When hunger and happy hour beckon, the first place many tech savvy individuals turn to is Yelp. Users know a high star rating means they'll likely find something to enjoy, while a low star rating could be trouble or worse, like a reporter in San Francisco recently found out.
But if you could also see how a eatery fared on a government health inspection, would that sway your decision on where to dine?
Diners in Richardson now that have option. On Dec. 18, the North Texas suburb became the first city in the Lone Star State to integrate health inspection data for its restaurants into Yelp as part of a Local Inspector Value-Entry Specification (LIVES) program.
The LIVES program launched in 2012 in San Francisco and now offers data from 11 cities, counties and municipalities in America.
Luther Lowe, vice president of public policy at Yelp, says the goal is help customers make educated decisions about where they're eating. It both informs Yelpers about their environments and holds business owners accountable to ultimately decrease the number of foodborne illnesses, he says.
"It creates a virtuous cycle of positive reinforcement," Lowe says. "Working with cities and counties to bring restaurant hygiene scores online, we thought, made a lot of sense because the data is there anyway."
When users search for a restaurant in Richardson, a health inspection rating will now appear among other info such as address, map, and contact info. (On the desktop website, the score appears in the right column. On mobile app, it's under "more info.")
Scores range zero to 100, and anything above a 70 is passing, according to Eric Matthews, Richardson's deputy chief information officer. If a restaurant scores less than 70, it will show on its Yelp page, but Matthews assures the city will also be taking corrective action with the business.
Matthews says Richardson had been working to create a similar proprietary reporting system for the city, which made it a natural fit to join the LIVES program.
"The city council has focused on transparency as a goal for several years now," he says. "We had the information available and in a way we were able to do it quickly ... kind of adapt it to this new requirement." The process to launch the inspection data, done by open data company Socrata, took about two months and includes every restaurant in the city, he says.
While diners can see a Richardson restaurant's health inspection score, they cannot see why an establishment was docked points. They can, however, request that information, Matthews says.
Yelp hopes to expand the LIVES program, but Lowe couldn't project how many new cities may come on board in 2016 since his company works directly with city governments as well as data agencies to offer this service. But he believes the more information available to people dining out, the better.
"Yelp is a platform designed to empower and protect consumers," Lowe says. "This has the potential to save lives."