There are any number of reasons why someone may want to post a bad review of a restaurant. Maybe it’s because a customer saw the staff sneak a box of Popeye’s chicken into the kitchen, then busted them trying to serve it as their own spicy tenders. Maybe it’s because they banned pugs from their weekly pet photo competition. Or maybe it’s because the manager showed up at your house at 10 PM, several hours after you posted some gentle criticism of his steak fries.
But according to new research from Ohio State University, some of those not-quite-five star reviews could have less to do with what’s happening in the kitchen, and more with what’s happening on the local radar. Researchers from the school conducted three studies, and each of them tried to determine whether certain weather conditions influenced how positively (or negatively) customers rated a restaurant.
“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 Milos Bujisic said. "Restaurants can't control the weather, but it may affect how customers review them."
In the first study, Bujisic and his team read the comment cards that had been left behind at 32 Florida locations of one unnamed “national fast casual chain.” They cross-referenced those comments—which ranged from “very negative” 1-point reviews to “very positive” 5-pointers—with weather info from the National Climatic Data Center for each restaurant’s ZIP code. They discovered that the reviews were less positive on days when it rained, and when both the temperature and the barometric pressure were high. (In typically hot locations like Florida, Science Daily explains, high barometric pressure is a side effect of high temperatures, or vice versa.)
In the second study, 158 people who were scattered throughout the United States were asked whether they’d eaten at a restaurant within the last 24 hours, and they were also asked to describe the weather and their mood at the time of their meals. Those who described better weather also self-reported themselves as being in better moods—and the people who had the most positive mindsets were the ones who gave more positive “word of mouth” reviews of their meals.
The final study focused on 107 people who lived in the Midwest, Northeast, and northwest United States and, again, they were asked to describe their moods and the weather at the time of their last meal out. Again, better weather seemed to correspond to a better mood, and being in a good mood made people say nicer things about the restaurant they’d visited.
But Bujisic warned that shit weather can make everyone feel all-around shitty—not just the customers. “A rainy day may put employees in a bad mood and that will affect their service," he noted. "Managers need to explain that to their employees and work to keep them motivated.”
As for the rest of us, we might want to manage our expectations if we have dinner reservations on a cold, wet night. But— BUT!—it’s not the weather’s fault if the manager bangs on your front door after you post a mediocre review. Sun, rain, snow, hail; that’s just insane.