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User-generated reviews and the financial performance of restaurants

Saddam Abdullah (Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Philippe Van Cauwenberge (Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Heidi Vander Bauwhede (Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Peter O'Connor (University of South Australia Business School, Adelaide, Australia)

International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management

ISSN: 0959-6119

Article publication date: 20 May 2022

Issue publication date: 26 August 2022

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Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to examine the impact of selected characteristics (rating, volume and variability) of online user-generated reviews on the bottom-line profitability of restaurants.

Design/methodology/approach

Restaurant-level review data are extracted from TripAdvisor and matched with firm-level data from the financial reports gathered from the Belfirst database of Bureau van Dijk. The resulting sample contains data on 2,297 Belgian firms over the period 2007–2018, for which 134,831 reviews are investigated. The author’s regression model of firm-level profitability is estimated against online review characteristics and various financial control variables, including past profitability. This research model and estimation technique address the endogeneity concerns that typically weaken this kind of study.

Findings

While comparable studies on hotels document a positive association between review characteristics and profitability, the authors find no relationship between review rating, volume and variability in the profitability of restaurants.

Research limitations/implications

Due to the format of the financial reports of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), data on turnover and cost of materials/services was not available for most restaurants in the sample, limiting our potential for analysis. In addition, our assessment of electronic word of mouth (eWOM) was limited to measures derived from user-generated reviews on TripAdvisor.

Practical implications

In the literature on eWOM, the importance of online reputation is hardly disputed, especially in the context of the hospitality sector. However, most research to date has focused on the hotel sector and top-line measures of success. This study uses restaurant-level financial data, focuses on bottom-line profitability, considers potential endogeneity issues and pays careful attention to the estimation technique. The results fail to establish a direct relationship between eWOM metrics and financial performance and are surprising, meriting further investigation to establish the underlying causes.

Originality/value

In contrast to prior studies on the impact of eWOM on restaurant performance at a group level, this study examines the impact on unit-level profitability, taking into account several potential sources of estimation bias. In addition, the authors challenge this finding with a battery of sensitivity tests, revalidating the absence of a relationship in each case.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Funding and support for this project were provided by The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (grant number HEC/ HRD/AHBP/B-II/OS/17/547) and The Hercules Foundation (grant number AUGE/17/01).

Citation

Abdullah, S., Van Cauwenberge, P., Vander Bauwhede, H. and O'Connor, P. (2022), "User-generated reviews and the financial performance of restaurants", International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Vol. 34 No. 10, pp. 3697-3714. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCHM-10-2021-1236

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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