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Yelp


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My name is Toby Maloney. I am an owner of a cocktail bar in Wicker Park Chicago.

Last night I read some of the reviews on Yelp of the bar. I usually don’t, as it is my business partners responsibility to sift through them, looking for reverent information. And in almost 2 years he has found one nugget.

The reviews very widely. Seems people love it or hate it with equal vemenence. That I understand. Actually for that I am proud. I would not want a place that the vast majority of people, when asked, would say “Meh, I could take it or leave it.”

But it is interesting to see why people love and hate it. I felt like I could tell something about the people themselves by their comments. I guess this is just the basically “considering the source”. The other thing that blew my mind was how incorrect they were about facts. The color of the room, what the door was like, things that just are. If they cant report the most basic things how does one expect them to know about the intangibles?

Are restaurant and bar reviews extremely different, as the amount of alcohol drank at bars is considered different.

Do you read the Yelp/metro mix reviews? How do you read Yelp/metro mix reviews? Are they more or less valid than professional reviews? Do they have more, or less agenda? Is it more like word of mouth that is now shouted from the top of a mountain? Or is it people venting frustrations that before the internet would have gone unheard?

Do you think that it helps or hurts the industry?

And lastly How do they affect you personally? Do the make you Mad? Do they mean nothing? Do they bring you down? Bring you up?

Cheers,

Toby

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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Toby - I never read Yelp. Nor Menu Pages. Nor Zagat's. I tend to go to the food or cocktail boards (eG, Chow, Mouthfuls, et.al.), or professional reviews, when researching cities and restaurants and bars I know nothing about.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I have glanced at Yelp a couple of times but have not been drawn to it - partially because I have trouble with the concept of anonymous reviews and partly because of an article I read somewhere on their advertising tactics (thought it was eGullet, but can't find it)

For market research specifics Yelp is useless. Too small a sample for most places and the sample is only composed of those driven to Yelp to add a review. For focus group generalities it can be useful. Gives you an idea as to how some customers perceive your restaurant or bar. I'd take it all with a grain of salt - but if there were a few complaints about spotted glasses or aloof servers I'd look into the issues.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Yelp is helpful for knowing what places are better left avoided as mentioned above or suggestions for menu items that the establishment might be better at than others.

Good and bad reviews for each place pretty mention the same stuff.

There is absolutely no reason to rely on it 100% because there have been some issues about competing businesses writing bad reviews about each other or the advertising ploys used by the company itself (I think the link was posted somewhere on eG about a month ago).

But I do not doubt the affect it has on people's choices or the affect it can have on a business.

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... I felt like I could tell something about the people themselves by their comments.  ...The other thing that blew my mind was how incorrect they were about facts.

Your last sentiment above is not uncommon at all in my experience, and the first comment accords with my observations by a different route, which was to take a variety of benchmark establishments I know very, very well and check what people on the site said about them. It was astounding.

You could call this measuring, or critiquing, the "critics." If you don't know a restaurant, a "review" might tell you about the place, but if you know it intimately -- strengths, weaknesses, ebbs, flows -- a "review" definitely tells you about the reviewer. For Yelp -- keep in mind I can only say this about restaurants I know and checked, maybe 15 or 20 local ones -- I too noticed a high volume of sheer, enthusiastic misinformation. Comments posted about the wrong restaurant, or at least about food never served there (I checked); "rating" a restaurant with stars while admitting not actually eating there; and an unusually high volume of poor characterizations -- projecting limited experience or eccentric personal preferences as if they were guides to what a typical customer would encounter, when they weren't. That problem plagues today's online world of self-selected armchair restaurant critics (we talk about it here, on and off on various subforums), but I have never seen more of it on a major site.

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I've found that most people posting on Yelp have no clue what they're talking about.

There are exceptions of course.

Ditto that, 100%. I perused it twice and when I saw the places that people were recommending where I live, which I *know* to be awful from first-hand experience, I never bothered going back.

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Personally, I surf many sites, Yelp included.

And I do find them helpful. But the key is to look for trends. For example if Restaurant X has 50 reviews scattered over a number of websites and 30 of those reviews say the service sucks, then that is a helpful piece of information about the establishment. However, if only one review of the 50 indicates poor service, then the review is an outlier and should be discarded.

As for professional reviews, they're just as uninformative and far more biased than any single Yelp review.

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the key is to look for trends.  For example if Restaurant X has 50 reviews scattered over a number of websites and 30 of those reviews say the service sucks, then that is a helpful piece of information about the establishment.

I've read Internet restaurant comments longer than eG or CH existed and seen even gross trends on them that were misleading, and I've an idea why. An example is a site that's accumulated mostly negative but unrepresentative comments on a restaurant I know well. Everyone else I've asked, who knows the place, finds the comments misleading or atypical.

A current eG thread about servers brings out an excellent point about squeaky wheels:

As I heard once...

A happy client will tell three people.

An unhappy client will tell everyone.

And you can bet that they won't tell 'everyone' the server's side of the story, either.  So the server that's back at the restaurant feeling justifiably miffed at the jerky customer, and totally in the right for questioning the miserly tip after having given said jerky customer "excellent service," and certain that anyone hearing both sides of the story would agree with him, will never get his day in court.

Only the bad news will spread.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I thought I would bump this topic back up since Yelp has changed their policy and will now allow businesses to respond to Yelp reviews. The change is supposed to go into effect in a few weeks:

"Yelp to let businesses comment publicly on reviews"

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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  • 10 months later...

I'm a regular on Yelp. I think as you get familiar with the site and the reviewers on the site, you do get a sense of who's reviews are more reliable and who's aren't. All restaurant reviews are subjective, be it by a yelper or a professional food critic. People's tastes are different and their perspectives are different. If your taste happens to be more similar to a particular food critic than to a particular yelper, than you'll find the food critic's review more useful. If the opposite is true, than the yelp review is more helpful to you.

Like all review sites, you can't go by everything that's posted. You sift through the junk and pick up sound opinions and hope that will be helpful to you.

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As for professional reviews, they're just as uninformative and far more biased than any single Yelp review.

That's ridiculous.

I don't know if I'd call it ridiculous. A professional review done properly won't be uninformative but it will certainly be biased. It's impossible not to be biased. We all have our own preferences and they are going to influence our opinion whether we think they are or not. The only difference with the professional reviewer that does their job well is that they will disclose their biases/preferences as part of the review. Instead of saying "the servers are aloof", they will say "the servers were aloof for my taste, I like to interact with my server". Unfortunately, there are plenty of "professional" reviewers that think their biases should be your biases and present personal preference issues in a manner that reads as business issues. Which is not to say that they are doing anything wrong, I'm just agreeing with Florida that in the end a review is just an opinion. Sometimes educated, sometimes not. You have to fish out the information that is relevant to what you want to know regardless of who is doing the reviewing.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I agree with what Florida said and disagree with what Nathan said.

I've been using Yelp for a couple years now, and I take it with a grain of salt. I look for extreme counts of reviews in both directions...in my book a 4 star place that has 10 reviews is equal to one that has 300 reviews, but in between I'm more careful. I don't like that people on yelp will say things like "I would have given them 5 stars, but I expected X to be on the menu so I'm reducing it to three".

Yelp is great for finding rare gems and sorting out established places.

However, like I find for most movie reviews, professional reviewers really only work for me if the reviewer has similar tastes and opinions...but at the same time a lack of bias. For instance, it's clear to everyone that the michelin people have a penchant and bias for french cuisine (not complaining, it's my favorite too, but let's mix it up a little bit)

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There has been some criticism of Yelp lately for "pay to play" practices. It has been reported that restaurants that advertise on the site are able to get negative reviews deleted and to highlight positive reviews at the top of the list, regardless of chronological order.

I find the site helpful but I, too, take it with a grain of salt.

I would add, however, that this site used to offer a lot more guidance on restaurants prior to the arrival of Yelp.

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There has been some criticism of Yelp lately for "pay to play" practices. It has been reported that restaurants that advertise on the site are able to get negative reviews deleted and to highlight positive reviews at the top of the list, regardless of chronological order.

A lawsuit has been filed against Yelp for these practices, although it's not on behalf of a restaurant. Here's one account.

I personally take Yelp about as seriously as I take Zagat, which is to say that it's a good way to get a restaurant's address and phone number.

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My opinion is that Yelp shouldn't be ignored, but it shouldn't be taken as word either. When I use the site, I look for trends throughout the reviews. Do a high percentage of the posters report poor service? Do several of them complain about a noisy atmosphere? Does the kitchen misfire frequently? If so, it may be enough to sway me from paying the bar/restaurant a visit.

But if the one star review comes from someone who complained that the waiter didn't refill her drink a third time, or thought her chicken fingers "weren't tasty enough," I'm going to pass it over.

So far, this approach has suited me well.

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Here's an update on the legal case against Yelp:

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory?id=10144501

The brief:

"That lawsuit was amended in March to add nine more companies — some Yelp advertisers, some not. It alleges Yelp sales representatives indicated to businesses that they could alter site listings to help advertisers and harm non-advertisers, and that Yelp has actually done so."

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