Avoiding an off night


While reading restaurant reviews online, I noticed something about how I evaluate other people’s opinions of a business. Specifically, I would much rather go to a restaurant or other establishment that consistently rates four out of five stars, rather than one that gets equal numbers of threes and fives. In other words, when comparing places that score the same on the average, I always prefer the one that has the least variation in the individual scores.

I think this behavioral trend is widespread. For me, the desire to have a predictably good experience means that I don’t try new places that frequently fall victim to off nights. After all, if you only visit a particular restaurant once in a while, or you’re going there for a special occasion, do you really want to end up with a two star or three star experience at the usual four or five star price? Unless there’s some way to compensate you for the experience falling short, the risk averse part of us says to pick the place that’s more likely to come through consistently.

All else equal, I believe that customers prefer a predictable level of quality. In other words, you should set realistic expectations for your product or service, and then meet them on a regular basis. Ironically, if you sometimes exceed these expectations by a wide margin, it may contribute to such glowing reviews that future customers are more likely to be disappointed. Then, unless you adopt a policy of compensating customers who show up during an off night, you’ll end up with more disappointed reviews than if you had simply delivered a consistent product in the first place. In short, it’s best to deliver a solid experience as often as you can — while minimizing the daily ups and downs that frustrate your customers.