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Merchants are minding their digital critiques


Greg Dodge, owner of Zavino at 13th and Sansom Streets, likes to say that there is no marketing like word of mouth, and once a week, a report arrives on his cellphone that lets him measure just what those words are worth.

The sender is a Washington company called newBrandAnalytics, and it offers a service that scrapes and analyzes social media and consumer-review sites to produce a sort of buzz report card created by data scientists that allows the hospitality industry to act on what in the past had just been talk.

This week, Dodge learned that Melka442 of Parsippany, N.J., told the world on TripAdvisor that Zavino's food was "FRESH," the Brussels sprouts were likable, and the pizza was irresistible.

That day on Yelp, Lindsay W of Philadelphia fired off 514 words about her dinner at Zavino, a stew of impressions that newBrandAnalytics highlighted with most-useful phrases, like drool (in the best way), helpful, outgoing, and slightly charred around the edges.

The reports that Dodge devours also break comments into categories, like speed of service, friendliness, attentive, knowledge, assigning numerical values to each and allowing him to measure his restaurant's progress and compare its performance with its peers.

He scours these reports like the night's receipts. They're just as important.

Dodge fired a greeter after a negative online comment reinforced his impression that the staffer wasn't welcoming enough to those who walked through his door.

Social-media criticism made him 86 his gluten-free-pizza experiment last winter. And about a week later, social media made him bring back the alternative pizzas.

"People didn't like the crust. They thought it was the worst gluten-free pizza ever," Dodge said. "When I took it off the menu, I got such a response from those who loved that we'd made the effort. It was a no-win pizza. I don't know anyone who makes gluten-free pizza taste good."

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