How to Eat Well While Traveling

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How to Eat Well While Traveling

When I travel, finding a good restaurant is not a simple task. It is much easier at home, where you can ask a friend or an acquaintance, with similar gastronomic tastes, for a recommendation. I can’t recall a time when this approach led to a disappointing experience. The similarity of gastronomic tastes is a mandatory pre-requisite, since I have some friends whose recommendations would be disastrous for me to follow.

Florence-P. Vecchio
Florence-P. Vecchio

It became very common to rely on the recommendations of strangers, sometimes anonymous, to chose relatively pricey purchases. It works well most of the time. I am referring to use of online customer reviews. In many cases they work fabulously and I use them to decide on purchases of many products and services with consistent positive results. However, restaurant reviews have generated more negative experiences for me, than positive ones. Since tastes and preferences of the reviewers are not known to me, their recommendations offer little help selecting a restaurant I would enjoy.

Our experience with Osteria dei Centopoveri in Florence provides a very good illustration. This restaurant has earned the Tripadvisor.com Certificate of Excellence and sports over 1,000 reviews by seemingly very satisfied customers. We looked at the fact that over 80% of the customers gave the restaurant an excellent or very good rating, and decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, our own experience was very disappointing:

review of Centro
review of Centro

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This is a quote of my own Tripadvisor review of the restaurant. Subsequently, I checked reviews published on Yelp and found a much smaller number of less generous opinions.

Plate in Firenze
Plate in Firenze

I did not bother to describe the rather “pedestrian” presentation, you can see above, because the flavors were so underwhelming.

Eat Well While Traveling
Eat Well While Traveling

The difference between great recommendations of reviewers and my own experience was so puzzling that I decided to use opinion mining technology for a deeper look into collective experiences of the reviewers.

CentoPoveri reviews analysis
CentoPoveri reviews analysis

While most attributes of the experiences were positive, a substantial number of repeat customers did mention reliability issues which point to failure to deliver great experience consistently. However, a much more interesting discovery is that the customers do not equate the number of stars they give in their reviews, to actual recommendation. In fact, when the Osteria dei Centopoveri reviews are mined to extract social Net Promoter Scores, that estimate customers response to the question – “How likely is it that you would recommend this restaurant to a friend or colleague?”, the results turn convincingly negative.

CentoPoveri sNPS trend
CentoPoveri sNPS trend

Since few travelers have access to data mining tools or inclination to hassle data while hungry, I recommend old fashion methods of finding the right place to eat – personal face-to-face, explicit recommendation from someone you know, or walk in and sniff the room. If the place smells good, it’s likely serving tasty food too.

Well Plated Pasta
Well Plated Pasta

NPS, Net Promoter, and Net Promoter Score are registered trademarks of Satmetrix Systems, Inc., Bain & Company and Fred Reichheld.

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