The sketchy Chinese place is a staple of most American neighborhoods. Even growing up in Vermont, we had one near my high school in a strip mall affectionately referred to as “F*** You Chicken.” You might wonder how, when there are blatant health code violations and possibly a meth lab in the back, these places even stay in business. It turns out that’s because we like ’em that way.
Glenn Carroll, a professor at the Stanford School of Business, was fascinated by a story from the 1980s about patrons objecting to a crackdown on how Chinese restaurants stored their ducks. The patrons argued that it was how the Chinese did things, and thousands of years of tradition trumped modern health codes. Which it doesn’t, by the way.
It got Carroll wondering: Do we value a perceived authenticity over factors like, you know, not giving you an agonizing food-borne illness? So he did a little research, comparing the health code violations of over 9,000 restaurants to their reviews on Yelp across a seven year span.
The results? Carroll found that even when people were fully aware the restaurant was a hive of scum, villany and possibly salmonella, they still not only ate there, but they even gave it a better review. The authenticity of the product was more important than whether or not it was safe to consume. In other words, the more it was like the Chinese restaurant scene from the Joe Piscopo classic Dead Heat, the better. For those unfamiliar, this happens:
Why, precisely, we view it as authentic when a Chinese place is disgusting is a question we’ll leave to Tumblr. But it does raise some fascinating questions, especially as it pertains to branding: If something seems “authentic” to us… just how crappy are we willing to let it be?