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Why You Shouldn't Trust Yelp


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#1 weinoo

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 10:59 AM

Yesterday, front page news in the NY Times, an article entitled In a Race to Out-Rave Rivals, 5 Star Web Reviews Go for $5.

Not that I didn't know there were shills on a lot of these sites, and not that I trust any of the reviews on said sites, but the article is still a bit disturbing...

“For $5, I will submit two great reviews for your business,” offered one entrepreneur on the help-for-hire site Fiverr, one of a multitude of similar pitches. On another forum, Digital Point, a poster wrote, “I will pay for positive feedback on TripAdvisor.” A Craigslist post proposed this: “If you have an active Yelp account and would like to make very easy money please respond.”


Isn't it great to know how industrious people are?

Of course, we have good old eGullet to trust, along with a few others, where shills are generally quickly sniffed out.

So where else do you turn when you want an honest opinion?
Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"
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#2 Mjx

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 11:12 AM

I don't trust any review sites, ever since one that shall remain nameless offered me considerably more than $5 to revise my scathing (but polite) review of a nonexistent hotel. Yes, you read that correctly. This hotel also demanded an advance deposit for the first night, and (no surprise) refused to return it. On Yelp, this hotel has nothing but 5-star reviews. Great reviews on Tripadvisor, too, although if you look at the forums, you read about a different story.

I trust the reports of people I know who've had direct experience of a place, and who know something of the sorts of things I like. Everything else I take with a heaping fistful of salt.

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#3 gfweb

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 11:35 AM

Chowhound isn't too polluted with fake reviews, but you still don't know how sophisticated the reviewer is. A Zagat-like problem.

#4 MaxH

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 11:46 AM

It's something of a chronic topic even in past eG threads. In case anyone isn't up to date on earlier publicity:

Wall Street Journal, 2007: "The Price of a Four-Star Rating"

Los Angeles Times, 2009: "Yelp should review its disclosure efforts"

East Bay Express, 2009: "Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0"

San Francisco anti-Yelp newspaper ad discussed by an online marketing firm, 2011: "Yelp is Evil"


A perennial point is Yelp's denials of claims that Yelp representatives offered to adjust reviews in exchange for advertising buys by the reviewed businesses. The denials paint a particular picture when coupled with years of such claims by many separate businesses in the media reports. I have also received detailed credible private reports of at least two cases of such pressuring, one case recent and verbatim, from respected local small business owners with reputations for integrity. What's novel in this new publicity is the claim that other people too are now playing a pay-for-ratings gane and from multiple directions. (Could this be the opening of a freer market in online payola??)

All of which impugns mostly the numerical-ratings angle. Yelp still collects many honest independent comments. Its real utility for consumers (like that of Internet advice in general) may consist in spotting and sticking to individual commentators who have something real to contribute.

#5 prasantrin

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 12:53 PM

I take all online reviews with a grain of salt, including those on eG and its ilk. I've received just as much bad advice here and on other boards as anywhere else, and there are just as many "friends of the house" posting rave reviews here as anywhere else (who may not be getting paid cash, but a comped meal or course is a form of payment, whether disclosed or not).

Instead of looking at any site as a trustworthy source of reviews, I look at individual posters/bloggers. If you read enough, you find which posters have tastes most similar to your own, and who at least appear to be trustworthy.

#6 Tri2Cook

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 01:22 PM

I'm safe from that sort of thing. I don't research, I just go if I'm interested/curious. What happens next determines if I'll ever go back but I'll give almost anybody that first chance.
It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

#7 ambra

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 01:48 PM

While I usually opt for personal recommendations, I sometimes check out blogs I trust. The problem with that is, that I haven't really been following many blogs as of late, and if you're not following, how can you possibly know if you trust that person's opinion? Plus, if I am visiting a random city, they are harder to find. The good thing is, sometimes, you find long explanations and lots of pics. That's when they are best....

If I find something I like, I usually cross-reference as well.

I had a pretty good experience in Rome recently this way. I was happier than I might have been had I taken my chances.

I've never really been steered wrong by Egullet, thankfully, but I have to admit I do wish there was some updated Italy posts/reviews. We don't have much Italian traffic anymore here! I guess that's off topic though!

#8 ambra

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 01:50 PM

P.S I used to work for a restaurant in NY that forced its staff to post fake good reviews. He even posted his own. They were so fake, it was a joke.I couldn't stand that guy.

#9 Chris Hennes

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 02:32 PM

I take all online reviews with a grain of salt, including those on eG and its ilk. I've received just as much bad advice here and on other boards as anywhere else, and there are just as many "friends of the house" posting rave reviews here as anywhere else (who may not be getting paid cash, but a comped meal or course is a form of payment, whether disclosed or not).

Instead of looking at any site as a trustworthy source of reviews, I look at individual posters/bloggers. If you read enough, you find which posters have tastes most similar to your own, and who at least appear to be trustworthy.

Exactly: no matter what site you go to, or what newspaper/blog/Facebook page/Twitter feed you read, the world is littered with reviews that are not going to reflect your experience of the restaurant. Sometimes they are paid shills, sometimes they are "friends of the house" and sometimes they are just people whose tastes don't match yours. In my opinion you *must* seek out individual reviewers whose opinions are in line with your own and seek their advice. I find Yelp, Zagat, etc. totally worthless mainly because of the inherent disassociation of the review from the person behind it. I have no interest in the aggregated opinions of thousands: only the single opinion of someone whose tastes are in line with mine.

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#10 SobaAddict70

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 03:28 PM

So where else do you turn when you want an honest opinion?



I turn to people whose opinions are as reliable as the Northern star.

None are on Yelp as far as I know.

#11 weinoo

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 06:29 PM

Exactly: no matter what site you go to, or what newspaper/blog/Facebook page/Twitter feed you read, the world is littered with reviews that are not going to reflect your experience of the restaurant.

I don't know that I'd lump the word of the professional newspaper or magazine reviewer in with that of the yelper or twitee. Certainly, your experience or my experience at a particular restaurant may be better or worse than that of said reviewer; but I tend to trust the pro a bit more.
Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"
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#12 Paul Kierstead

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 08:43 PM

So, some amount of fraud completely discredits the source and instead I should, what, throw darts to determine my restaurant? If we all had some fabulous source of recommendations, there would be no Yelp.

#13 annachan

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Posted 21 August 2011 - 11:22 PM

I used to be on Yelp, a LOT! And I've gotten to know some yelpers (some in person) over the years. There are actually some trustworthy people on there, you just need to know who they are.

However, Yelp (the company), like many other websites, are out to make money. Apparently some yelpers as well. And there are bloggers out there who do the same thing. They demand free meals from restaurants and threaten to write unfavorable reviews when that doesn't happen.

When money isn't a factor, personal taste comes into play. Even with people I trust, we don't always like the same restaurants.

Instead of believing that one website/blog/reviewer is good or bad, I take all of them with a gain of salt.

#14 SylviaLovegren

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 06:32 AM

I don't often trust the great reviews because who knows who wrote it or why or what that person's tastes are if he or she is honest in the first place. But sometimes the negative reviews can be helpful in steering me away from a place ( if it doesn't sound like its written by a nut).

But then... I was reading a review of a Mediterranean restaurant in Toronto yesterday which raved about the great Japanese food and gracious Japanese servers. Someone had obviously gotten their wires crossed.

#15 HungryC

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 07:20 AM

Hmm, I didn't realize folks were using Yelp or Urbanspoon for the reviews/ratings. I generally use them as data sources: what restaurants are near me when I'm in an unfamiliar place, hours, menus, prices, etc. I will read the opinions at times, but they're pretty worthless (to me).

#16 kathryn

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 08:03 AM


Exactly: no matter what site you go to, or what newspaper/blog/Facebook page/Twitter feed you read, the world is littered with reviews that are not going to reflect your experience of the restaurant.

I don't know that I'd lump the word of the professional newspaper or magazine reviewer in with that of the yelper or twitee. Certainly, your experience or my experience at a particular restaurant may be better or worse than that of said reviewer; but I tend to trust the pro a bit more.


At a minimum the pro is (supposed to) have a baseline of experience in dining out. Maybe do some fact-checking.

For individual Yelp reviews, I wish you could flag them as:
- reviewer has no familiarity with this cuisine/food
- reviewer has totally unrealistic expectations
- reviewer went on opening night and complained that things weren't perfect
- reviewer is a vegetarian/vegan reviewing a steakhouse/meat-centric restaurant
- reviewer is posting a retaliatory negative review because wasn't comped when asked
- reviewer is superficial positive review based only upon attractiveness of wait staff/bartenders
- reviewer is reviewing the wrong restaurant
- reviewer is giving a poor review because they preferred the establishment that used to be in the same space, but closed
- etc.

A friend calls Yelp "what happens when you give Livejournal users credit cards." Real reviews from real people remind us that real people are often idiots. Not to mention that the default filter is the unexplained "Yelp Sort" where "certain" unfavorable reviews get filtered out.

I use Yelp on my iPhone has a directory as well but I believe the overall star rating affects the order of the search results, especially in less-populated areas.
"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure

#17 weinoo

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 08:28 AM

At a minimum the pro is (supposed to) have a baseline of experience in dining out. Maybe do some fact-checking.

For individual Yelp reviews, I wish you could flag them as:
- reviewer has no familiarity with this cuisine/food
- reviewer has totally unrealistic expectations
- reviewer went on opening night and complained that things weren't perfect
- reviewer is a vegetarian/vegan reviewing a steakhouse/meat-centric restaurant
- reviewer is posting a retaliatory negative review because wasn't comped when asked
- reviewer is superficial positive review based only upon attractiveness of wait staff/bartenders
- reviewer is reviewing the wrong restaurant
- reviewer is giving a poor review because they preferred the establishment that used to be in the same space, but closed
- etc.

That would be great!
Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"
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#18 weinoo

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 08:31 AM

You've brought up another point which amazes me: Do people really ask for comps? I've been out with professional reviewers and that thought or action has never crossed their minds over careers spanning 30+ years.

As a matter of fact, that is way beyond my comprehension.
Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"
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#19 kathryn

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 09:23 AM

“Customers have begun threatening to ‘Yelp’ the restaurant if their demands are not met. Cafe Rouge experienced this phenomenon twice within the past month when comps were demanded with the threat that a harsh review would follow on the Yelp website if we didn’t comply. The expectation of how much to comp is also at issue, where a glass of wine, an appetizer or dessert no longer suffices. People do follow through on their threats as we have witnessed. When most restaurants are struggling to pay the bills in a recession economy, bad publicity is the last thing we want to see. On the other hand, comping lavishly in response to overt threats affects the bottom line.”


"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure

#20 Allura

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 09:51 AM

Probably the best thing they can do is fight fire with fire. Restaurants need a better grasp of social media and need to use it to expose these blackmailers, since that's what it is. For that matter, how does the justice system view blackmail/extortion between two private parties? Criminal or civil? A couple of lawsuits or a warrant might solve this nonsense. Esp since these folks were dumb enough to put it in an easily trackable format like email.

Restaurants aren't perfect, and I have no problem saying in a public forum when they're not, but sheesh. Blackmail? Seriously?
Joanna G. Hurley
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#21 EatNopales

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 10:27 AM


Exactly: no matter what site you go to, or what newspaper/blog/Facebook page/Twitter feed you read, the world is littered with reviews that are not going to reflect your experience of the restaurant.

I don't know that I'd lump the word of the professional newspaper or magazine reviewer in with that of the yelper or twitee. Certainly, your experience or my experience at a particular restaurant may be better or worse than that of said reviewer; but I tend to trust the pro a bit more.



Like anything else in life the Pros can be good, bad & average. Even when they might be competent, methodical & coherent it doesn't mean you are going to like their recommendations.

Here in Sonoma County the main local critic is pretty clueless (in my opinion)... any "ethnic place" with dumbed down food, mainstream ingredient choices, has a wine list & petty bourgeoisie decor automatically ranks higher than a little mom & pop with fantastic food but humble decor etc., Further the guy never orders the interesting dishes on a menu he seems to have a fairly narrow palette... maybe the Cheesecake Factory crowd likes him... I don't

At a bigger level... the Mark Bittman / New York Times coverage of Mexican Cuisine has been absolutely atrocious... the amount of stupid, unresearched, "absolutist" statements they make on every single article, particularly the ones where they travel to Mexico is unbelievable for such a reputable publication.

#22 MaxH

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 12:16 PM

prasantrin (Aug. 21): I've received just as much bad advice here and on other boards as anywhere else

No doubt. However, I haven't seen eG or any other site surface, for years, persistently, in broad-based serious complaints such as: Restaurants catering "Elite squad" parties, attendees giving (unacknowledged) positive reviews in return [Wall St. Journal]. ("Elite squad" in my region incidentally includes people posting "reviews" of restaurants they avowedly never ate at, and creating duplicate restaurant entries and posting in them, one path to a high "review" count.) Businesses reporting pressure to pay "insurance," or admitting explicitly paying "to have a 'favorite review' topping the list" [LA Times]. Lawsuits by small-business groups (including in my area; related story in E. Bay Express link above) forcing Yelp to change some of its practices a while back. Reliable small business owners privately reporting extortion-like advertising sales for years; others taking out newspaper advertisements calling the site "Evil."

These factors go beyond the issue of review quality from indiscriminantly aggregated comments, an issue shared by Zagat and other sites soliciting self-selected "reviews." (E.g., Google, the Open Table reservation service, the Restaurant listings themselves on Chowhound, etc.)



weinoo (Aug. 22): Do people really ask for comps? I've been out with professional reviewers and that thought or action has never crossed their minds over careers spanning 30+ years. As a matter of fact, that is way beyond my comprehension.

A huge topic, with aspects well beyond this forum. I've traveled sometimes to research restaurants in specific regions and been offered comped meals by some high-end ones (I always refused, but tapped the restaurant personnel for background info which they gladly furnished). Conscientious professional reviewers worry less about "comp" issues than being recognized, and receiving atypical service or food (Mimi Sheraton, who briefly tutored me on these subjects in the 90s, is full of stories from around NYC). I've talked to enough high-end restaurant managers to hear the weird little moves they have to be on guard against -- things most diners probably aren't aware of. Opportunistic "complaints" (though seldom as exotic as planting a severed finger in the food), requests for money back after a week's reflection on a meal evidently enjoyed at the time, gambits by arrogant kids claiming some online presence the manager never heard of (for good reason) and expecting it entitles them to free meals (?!)

I hear this more from high-end restaurants. The petty maneuvers get more frequent as the bills go up. (The finger case was at Wendy's, but that was a grander gambit, aiming for a legal claim and cash settlement, I gather).


#23 annachan

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Posted 22 August 2011 - 11:18 PM


At a minimum the pro is (supposed to) have a baseline of experience in dining out. Maybe do some fact-checking.

For individual Yelp reviews, I wish you could flag them as:
- reviewer has no familiarity with this cuisine/food
- reviewer has totally unrealistic expectations
- reviewer went on opening night and complained that things weren't perfect
- reviewer is a vegetarian/vegan reviewing a steakhouse/meat-centric restaurant
- reviewer is posting a retaliatory negative review because wasn't comped when asked
- reviewer is superficial positive review based only upon attractiveness of wait staff/bartenders
- reviewer is reviewing the wrong restaurant
- reviewer is giving a poor review because they preferred the establishment that used to be in the same space, but closed
- etc.

That would be great!


You can actually flag a review if a reviewer did review the wrong restaurant.

As for the others, if you know that a reviewer may be doing any of those things, I would simply discount the review. I may not be able to change other people's actions, but I can decide for myself if a review has any merit.

#24 weinoo

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 04:18 AM

prasantrin (Aug. 21): I've received just as much bad advice here and on other boards as anywhere else

[size="2"]No doubt. However, I haven't seen eG or any other site surface, for years, persistently, in broad-based serious complaints such as: Restaurants catering "Elite squad" parties, attendees giving (unacknowledged) positive reviews in return [Wall St. Journal]. ("Elite squad" in my region incidentally includes people posting "reviews" of restaurants they avowedly never ate at, and creating duplicate restaurant entries and posting in them, one path to a high "review" count.) Businesses reporting pressure to pay "insurance," or admitting explicitly paying "to have a 'favorite review' topping the list" [LA Times]. Lawsuits by small-business groups (including in my area; related story in E. Bay Express link above) forcing Yelp to change some of its practices a while back. Reliable small business owners privately reporting extortion-like advertising sales for years; others taking out newspaper advertisements calling the site "Evil."

That's exactly it, MaxH. No one is paying anyone or soliciting anyone to write reviews here on eG like they are on sites like Yelp. While you might get a review that's considered bad advice here, it is still posted by a well-meaning society member who hasn't been paid or comped, or has made those facts known. Shills are usually quickly ferreted out.
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#25 threestars

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 05:21 AM

Hmm, I didn't realize folks were using Yelp or Urbanspoon for the reviews/ratings. I generally use them as data sources: what restaurants are near me when I'm in an unfamiliar place, hours, menus, prices, etc. I will read the opinions at times, but they're pretty worthless (to me).


I should agree with you on this one. I think Yelp should only be used for general information like contact details, menus, store details, etc. and not for the actual review of the restaurant ratings.

#26 prasantrin

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 05:31 AM


prasantrin (Aug. 21): I've received just as much bad advice here and on other boards as anywhere else

[size="2"]No doubt. However, I haven't seen eG or any other site surface, for years, persistently, in broad-based serious complaints such as: Restaurants catering "Elite squad" parties, attendees giving (unacknowledged) positive reviews in return [Wall St. Journal]. ("Elite squad" in my region incidentally includes people posting "reviews" of restaurants they avowedly never ate at, and creating duplicate restaurant entries and posting in them, one path to a high "review" count.) Businesses reporting pressure to pay "insurance," or admitting explicitly paying "to have a 'favorite review' topping the list" [LA Times]. Lawsuits by small-business groups (including in my area; related story in E. Bay Express link above) forcing Yelp to change some of its practices a while back. Reliable small business owners privately reporting extortion-like advertising sales for years; others taking out newspaper advertisements calling the site "Evil."

That's exactly it, MaxH. No one is paying anyone or soliciting anyone to write reviews here on eG like they are on sites like Yelp. While you might get a review that's considered bad advice here, it is still posted by a well-meaning society member who hasn't been paid or comped, or has made those facts known. Shills are usually quickly ferreted out.


I should hope none of the things MaxH mentioned is being done currently, but I have no doubt people have used websites such as eG to "help out" friends in the business, whether those friends be restaurant owners, chefs, or even publishing agents and their relatives. Once you hear of such actions by persons, it's difficult to trust their judgments ever again.

On another board, a chef once mentioned how some bloggers and/or posters on food boards have made themselves "known" to the house (of restaurants where he has worked) with comments as subtle as "Do you know who I am?" Those guests then expect to be given comps and other privileges. Should I trust the reviews of those board members whom he mentions? I do not feel I can, and although he named no names, I pretty much disregard reviews from regular posters to that particular regional board. In my opinion, an expected/a demanded (even if that demand is only implied) comp is the same as a payment.

If anyone doubts what I write and needs a link to the above chef's post (or a quotation from it), I would be happy to oblige via PM.

But yes, afaik, the bad recs I've received are from people whose tastes merely differ from mine. My point was that one must be just as critical in choosing whose reviews to trust as in choosing which restaurants at which to dine. No harm in thinking for oneself rather than blindly following any one person, blog, board, etc.

#27 sigma

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 08:08 AM

Papers are hardly disinterested parties when they are criticizing online restaurant rating services. They are in a constant battle to keep themselves relevant, a battle they seem to be losing, so take whatever they say on such a subject with a large grain of salt. Not that I use Yelp! for anything other than addresses, I just don't trust competitors to grade each other.

#28 EatNopales

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 10:48 AM



prasantrin (Aug. 21): I've received just as much bad advice here and on other boards as anywhere else

[size="2"]No doubt. However, I haven't seen eG or any other site surface, for years, persistently, in broad-based serious complaints such as: Restaurants catering "Elite squad" parties, attendees giving (unacknowledged) positive reviews in return [Wall St. Journal]. ("Elite squad" in my region incidentally includes people posting "reviews" of restaurants they avowedly never ate at, and creating duplicate restaurant entries and posting in them, one path to a high "review" count.) Businesses reporting pressure to pay "insurance," or admitting explicitly paying "to have a 'favorite review' topping the list" [LA Times]. Lawsuits by small-business groups (including in my area; related story in E. Bay Express link above) forcing Yelp to change some of its practices a while back. Reliable small business owners privately reporting extortion-like advertising sales for years; others taking out newspaper advertisements calling the site "Evil."

That's exactly it, MaxH. No one is paying anyone or soliciting anyone to write reviews here on eG like they are on sites like Yelp. While you might get a review that's considered bad advice here, it is still posted by a well-meaning society member who hasn't been paid or comped, or has made those facts known. Shills are usually quickly ferreted out.

I should hope none of the things MaxH mentioned is being done currently, but I have no doubt people have used websites such as eG to "help out" friends in the business, whether those friends be restaurant owners, chefs, or even publishing agents and their relatives. Once you hear of such actions by persons, it's difficult to trust their judgments ever again.

On another board, a chef once mentioned how some bloggers and/or posters on food boards have made themselves "known" to the house (of restaurants where he has worked) with comments as subtle as "Do you know who I am?" Those guests then expect to be given comps and other privileges. Should I trust the reviews of those board members whom he mentions? I do not feel I can, and although he named no names, I pretty much disregard reviews from regular posters to that particular regional board. In my opinion, an expected/a demanded (even if that demand is only implied) comp is the same as a payment.

If anyone doubts what I write and needs a link to the above chef's post (or a quotation from it), I would be happy to oblige via PM.

But yes, afaik, the bad recs I've received are from people whose tastes merely differ from mine. My point was that one must be just as critical in choosing whose reviews to trust as in choosing which restaurants at which to dine. No harm in thinking for oneself rather than blindly following any one person, blog, board, etc.


Actually a blogger with good taste, good food descriptions etc who likes the food at a place so much they give up their honor for free meals there... that is the type of place I might want to go eat at! Free Market at work!

#29 Edward J

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 08:10 PM

An interesting subject, as always weineoo.

As a business owner, here are my thoughts on it.

1) The websites are a business. Granted,most of them don't pay for the reviews, those are free, but the reviews are what attract the readers. And the readers are what brings in the advertising.

A-ha! Enter the business owner...

On several occasions I have had very impressed customers who later contacted me to read their great reviews on certain (not to be named) websites. The reviews are usually taken down immediately. Why? Because I don't advertise with them. On other sites where I have a consistant 4-5-5 star rating,I am contacted and asked to advertise, if I don't--which is always the case-- my ratings are gone, or I take a nose-dive.
So, really, why should a website contribute to my success if I don't help them?

2) Bloggers/raters. I have been pestered in the past by these. I have worked hard to getonto "traditional" media--radio, TV, and ethnic TV. After a show airs, I get hit with bloggers. And they want to be comped. It took me a while to learn how to deal with this situation, here's what I do:

-I study their blogs. Not once have I seen a caveat or word about "sponsored" blogs, the impression is that all these blogs are written without any compensation. So I write back to the blogger and say I would be delighted to have them in my place. However, as I am compensating a free meal, I must insist on having a caveat in their blog/rating that this blog was partialy sponsored by "X", the name of my establishment. No one has taken me up on this offer.............

#30 Paul Kierstead

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 05:07 AM

So, really, why should a website contribute to my success if I don't help them?


The websites need two things: Visitors and advertisers. The visitors come if they find utility in the site. The advertisers come if there are visitors. Any useful content contributes to the success of the site; there is no particular reason why the content has to slant in a certain way, so long as it doesn't drive away advertisers. So I could easily see a site 'managing' bad reviews for an advertiser, or selling some kind of 'monitoring' service to restaurants for their reviews (those this amounts to extortion), but if they over manage things (i.e. the ratings diverge too much from reality) then they will lose the utility, lose the visitors and lose the advertisers. So the site does have incentive to make sure it remains useful, even if that does contribute to your success; honest reviews (in both directions) benefits the site.

On Yelp specifically: I've seen many many restaurants with great ratings that did not have a trace of advertising. Hell, half of em are incapable of getting a website together, let alone coordinating with Yelp. I'm surprised they can tie their own shoes. But they do manage to good a pretty decent meal and impress some customers. I've not often been steered horribly wrong by Yelp where there are a good number of reviews that don't all look to be by employees/relatives (I have seen those too, but they are damn obvious). I'm not saying Yelp are boy scouts or anything, I'm just saying the evidence does not support the implication that Yelp only lets advertisers have good ratings.