Rating Restaurants On How Socially Responsible They Are

Apr 17 2014, 6:24pm CDT | by

Gerald Mitchell wants to change behavior–specifically, to persuade consumers to patronize socially responsible restaurants.

He aims to do that through SWICH, a social enterprise site now in beta that lists and rates restaurants according to how well they score in five categories: “Health”, “Environment,” “Local,” “Workers,” and “Community.” The ultimate ratings are on a scale of minus five to positive five. (SWICH’s tagline is : “Buy better.”)

You’ve got to start somewhere and Mitchell decided it would be New York City and its “25,000-ish” restaurants. (That includes stores which are part of a chain or franchise.  In case you want to know, the number one restaurant retailer in New York City is Dunkin Donuts, with 7,190 stores, according to The Center for An Urban Future).  For now, about 8,000 restaurants have been scored.

Mitchell decided to focus on the retail level, rather than looking at, say, individual skus for a few reasons. For one thing, there are just too many individual products out there. For another, according to Mitchell, research shows excessive choice can be overwhelming when you’re trying to change behavior. “Our goal is to move people up the ladder. If we get you to where you want to go to a place that rates a zero, then we want to get you next to look for a two,” he says. “We want to make it so people will switch.”

What does SWICH base the scoring on? It’s a mix of crowdsourced responses and third party information from such organizations as the Green Restaurant Association, which scores restaurants on how environmentally friendly they are, and Restaurant Opportunities Center, which assesses how well employees are treated. Mitchell also looked closely at how B Lab does its questionnaire.

The crowdsourced information comes from a 25-question survey consumers can fill out, with questions that range from whether the business recycles to the percentage of menu items sourced locally.  (If you’re impatient, you only need to answer the questions you feel most passionately about). Then SWICH aggregates all the answers.      

The way the site works is, you can search by restaurant, category and neighborhood.  With that, you see a list of establishments with the rating and address, along with data from Foursquare—an overall quality rating and  how pricey the restaurant is.  Also, you can click on the rating and then drill down further into each of the five categories. Thus, search for restaurants in the East Village and you’ll see Angelica Kitchen with a stellar rating of five. Click on the “Local” tab and you read that the restaurant has more than 75% of menu items sourced locally.

 Mitchell got the idea after working for two years at a merchant bank that provided advisory services and financing to urban small businesses.  He decided he could make more  of an impact if he focused more on the customer—that is, finding ways to guide patrons to socially responsible businesses. “If we pushed more customers to them, then they would be more ready for capital expansion and  growth,” he says.

Exactly how he’s going to make money–so far, Mitchell has self-funded the company—is still up in the air. One possibility is to give diners discounts, deals and rewards. Another is to help restaurants understand how to improve their scores and “become more attractive to the SWICH community,” he says. According to Mitchell, he’ll avoid a conflict of interest that might be inherent in restaurants paying SWICH to see their scores,  thanks to the crowdsourced information. He figures scoring from patrons will account for much of the final rating, something he can’t manipulate. “The trust factor is very important,” he says.

Mitchell and his team have been working on the site since last June, although he’s been pondering the best approach to take for a lot longer than that.  As for his next step, expansion is a ways off and Mitchell still has to decide what makes the most sense—to branch out into other cities or stay in New York for the time being and include other types of goods or services.  In any case, he’s about to introduce an app version of the New York site  soon.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

 
 

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