Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What the Heck are You Yelping About?

The New York Times published an article about the Yelp phenomenon.

I myself am a yelp reader. I admit it. I look everything up on Yelp.
Do I believe what I read? Nope, most of the time I don't. So why do I read it?
I ask myself the same question.

First of all, most of the people who write on Yelp are under 40, like stated in the article above. Yes, I am 29 years old but I actually seem to think that most of the people are under 30 or mid- twenties from the way they spend. I have seen Yelpers call 'reasonably priced" restaurants, "over-priced" time and time again.
No I can not afford to eat at restaurants that charge between 12-18 dollars an entree every day but they are by far not over-priced in my book. Sure it's nice to have a Vietnamese pho dinner for under 10 dollars, but that's just what it is.

There is no reason to compare an everyday eatery with a restaurant in which a chef has a full menu of different dishes all made from scratch, a higher standard of food and seasonal ingredients. If you are going to review a restaurant, make sure you review it with other restaurants of the same status in mind.

Yelpers have no mercy.
I will use Seattle's newly opened Poppy as an example. I chose Poppy because I have not tried it yet and have no opinion on the place.

The day after it opened there were so many reviews. Many of them on the " I am disappointed" side. It was the opening night. Have Mercy. No restaurant reviewer in their right mind would go in to a restaurant on the first night and criticize the wait staff for not knowing their stuff. Everyone knows that a restaurant needs a few days to figure out how things go. If you want to be the first to review a restaurant, that's fine but take everything into consideration. That's like calling a writer unskilled while reading their rough draft.

I have to admit there is one thing about Yelp that I love. That is the events page.
Whenever freebies are being given out, the yelper will be happy to yelp it to the world from the top of their whiny little lungs. I appreciate that.

So yes, I will continue to read Yelp but the restaurant reviews, I will continue not to take them too seriously. I might use Yelp as an indication of what to order, if everyone loves the duck maybe it is worth a try. I will use Yelp to find out the address of a place. I won't use Yelp as a strong opinion. Yelp won't prevent me from trying a restaurant.
Yelp has taught me one thing.
Every little Pisher can find a place to exercise power.
Any thoughts?
What do you think?


coffeenet said...

(Full disclosure: I run and we compete indirectly with Yelp.)

Thanks for the NYT link and the post. You're absolutely spot on about the issue of demographics and pricing. A lot of Yelpers don't understand the slim margins at which restaurants operate and don't factor context into price, like you stated. T&I costs can easily go upwards of $1 million for a swanky new restaurant, which needs to be paid for somehow. It's flat unfair to compare a $17 burger there to say, a $4 burger at Red Mill on price alone.

Along with your observation about Poppy and the complete disregard of the standard one-month grace period, Yelp doesn't separate service from food. Someone finds a hair in the water and bombs the restaurant with a 1-star, regardless of the food. Sometimes, the extremism is just too black and white.

One week ago, I was talking to the owner of new Japanese restaurant on the Eastside, who was shocked at one of his Yelp reviews. A Yelper wrote that a server dropped a batch of tempura on the floor, picked it up and tossed it back into the fryer. Walking me into the kitchen (I have a food handlers card, FYI), there was absolutely no way the patron could have even seen the fryer, let alone what the server would do in the kitchen. At that point, you have to wonder what the motivation is for that Yelper to distort or even fabricate their experience.

The owner was distraught because he's been in the business over 20 years and prided himself on customer service. With the economy dragging restaurant revenues as much as 40%, he was quite lucid on the ramifications of this one negative review on his new business.

On our own blog, I wrote a few months ago a similar post on Yelp. This was regarding a Yelp elite member who gave a 1-star to a high-end restaurant because they had a one-hour waiting list. She didn't even end up eating at the restaurant, but bombed them anyways. To me, that begins to approach the disturbing border of not just being unfair, but vicious.

To Yelp's credit, they have a great technology and they're a victim of their own success. I freely admit that we look to them as inspiration on how to improve our own site (feedback always appreciated).

In the "You", "i" and "My" web mentality today, Yelp has empowered their users, but not everyone is ready to handle it responsibly.

frantic foodie said...

thanks for the comment. I really think that people have to be aware of the whole yelp phenomenon and know not to take these reviews too seriously. I was very excited to find your website and found the articles very interesting. said...

You are right in your observation that"Every little Pisher can find a place to exercise power." and more so on the web. I for one would not "trust" on just anybody's word, I would find out for myself if the reviews have a firm basis or not. Great post!

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