OpenTable reviews are treasure troves of feedback, both positive and negative. Reviewers often pour their feelings into thoughtful 2,000-word responses, covering every aspect of the dining experience — and as a result, they become an important source of insight for our guests and restaurants alike.
Our data science team digs even deeper. They “mine” reviews, singling out a single theme and looking for the words most often associated with each one. Then they create word clouds that show an at-a-glance view of what reviewers are saying overall, aggregating content from individual reviews to show how important each word is in relation to the topic at hand. (For more information on how these topics are learned from free text reviews, see this article on our tech blog.)
Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular dining days of the year and the subject of countless OpenTable reviews. Data Scientist Sudeep Das mined OpenTable reviews to find out what makes an experience worthy of a 1-star or 5-star ranking — read on, and learn how to delight diners this Valentine’s Day.
Waiting is by far the number one gripe customers have on Valentine’s Day. And it’s not just waiting for a table, it’s also waiting for water to be filled, for orders to be taken, and waiting too long between courses.
1-Star: In one-star reviews, guests are quick to call out exactly how many minutes they had to wait at each stage of the meal. One reviewer wrote: “I was disappointed in the service. In a restaurant business, it should not take 30 minutes for bread, 40 minutes for an appetizer, and 60 minutes for your entree to be served to you.”
5-Star: On the flip side, diners will also give props to restaurants for efficiency. Being seated immediately upon arrival is a big plus. Here’s a note from one five-star review:
“I was pleased that I made the reservation 2 weeks prior via OpenTable. There was a wait of 90-120 minutes for a table (Valentine’s Dinner) for any walk-ins. I arrived 3 minutes early to my reservation, and waited all of five minutes. I was seated quickly and had great service.”
Takeaway: Honor reservation times, and take orders and deliver dishes quickly. If you’re expecting more covers than usual, it may be worth bringing in extra servers or bussers.
Your waitstaff can make or break a Valentine’s Day experience. People remember when servers are friendly and attentive, and they won’t hesitate to complain about those who are slow or rude.
1-Star: Many guests note that they had to flag down waiters or received service that was less than what they expected. “Never again. Considering the price ($176) for our special Valentine’s day dinner. The experience was not very special. The food was ok but not fantastic and certainly below expectations for such a fancy place. The waiter was rude in the beginning and did not make us feel special at all. This was a special occasion dinner and the experience you provided was only mediocre.”
5-Star: “Great service, knowledgeable and friendly staff, and the food was excellent.” Enough said.
Takeaway: Tell your staff to go the extra mile on Valentine’s Day. Many guests are expecting service that’s more formal and attentive than what they’d receive on a typical night. (Another reviewer was disappointed when their server greeted them, “What’s up?” on Valentine’s Day.) Be knowledgeable, friendly, and prompt — and make them feel special.
Many restaurants offer a prix fixe menu on Valentine’s Day, either in addition to or instead of their usual menu. You can get great reviews either way, but diners are likely speak up when offered a menu they didn’t expect.
1-Star: Guests gripe when the menu they see online doesn’t match what’s offered on the big night — and they’ll be extra sensitive to the perceived value of a special menu. Small portions and high prices will cause them to raise an eyebrow. Here’s one example:
“I was baited and switched with the menu. After being given the regular menu and a special menu, when I ordered from the regular menu I was told only the special menu was being served. The special menu had regular menu entrees, nothing special, and was close to three times as expensive. There were extra tables set up, so many that the servers could not move freely, people were sitting on top of one another..absolutely no ambiance and this on Valentine’s Day?”
5-Star: A great, well-advertised prix fixe menu can give guests a reason to come back for regular service. “Service was exceptional and the food was great. Since it was Valentine’s Day, there was a set menu. However, the items on the menu were very tasty. We look forward to going back and trying their full menu.”
Takeaway: If you’re serving a fixed price menu on Valentine’s Day, make it known. Post the menu online beforehand (with pricing), and include a note on your OpenTable reservations page. And don’t try to raise the price of your regular dishes and call it a special menu, because people will notice. The last thing you want is to catch a guest off guard when they sit down at the table — they may never return.
A lot of people order steak on Valentine’s Day! Here’s what they have to say and how you can prepare for the orders.
1-Star: Predictably, people become frustrated when steaks aren’t cooked to their desired doneness — and they are all the more likely to call out the price of the dish. “My wife and I visited for Valentine’s day. We both got the filet as our main dish. I ordered mine medium rare and she ordered hers medium plus. When we received our steaks, we both had medium rare. My wife asked for the steak to be put on a little longer as it was not to her specification. They took the steak and brought it back within minutes. They simply seemed to put the steak on the grill for what seems like 30 seconds and sent it back out. Needless to say, it was still medium rare. She ended up not even eating it. Pretty disappointed when the filet was a la carte and ran $32.”
5-Star: When a steak is cooked to a diner’s specifications, “perfection” is one of the most popular words that shows up in reviews. “My porcini rubbed Delmonico steak with aged balsamic was the best steak I’ve ever had. It was a nice, pink-in-the-middle medium rare, with a beautiful crust on the outside. The marbled, bone-in steak was full of flavor and so tender it melted in my mouth.”
Takeaway: Cook steaks carefully, and listen to diners’ feedback. Notice if they aren’t eating the dish and offer to replace it with something else if you can’t quite get it right. When it comes to size, over-deliver so they see the value in the dish.
On Valentine’s Day guests may splurge on a special bottle of wine, which can either take their overall experience to the next level or leave them underwhelmed.
1-Star: Again, value is top of mind for diners as they treat themselves to an expensive bottle, and they also want service that’s worthy of the wine they select. “We ordered a 22-year old bottle of wine for $112.00. The woman who claimed to be the Sommelier didn’t have the right bottle opener to open the wine! She opened the wine and the cork split. She disappeared and later returned with the decanted wine and very cheap/small wine glasses. ‘Sorry, we don’t have nice wine glasses anymore, she said.’ They might as well just serve everything in juice glasses!”
5-Star: When the wine is great, it tends to become part of the larger experience of the restaurant’s food, ambiance, and hospitality. “We have eaten here many times and love the food, wine list, and service.”
Takeaway: Remember that guests may by trying to impress their dates, so make them look good and feel special! Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to bring out wine buckets and formal glassware. This is also a case in which the customer should always be right. If they think it might be corked, don’t embarrass them by disagreeing. If they aren’t thrilled with the bottle or want to send it back, be ready to recommend another one or pour a taste on the house.
Questions about word clouds and data mining? Contact Sudeep Das here.