Yelp expands its restaurant health-grading initiative

Individual restaurant pages will include a "standardized" score.

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Yelp today announced it would further expand its health grades information on restaurant listings. While the reviews platform developed its own digital standard for restaurant hygiene (called "Local Inspector Value-entry Specification" or LIVES) alongside the "the technology departments of the cities of San Francisco and New York" in 2013, it's now broadening its partnership with firm Hazel Analytics. Yelp and Hazel teamed up last year, and together the LIVES metric now incorporates "data from health departments across 48 U.S. states" as well as Toronto and Vancouver.

“The expansion of Yelp's health scores program comes at a time when people are returning to indoor dining as COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift, health inspections are restarting from the early pandemic pause, and restaurants are embracing more diner safety measures like contactless payments and virtual menus,” wrote Yelp in a blog post.

There’s a chance you’ve seen health scores on your city’s Yelp restaurant pages already. But in recent years, Yelp became even more proactive in displaying restaurant health scores — it displays information from local health departments or uses third-party vendors like Hazel. Yelp listings for restaurants in Los Angeles also include alerts for the lowest health scores in the last six months.

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Still, some in the restaurant industry have criticized Yelp’s efforts. Cities and states vary widely in their food inspection scoring, with some assigning a letter grade or numerical score, and others opting for a pass/fail system. Restaurants have complained about inaccurate or out-of-date scores on their listings. The Mercury News reported back in 2018 that restaurants in Bay Area counties that use a pass/fail system were taken aback when Yelp showed health inspection scores from their previous third-party analytics vendors for their businesses.

Yelp calculates health inspection scores using three methods: directly using a score provided by a city’s health department, generating a score from raw health data or using an estimated health score generated by Hazel. The third option — which Hazel defaults to in cases where cities don’t publish health inspection scores — leaves a great deal of room for misinterpretation. And as The Mercury News points out, restaurants that, deservedly or not, show low LIVES-generated scores on Yelp might see their business dry up significantly.

Correction, 8:30AM ET: This story has been updated to note that Yelp itself doesn't estimate health scores for restaurants; it displays third-party data from firms like Hazel Analytics. We apologize for the error.

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