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Musings on the Foodservice Industry

Love It or Hate It -Yelp is a Necessary Evil

When you ask restaurateurs or business owners what they think about the review site Yelp, get ready for some fiery opinions. 

There is probably no other promotional website that causes so much angst or provides such joy. On the one hand, a business can receive wonderful accolades and praise, or it can be the recipient of vitriolic attacks.  By empowering customers to publish their opinions, Yelp has given a voice to the masses – or at least that is what Yelp claims. 

Prior to Yelp and for hundreds of years, potential customers relied on the opinions of friends and family to determine where to find a plumber, doctor or Italian restaurant. Or they turned to advertisements, especially the phone book.  Today, these same people are perfectly comfortable relying on the thoughts of strangers. 

Yelp, founded in 2004, has reviews on a majority of businesses.  They are particularly popular in major metro areas.  Overall, Yelp claims to have more than 135 million monthly visitors checking out more than 71 million reviews. Happy-Customer

As a business, especially a restaurant, you cannot ignore Yelp. Unless you’re located deep in rural America, your customers are currently relying on Yelp to determine if they should patronize your establishment, and then figure out which services or products to order based on the reviews. 

Businesses have a love/hate relationship with Yelp: When your business receives the highest, “Five-Star” reviews, people notice and you get a “free” promotional boost. 

The bitterness results from the negative reviews, which cause a lot more frustration than Yelp cares to discuss.  For example, when a business gets a One- or Two-Star Review, Yelp claims: 

  • First, they cannot identify the person by their first name and last name initial, so it is difficult to determine if it is truthful. Was it a competitor slamming them? Was it just a negative, unhappy, quasi-crazy person?
  • Second, Yelp advises you to get in contact with the person, which in my experience has never resulted in a call back. Think about it. Here is a person who does not have the courage or self-esteem to actually confront the clerk, server or manager face-to-face with their complaints while he/she is in the store. Instead, they have to express themselves anonymously behind Yelp’s shroud of protection.
  • Third, have you ever tried to get a bad review removed from Yelp? Unless the reviewer completely writes something vulgar or bigoted, there is not a chance to get it removed. Untruthful and rude comments will not be removed, as Yelp’s guidelines are very general and wide sweeping.
  • Finally, that bad review will live forever on your business page. I have seen reviews from five or six years ago for restaurants which have gone through 2-3 different chefs and menu updates. 

When Yelp hears these complaints, they like pointing out their records show that more than two-thirds of the reviews are positive (not negative), which is hard to believe as human beings love to complain and are slow to compliment. Additionally, Yelp responds that businesses need to seek more reviews as positive reviews will “push down” the poor ones.  

This brings us to the biggest complaint about Yelp: Their Recommendation Software. Every review is scanned by an automated program, which selects which ones are legitimate and worthy of publishing.  If you check the bottom of a business review page, you will discover the filtered reviews: “Not Currently Recommended.”  More often than not, businesses search this area to find many of their Five-Star reviews, which will never be read. 

How Businesses Should Deal with Yelp 

Despite Yelp’s apparent anti-business reputation, business owners must do everything they can to “love” their Yelp page.  This means do everything possible to get as many Five-Star reviews as possible.  

Start with the basics and encourage your customers to write positive reviews; with the Yelp filtering system, you can never have enough.  Also, make sure to claim your business page and add photos and fill out the entire listing; try to respond to the unhappy customers; look over the specific complaints and determine if anything written is legitimate and needs changing. 

Overall, even though Yelp does not let you review Yelp, I give them One-Star. But unlike other poor reviews where I would choose not to patronize the business again, we are stuck with Yelp, so do all you can to get on their good side.

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