Cockroaches in the kitchen? Never fear: if customers think that the food is authentic, they are willing to ignore a certain lack of hygiene.
A recent study by a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business studied more than 9,000 restaurants to see how "authenticity" and cleanliness affected customers' reviews. Analyzing online reviews for keywords related to authenticity and restaurants' latest health grades from the public health department revealed that when customers have to choose, authenticity trumps cleanliness.
Overall, customers did not love restaurants with low health grades. However, when a restaurant with a low health grade was deemed "authentic," it was valued similarly to their hygienic counterparts.
Think of a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant in the heart of Chinatown. If you go in expecting no-frills, genuine Chinese food, you're more likely to overlook—or even celebrate--chefs without gloves or a dingy dining area. However, if you go out to eat without expectations of an authentic experience, you simply see an unclean and unhygienic restaurant that you won't be eating at ever again.
This news will probably not come as a shock to many restaurateurs who pride themselves for their authenticity or foodies always on the lookout for under the radar hits. The health department and entrepreneurs in the food industry often find each other at odds, as restaurateurs claim that health codes cramp their style. One such battle that chefs won in California is the repeal of a controversial law that required food workers, from sushi chefs to bartenders, to wear disposable gloves when handling ready-to-eat foods.