As we did with the local Chinese restaurants (https://blog.luminoso.com/2014/01/08/luminoso-on-chinese-food/), Luminoso analyzed thousands of Yelp reviews for all Italian restaurants within a five mile radius of our offices in Cambridge, which helpfully includes Boston’s North End. While the results from both analyses are very similar, one key difference stuck out, indicating that the type of cuisine we choose to eat creates different customer expectations.
Discussion of the food dominates reviews of Italian restaurants on Yelp, and the more the review talks about the food the more likely the reviewer is to rate the restaurant highly. Calling out dishes by name correlates with higher ratings; our Insight Engine can quickly determine which terms are food names, based on word usage, even if the reviewer spelled “gnocchi” and “tortellini” with more imagination than accuracy. And, as with Chinese restaurants, authenticity is a desired quality. If the reviewers find the food “al dente,” ratings go up.
Just as we found for Chinese restaurants, the service (waiters, waitresses, and the seldom-appreciated hostess) is only mentioned in lower-rated reviews, able to garner much blame but little praise.
Where Italian restaurant reviews differ is in reviewers’ attitudes to ambiance. Looking at the Concept Cloud generated by the reviews, we see the expected clusters around the topics of food and service, but also a third cluster that isn’t in the Chinese restaurant data. This cluster focuses on the décor, the music, the noise, the mood.
This implies that Bostonians go to Chinese restaurants to be served food, but visit Italian restaurants for something more. They go for the experience. They’re not all going for the same experience, however. Some want a romantic Italian restaurant where they can take a date. Others want a family restaurant where they feel like they’ve come home.
Therefore, it’s much more important for an owner of an Italian restaurant to focus on how their locations feels, looks, sounds, and how their staff interacts with their customers, than it is for the owner of a Chinese restaurant. They won’t get good reviews for service, because good reviews for service are very rare, but that good service will translate into a good experience, and thus a good review for the ambience.
Of course, it still comes back to the food, in both cuisines. If the food isn’t good, if it’s bland or boring, then no one will stay, even in the nicest atmosphere. If the food is delicious, spicy and authentic, then a good ambience is nice, but your customers would still buy it out of the back of a truck.