Are Yelp reviews harmful or helpful?
Founded in 2004, Yelp is an "online urban guide" and business review site that's based in San Francisco. Yelp allows visitors to review and rate businesses using a five-point rating system and has a filter designed to identify (and not post) fake reviews.
However, the system cannot identify and disqualify every review – positive or negative – that is posted from a place of questionable disgruntlement or personal gain.
Hence, whether or not Yelp is trustworthy and relevant comes into question for some.
"Yelp started off as a good idea and then devolved into a complaint desk forum for people who watch cooking shows, making them experts on all things restaurant related even though they themselves have never worked in one," says Richard Kerhin, who has worked in the service industry for 27 years. "It has the potential to be helpful, but usually the negative reviews drown out the positive ones."
However, some experienced and intelligent "Yelpers" have developed a sense of what's inflated and what's the real deal.
"I ignore the ones where it's obvious that the reviewer has an ax to grind," says Young Kim, executive director of the Fondy Food Center. "Sometimes I think restaurant operators get their undies in a bunch over bad reviews, but Yelpers are more discerning than they get credit for."
Jose Chavez, owner of Cafe La Paloma, 605 S. 5th St., believes Yelp reviews are often unfair because they are based on a single experience.
"The opinions and reviews on Yelp can be partial and malicious and most of the time are based on only one visit," he says. "Most food critics are objective and know that they have to visit a place more then once to issue a review or render an opinion."
Chavez says conducting a survey inside his restaurant has provided more insight and assures him that he's going in the right direction.
"I have been conducting a survey on my restaurant on my own and the feedback from the customers has been overwhelmingly positive. The sad thing is that the public in general will never see it," says Chavez.
For Dustin Bowie, co-owner of Ugly's Pub, 1123 N. Old World 3rd St., Yelp is a measuring stick of sorts that helps him stay motivated.
"Yelp gives honest feedback from our guests' perspective that teaches us what we are doing right and what we need to work on," says Bowie. "Yelp has created an environment in which us business owners have to work our tail off and pray for wonderful reviews, which is actually the way it should be. Overall, Yelpers have been very good to us and we are very grateful."
The line between libel and free speech is sometimes questionable. Yelp has been criticized – and legally challenged – for not removing harsh reviews that restaurant owners claimed were untrue and damaging.
Kerhin urges people to think about what they post on Yelp.
"Remember that words have power and you may be hurting people that you have never met. The world has enough haughty, snarky, critical people. Try and be kind, fair, constructive and understanding when you write about strangers," he says.
Tyler Mason opened Wayward Kitchen & Bar, 1407 S. 1st St., in January. Prior to opening his own business, Mason used Yelp when traveling.
"I like to see what's new in Chicago or New York City. I usually look at some of the pics and go to the restaurant's site from there," he says.
However, Yelp took on a new role for Mason when he became a business owner and although Wayward Kitchen & Bar opened just 90 days ago, Yelp has already impacted his business. So far, in a positive way.
"In the short amount of time we have been open guests have mentioned Yelp reviews and decided to visit. I'm glad that the word is spreading that we are open and where we are located," he says.
However, if a problem were to arise, Mason believes Yelp encourages customers to complain online before talking to a real person.
"The detriment is if my guest had an unsatisfactory visit we as a team want the chance to address it prior to them posting something negative on Yelp," he says.
"Everybody in the business has heard the horror stories about people posting that have never dined with you or the politics of paid placement on Yelp. But for us, so far, so good."
Yelp is great - often giving insight into a place. Yes, some may be negative, but so is the word of mouth of those consumers when explaining their experience to friends. The site highlights how important in the service industry it is to always put forth your best product. In addition, you can respond to users. If used correctly, can allow proprietors to overcome a bad experience for a specific consumer. Will also show on the site that you do actually care about performance. Just don't fall into the defensive rebuttal trap.
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