Conflicting Social Codes and Organizations: Hygiene and Authenticity in Consumer Evaluations of Restaurants

Conflicting Social Codes and Organizations: Hygiene and Authenticity in Consumer Evaluations of Restaurants

By David W. Lehman, Balázs Kovács, Glenn R. Carroll
June 4,2014Working Paper No. 3161

Organization theory highlights the spread of norms of rationality in contemporary life. Yet rationality does not always spread without friction; individuals often act based on other beliefs and norms. We explore this problem in the context of restaurants and diners. We argue that consumers potentially apply either of two social codes when forming value judgments about restaurants: (1) an apparently rational science-based code of hygiene involving compliance with local health regulations or (2) a context-activated code of authenticity involving conformity to cultural norms. We propose that violations of the hygiene code recede in importance when the authenticity code is activated. This claim is supported by empirical analyses of 442,086 online consumer reviews and 52,740 governmental health inspections conducted from 2004 to 2011.