The Internets are abuzz this morning with news that Mayor Ed Lee announced today at the National Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C.: The S.F. Department of Health is teaming up with Yelp to post restaurant health scores on the ratings website. Currently ratings appear on a select number of restaurants with more to roll out in the coming days, and New York and Philadelphia to follow in the coming weeks. As health inspection details become more integrated into the site, they could potentially have a dramatic effect on consumer behavior. Would you go to your favorite dive if its not-so-stellar inspection details were in your face?
Working with the technology departments of the cities of San Francisco and New York -- as well as some guidance from the White House -- Yelp has given this new initiative a nifty acronym, LIVES (Local Inspector Value-entry Specification). "Public/private partnerships like this don't necessarily provide a direct contribution to Yelp's bottom line, but evidence suggests the LIVES open data standard will have a positive impact on society," wrote company CEO Jeremy Stoppelman in a blog post this morning.
On the site, the health department rating appears above the hours and other information in the listing's info box, and a click-through takes you to a page with all the Health Department history -- check out examples for The Cheese Steak Shop and Royal Ground Coffee. A spokesperson for Yelp told SFoodie this morning that they don't currently have a search/filter system for health department ratings (i.e., "show me all restaurants near me with a rating of 90 or higher"), but said that they'd consider it if it's something that users are asking for.
Time will tell how these posted ratings affect local restaurant-going behavior. Yelp's influence is widely recognized: A Berkeley study last fall found that a half-star improvement in a restaurant's rating made it 30 percent to 49 percent more likely to sell out its seats at dinner.
Health inspection ratings have proven influential on the bottom line in Los Angeles, where a posted letter grade acts as a scarlet letter for restaurants displaying anything below an 'A' rating. (When I lived in L.A. I knew plenty of people who wouldn't eat at restaurants with a 'B'.) A study by Stanford and University of Maryland researchers showed that restaurants with an 'A' rating saw a nearly 6 percent increase in revenue when the grades were first posted in 1997.
And of course, that same study of L.A. restaurant hygiene scores found that the visibility of the grades led to a drop in the number of hospitalizations due to foodborne illness -- as well as a higher standard and better health practices being adopted across the board. Perhaps a little friendly competition will force the dirtier S.F. restaurants to clean up their act?