients rather than the larger community of Yelpers. As the hospital’s cafeteria grew more popular, he set up a pre-ordering system for its employees, who were frustrated by long lines on their short breaks. That’s the feedback he’s listening to most right now, he says—as much as he values the community’s input and attention.

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