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weinoo

Why You Shouldn't Trust Yelp

48 posts in this topic

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."

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.

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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.

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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."

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!

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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.............

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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.

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Yelp is only one of very many websites that "review" dining . Now, f'rinstance, I have been "love bombed" by another website called "Yummy Canada", but frankly, I haven't even bothered to look at the site. But my "spidey senses" are tingling by the very fact that "canada" is attachted to the name,(any "yummy" hasn't been a word I use since my kids got out of diapers...) and that they are love bombing business owners for a customer review type website.

It is the bloggers--or a certain type of blogger, that I have a beef with, and I have found a way to deal with them, uh..."diplomatically". Anyone who wants to come in and eat at my place and tell anyone about it, is a "customer", those who don't want to pay for it are not.

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-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.............

This cuts both ways, because restaurants often also want to be written about in web logs. Restaurants frequently contact my wife, who writes a food web log, to review their restaurants with a comped meal. She has accepted in some cases (though of course indicating that the meal was comped in her review), but it can create some awkward situations, especially when the restaurant's owner or a PR person stays with you the whole meal talking your ear off. For the most part, she'd rather pay for her meals, and not have to deal with that kind of thing.

I don't have a lot of respect for food writers (in whatever kind of media) who accept comped meals from a restaurant but don't indicate it. However, this kind of situation happens for some of the lower budget traditional media as well, when the paper can't, or won't, pay for the meals -- its reviewers are forced to hustle to get comped meals, and of course any semblance of anonymity is gone.


Edited by Will (log)

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I can't really complain about Yelp. When I first started they called me asking if I would like to advertise, I said no about 3 times and they haven't called again in two years. They have made me thousands of dollars and I haven't had to do a thing :smile:


Sleep, bike, cook, feed, repeat...

Chef Facebook HQ Menlo Park, CA

My eGullet Foodblog

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I don't have a lot of respect for food writers (in whatever kind of media) who accept comped meals from a restaurant but don't indicate it. However, this kind of situation happens for some of the lower budget traditional media as well, when the paper can't, or won't, pay for the meals -- its reviewers are forced to hustle to get comped meals...

I wouldn't respect it either -- though am very hard-pressed to conjure real examples, within my own adult experience (four food-conscious US metropolitan areas since the 1970s all with local print media both "high" and "low"). Someone else might have significant examples, but in my world the meal-cadging media restaurant critic has been basically a theoretical concept, even though one often mentioned. I believe there are causative reasons for that.

Even the smaller, local, tabloid papers, as here in the SF Bay Area, sometimes harbor excellent critics, "excellent" meaning widely respected, with histories of useful writing. For restaurants, critics of that caliber are the only ones read and quoted consistently in my experience. I know how they work, because I've known some (and been approached a couple of times by editors offering such work). The economics don't favor shaking down restaurants if the critic is any good at all:

Critics, of course, are part of the bait attracting a newspaper business's main product (you) to its customer (advertisers). Restaurant critiques, you'll notice, often highlight a paper's "weekend" or restaurant-advertising section. A paper that can't recover, through added advertising, far beyond the (say) $100 average per-issue expense of a critic's restaurant bill does not have a respected critic, and a critic who plays comping games will never become or stay respected. (Restaurant people have even been known to gossip!)

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Yeah-but Max,

These are newspaper critics, I'm talking about bloggers. Here in the Vancouver area there are over 100 food blogs in English, and I don't know how many in other ethnic languages.

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Yeah-but Max, / These are newspaper critics, I'm talking about bloggers.

My last comments were meant, and are relevant, only for the particular context that I wrote to, explicitly ("traditional media as well, when the paper can't, or won't, pay for the meals").

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Well I believe bloggers are powerful enough to bring down a restaurant food review. It happened in an Asian country where some food bloggers ask bribe on the restaurant owners that they will write a bad review of their restaurant and will blog about it. So the restaurant owner have no choice but to pay money for the food bloggers to write good reviews about the restaurant. Not sure if it happened in the US as well.

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I take online reviews with a grain of salt, but after reading the below article, yelp won't see my anymore. A review site that tries to make you pay so they remove bad reviews is completely useless and not trustworthy. That grain of salt turned into a salt mine IMO.

Thoughts?

http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/yelp-and-the-business-of-extortion-20/Content?oid=1176635

(I thought this fits best into restaurant life, mods feel free to move it elsewhere if it fits somewhere better, important story I think)


"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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Thoroughly corrupt.

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I can't help but notice you are referring to an article from 2009. I have to say that I find four year old restaurant reviews frequently differ from the actual restaurant today. Maybe Yelp is corrupt, maybe it was, I don't know. I just don't think that recycling such old news is really useful.

Hey, those french fries you served me in 2009 were really....

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it came up today, here's a newer article, just thought the one I posed explains better:

http://foodbeast.com/content/2013/04/22/sf-restaurant-calls-out-yelp-for/

Of course reviews are to be take with a grain of salt, but a site that takes bad ones down for a hefty fee is useless and not to be trusted IMO


"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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No love lost for Yelp.

I've had more than one enthusiastic customer tell me they just wrote a great review about my place, only to have it taken down the next day. Reason for this? The reviewer has no Yelp profile, can't be trusted, could be a spy or worse, an employee or agent of the restaurant.

And then I get the "regular" Yelper reviewers. One (deleted) wrote a 4 pager on my place complaining on everything from gentrification of the neighborhood, to the colour of the exterior cladding of the building I'm in, to my location. No complaints about the food or service though, the (deleted) couldn't possibly do it. You see, (deleted) made reservations for 2 pm, showed up at 1:40 pm and was politely asked to wait at the coffee bar for a minute while we changed the table--it was obvious that we were bussing and changing the table linens. Well, she was a bit early, and she did request a window table. (Deleted) took off like a bat out of hell and must have stopped at a Stah-bucks to write the review. THAT was four years ago, and the review is still up on the site.

Like I said, no love lost for Yelp.

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My place has got no bad reviews at all from Yelp, and still they insist on calling me every frigging day trying to sell me something or other. So annoying and a guarantee that even if I ever did pay for advertising, I wouldn't do it with them.

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I have a love hate with Yelp.  As was said just a few posts up, I have 27 rave reviews in the "filtered" section - and I"m in a very small town with only 12 tables so I do remember each and every one of those customers and could provide receipts if pressed to prove that they ate at my restaurant.  On the other hand I have a review right now from a first time reviewer who had a legit bad experience which I acknowledged and apologized (new server) and his review stands.  Their algorithm excuse seems silly when I looked at these two sides of it.

 

But what really gets my goat is that I have no real way of discussing a situation with a staff member at Yelp.  A recent reviewer edited her comment after I responded, making my response out of context.  I flagged but they didn't budge.  Surely their software captured the original post and the subsequent actions.  If the information is to be trusted it must be transparent - sounds like a familiar argument heard around here which eG has addressed throughout the years.

 

All I know is that Yelp does effect my business good and bad and I wish they had a system like Hotels.com where you couldn't review unless you were proved to have actually dined at the restaurant.  That would sure minimize bad info and make for a more trustworthy system.


Chef, Curious Kumquat, Silver City, NM

A recent write-up in Dorado magazine

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That's a funny article. Thanks for the link!


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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yelp is pretty much useless now, since people can pay to have bad reviews removed. I don't use it at all anymore, but would if I were in town for a pizza, great idea :-)


"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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I'm one of the 99% restaurant owners who just grins and bears it.  Early this spring we were "love bombed" by some kind of Yelp rep. from California (we're in Vancouver, Canada).  First snail mail wanting our advertising money, which we ignored.  E-mails automatically went into the delete file.  Then the phone calls. But when the screen on the phone reads "Yelp, Cal. USA we don't bother picking up.  Whoever it was, they were persistent and kept this up for well over 2 mths. 

 

My main beef with Yelp is the reviews--they are not edited before being put on the site.  Something about a "logorythm" or program that "edits" the review and decides if it's genuine or not.  If the review was written by someone with no previous history with yelp, it gets taken down.  My "review" as it was, was a 4 pager written by a nutbar who didn't order anything or even sit down, but everything from the door handle of our place to the neighborhood and gentrification was in the review, just nothing about food, service, or prices.

 

Now, how do you deal with Groupon?

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