Consent Preferences

The 'Easy A' Effect: How Reviewer Bias Shapes Online Ratings

GuestInsight Research Team
June 5, 2023
7 minute read
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Online reviews are a crucial part of the consumer purchase decision-making process. Several studies of consumer behavior conducted over the past few years agree that more than 90% of consumers rely on online reviews as a key factor influencing their purchasing decisions.

Whether we're booking a hotel, choosing a restaurant, or buying a new gadget, it’s clear that the vast majority of us inevitably turn to reviews for guidance. However, we often stumble upon a perplexing aspect of these online reviews - a disconnect where the written text comments don't necessarily align with the provided star ratings*. This disparity can sometimes be as stark as reading a glowing review accompanied by a surprisingly low rating, or conversely, a harsh critique with a high star rating. In this blog post, we're going to explore this inconsistency found in online reviews. We'll dig into why these mismatches occur, discuss what it means for both consumers and businesses, and provide some practical tips for those in the hospitality industry on managing their online reviews more effectively.

Understanding Online Reviewers' Grading System

Thinking back to your school days, remember how some teachers were notoriously known as tough graders, while others had a reputation for being “an easy A”? Just like teachers, every online reviewer operates on a unique grading system. This disparity is the root cause of the 'mismatch phenomenon' we often encounter in online reviews.

For instance, consider a 4-star review that praises a hotel's "excellent service" and "luxurious ambiance," then ends with a minor complaint about the slow elevator. On the other hand, you might see a 3-star review for the same hotel that has more complaints but still concludes that it was a "pretty decent stay." It becomes evident that each reviewer has a different grading system, leading to a gap between their comments and ratings.

Why Does This Mismatch Occur?

Several factors contribute to the mismatch between reviews and ratings. At the heart of this issue is the inherent subjectivity of personal experiences and expectations. Each person carries a unique set of standards and past experiences, which significantly shape their evaluation of a hotel, restaurant, service, or product. What one person considers a 5-star experience might barely eek out a 3-star rating from another.

Cultural nuances add another layer of complexity. Around the world, attitudes towards giving feedback can vary significantly. For instance, in some cultures, it's customary to provide criticism in a gentle and indirect manner. Thus, a reviewer from such a background might offer a higher star rating, even while the text of their review indicates several issues. Conversely, a reviewer from a culture that values directness and forthrightness may seem more harsh in their critique, leading to a lower star rating even if the overall experience was satisfactory.

Of course, universally accepted rating systems or guidelines would help, but are implausible within the context of open public review platforms. Without a shared understanding of what each star signifies, reviewers are free to impose their own grading scales, leading to the disconnect between star ratings and written reviews.

Implications for Consumers

For consumers, this mismatch can create confusion and mistrust in online reviews. A potential strategy for consumers navigating this space might be to find like-minded reviewers. On some review platforms, it's possible to see other reviews a person has written. If a reviewer has rated other businesses that you are familiar with in a way that aligns with your own experiences, their review of an unfamiliar business might be more trustworthy to you. This approach could help in identifying reviewers whose 'grading system' resonates with your own, enabling more reliable decision-making.

Managing Online Reviews: A Guide for Hoteliers and Restaurateurs

For hoteliers and restaurateurs, online reviews serve as an invaluable tool for reputation management. A solid understanding of the 'mismatch phenomenon' and the diversity in reviewers' grading systems can empower businesses to respond effectively to feedback, enhance guest engagement, and refine their offerings.

Engage with your reviewers: Acknowledge positive reviews with gratitude and respond to negative ones with empathy and a proactive approach to address their concerns. This shows that you value guest feedback and are committed to improving their experience.

Analyze review trends: Look for patterns in reviews to understand your strengths and shortcomings. Regular analysis can provide insights into what guests value most about your hotel or restaurant, and what areas need improvement.

Leverage reviews for marketing: Highlight positive reviews in your marketing materials and incorporate testimonials into your website. Prospective guests often value the words of their peers more than advertising.

By integrating these strategies into your reputation management, you can foster a strong online presence and continue to elevate your property and services based on real guest experiences.

A Deeper Dive for Hospitality Businesses

Interpreting the mismatch between ratings and review comments is important for hospitality businesses to really understand how their doing on the review platforms. A low star rating with a seemingly positive review might not signal a disappointed guest but rather one who has high standards or different expectations.

In addition, hospitality businesses can leverage the diversity in guest reviews to their advantage. By identifying patterns in reviews, businesses can tailor their marketing efforts towards those types of guests who consistently provide higher ratings. For instance, if an upscale boutique hotel finds that many of their lower ratings come from people who typically favor budget-friendly accommodations, the hotel would be well served by focusing its marketing strategies to appeal to guests who prefer luxury experiences and are willing to pay for them. Similarly, a gourmet restaurant whose lower ratings primarily come from budget-conscious restaurant aficionados might consider targeting food connoisseurs or culinary enthusiasts.

A “next-level” step for hospitality operators would be to 'normalize' star ratings by leveraging Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques. By analyzing the text of reviews, businesses can programmatically assign a 'text-based' rating, instead of a star value assigned by the guest that might offer a more nuanced understanding of a guest's experience. This can help businesses reconcile the gap between star ratings and text feedback, providing a clearer picture of guest sentiment and areas of improvement.

And, of course, hospitality operators should solicit feedback from all guests (rather than the self-selecting subset that submit online reviews) through after-visit surveys to understand their expectations better and to refine their offerings. Encouraging a guest-centric culture that values detailed feedback over just star ratings can also provide more actionable insights. This engagement not only helps improve services but also builds trust and loyalty with guests.


Understanding the mismatch between star ratings and review content can be a challenging yet rewarding endeavor for hospitality businesses. Being aware of this 'Easy A' phenomenon can provide valuable insights for interpreting reviews, managing online reputation, and improving properties and services based on guest feedback.

For hoteliers and restaurateurs, every review is an opportunity - an opportunity to learn, to improve, and to engage with guests. Star ratings might give you a quick overview, but the real gems are often hidden in the text of reviews. By digging deeper and acknowledging the varied 'grading scales' of reviewers, you can extract actionable insights to tailor your offerings and services to meet guest expectations better.

Furthermore, businesses that respond effectively to reviews - both positive and negative - can leverage this engagement to build trust, show their commitment to guest satisfaction, and ultimately drive more business. Online reputation management isn't just about mitigating the negatives; it's also about highlighting and duplicating the positives.

To navigate this 'Easy A' landscape, it can be incredibly beneficial to incorporate advanced tools, such as NLP, into your feedback analysis. By understanding sentiment and the nuances within reviews, you can ensure a more comprehensive and accurate interpretation of your guests' feedback.

In essence, the goal isn't to chase the perfect rating. It's to understand your guests' experiences on a deeper level, improving your services and, as a result, their satisfaction. So let's embrace the diversity of online grading systems, delve into the richness of review content, and use these insights to drive our businesses forward in the ever-competitive hospitality landscape.


*We’re using the term “star ratings” as a catch- all for the various 5 point rating scales that different review platforms use, whether they be stars, circles, etc.

#OnlineReviews #ReputationManagement #GuestFeedback #Hoteliers #Restaurateurs #GuestExperience #ReviewMismatch #CustomerExperience

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