February 13, 2015
For decades the near sole arbiter of standards in hotels and restaurants has the franchisor at a branded location. Ratings from Mobil (now Forbes Travel) and Michelin served to underscore quality as it was the franchisor who drove business to establishments that adhered to standards laid down at headquarters.
Although much of the above remains largely true even today that model is continually being tested in the digital age from the two leviathans of user-generated sites: Tripadvisor and Yelp.In the decade plus period since their establishment businesses have learned that more so than the directives and SOPs from brand central it is the searing and often spontaneous assessment of customers that can make or break most hostelries.
Picking up on the foregoing are some municipalities. A Harvard Business Review blog article points out that "cities are beginning to see the value of using consumer-feedback sites to improve efficiency, provide citizens with important health data, and put pressure on unhygienic restaurants to clean up their acts". While noting that "local governments are not known for being at the forefront of innovation and technology" the article says that the algorithms developed by the authors have been used in "tech-friendly cities such as San Francisco and Raleigh, North Carolina" to demonstrate that digital and social technologies have the power to transform what used to be that most analog of processes, the disclosure and enforcement of public-health regulations".
By embracing social media for enforcement, governments not only serve current and prospective customers better but also cut down government waste. Heretofore, the inspection process was random with compliant and high quality establishments being subjected to the same inspection process as those that are on the wrong side of the issue. With social-media driven technology, inspectors' time is better spent on likely offenders.
The HBR piece sums up the many benefits. Per the "Centers for Disease Control, more than 48 million Americans per year become sick from food, and an estimated 75% of the outbreaks came from food prepared by caterers, delis, and restaurants. By partnering with social-media sites to provide digital disclosure, municipal officials can improve these numbers. They can also reduce costs and display information in ways that are easier for citizens to find and absorb".