Rainy days make everything worse—even restaurant reviews

Cloudy with a chance of lousy meatballs

table outside
Outdoor diningPixabay

It’s hard to talk about mood without invoking the weather. When people are cheerful and happy, their outlook is “sunny.” But when they are sad or depressed, the world seems “dark” and “gray.” Moreover, when they are angry, their temperament can be “stormy.”

These descriptions are no accident. Research shows that weather does, in fact, shape how we feel and how we see the world. Violence can flare when it's hot. Cloudy weather can make people feel depressed. But weather also can influence people when they are inside —a 2017 study suggested that couch-bound online shoppers are more inclined to buy when the weather is good.

Now, new research suggests that restaurant-goers also may be less than thrilled with their dining experiences when the weather is bad — feelings that have little to do with what's on the menu. "The reason for bad reviews is not always poor service or food," says Vanja Bogicevic, co-author of the study and visiting assistant professor of hospitality management at Ohio State University. "Restaurant business reviews can be hurt by unpleasant weather."

empty cafe chairs
Empty cafe chairs on a rainy dayPixabay

The researchers sought to connect the dots between nasty weather and critical restaurant reviews partly to explore the notion that people “get cranky during bad weather,” Bogicevic says. “They become very sensitive during unpleasant weather and tend to attribute all bad experiences, arguments, and even physical conditions to weather… I always found it funny that people believed that if they mistreat somebody on a rainy or an extremely hot day, all will be forgiven because they weren’t the culprit. It was the weather.”

The problem may getting worse as a result of climate change. Bogicevic acknowledges that "heavy rains, snow blizzards and heat waves," which have become more frequent of late due to climate change, "might negatively impact consumers' moods and behaviors… affecting restaurant businesses and their staffs."

She and her colleague, Milos Bujisic, assistant professor of hospitality management at Ohio State University, conducted three studies, all outlined in a paper that was recently published in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research. The studies found that diners' restaurant reviews, either via comment cards or by word-of-mouth, were more negative when the weather was unpleasant. Patrons were roughly three times more likely to leave a negative review, as opposed to a positive one, on a rainy day.

rainy street
Rainy streetPixabay

“We cannot claim with certainty that the association between weather and mood can be explained through the lens of physiology, for example, changes in barometric pressure could be associated with pressure in sinuses, or psychology and even popular culture, for example, when a main protagonist feels sad, the scene shows them walking in the rain,” Bogicevic says. But “what we learned from…our research subjects was that poor weather conditions can amplify people’s preexisting moods, or that they might directly trigger a bad mood, for example, driving to a restaurant during heavy rain or hail increases tension.”

The first study analyzed comment cards collected for a period of one year from 32 Florida restaurants belonging to a national fast-casual chain, whose name the scientists kept confidential. “A team of raters ranked the customer comments on a 1–5 scale and matched the ranked comments with the hourly weather data records for each of the 32 locations throughout the same year,” she explains.

The weather data were retrieved from the National Centers for Environmental Information — formerly the National Climactic Data Center — and included temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, wind, visibility, rain, storm, cloud coverage and other information, she says. In Florida, the study found that hot weather and higher barometric pressure correlated to bad restaurant reviews.

person drinking water

Summer weather can be unpredictable

Hydration on a hot dayStaff Sgt. Sheila deVera/U.S. Air Force

For the second study, the scientists designed a questionnaire asking consumers in the Northeast, Midwest and Northwest to recall a restaurant visit in the last week and describe their experience, mood, and the weather and whether or not they were likely to recommend the restaurant. For the third, they divided participants into two groups, one asked to relate their restaurant experience on a warm and sunny day, and the second group asked to describe dining when it was cold, rainy, or snowing.

The research showed that, in part, “weather as a known culprit for bad mood can spill over to seemingly unrelated evaluations of a restaurant,” Bogicevic says. Moreover, she also points out that bad weather can have an impact on restaurant staff, which can exacerbate the problems.

“One of my graduate students who works in a restaurant outlet at a local Columbus hospital told me that when her restaurant heard the forecast about a heavy storm this winter, they severely understaffed the shifts that day, simply because they expected low customer traffic,” she says. “However, it turned out that the restaurant was very busy despite the extreme storm and that the staff struggled to serve everyone. We do not know how those customers felt, and whether they left any reviews, but it sounded like a stressful day for everyone.”

smith restaurant
The Smith restaurant in New York CityPexels

So what is a restaurant owner with no control over the weather to do? Offering menu specials and items specifically geared to the weather could help, Bogicevic says. An earlier study she, Bujisic, and others conducted looked at how the sales of different dishes corresponded with weather patterns. They found, for example, that sales of Belgian waffles and French toast boomed during cold weather, suggesting "that the restaurants could offer hearty, comfort food on specials during cold days."

As for those gloomy, rainy days, “we advise restaurateurs to think about creative ways to brighten up the mood of their patrons during unpleasant weather,” Bogicevic said. “Restaurants could play cheerful music, give away samples, ensure that they are properly staffed and remind servers to be empathetic.”

Marlene Cimons writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art, and culture.