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Can Yelp reviews predict restaurant closures? Researchers say yes

Researchers at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business say they can use Yelp reviews to predict a restaurants chance of success or failure. I know what you’re thinking, it doesn’t take a mathematician or linguistics expert to know that a restaurant with bad reviews is going to close down sooner than later. But there’s more to this story.

The researchers analyzed Yelp reviews for 2000 open restaurants in Washington DC and 450 restaurants that had closed in the past few years. That gave them more than 130,000 reviews with a total of 15 million words.

They then used a text reader to scan and flag certain words in several different buckets.

A couple of interesting notes; in their paper, the researchers say that when we read an online review before going to a restaurant, it sets us up with certain expectations. If many reviewers say the wait time is short, we go there expecting it to be short and will be disappointed if it’s crowded and we’re asked to wait. If we hadn’t read the ‘short wait time’ review, we might see the long wait time as a reflection of how popular the place is. Now, the wait time is a positive thing – it implies greatness.

The researchers also note that not all reviews are equal. Reviews that are longer with more details and adjectives are more influential than short ones.

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