As I was making my social media rounds a couple of days ago, I came across an interesting post in the Phoenix New Times’ Chow Bella section. They asked several valley restaurant owners what they think of Yelp Reviews. I wasn’t surprised to find that most of the chefs asked were either indifferent or didn’t like them. I get it. No one likes to have their work criticized, and chefs are in their own league. I think food reviews are even more difficult, because for some reason people really take their food seriously. It’s not just about the food either- dining out is an experience, and the one place where everyone wants to be catered to exclusively. Admit it- you could care less if it’s 7pm on a Saturday night and the restaurant is packed. That server should behave and treat you like there is one server per table. You finished your salad 5 minutes ago, so your meal should have been on the table 3 minutes ago!
Thus where the Yelp world gets sticky. Yelp is another social interaction site. You check-in to show your circle of followers where you are and what you’re doing. You friend people (and they you) for the same reason. On their mobile app you can now “like” and “comment” on your friend’s check-ins. You write your reviews, and people can click and find it useful, cool, or funny. I look at Yelp as more of a mini-blogging site for reviews. I also use Yelp rather than Foursquare, because Yelp let’s you leave reviews and not just tips about a place.
I use Yelp all the time to find places, as well as find out about a company or restaurant before deciding to try something out. The problem is, you can’t simply read the average of stars and make a snap decision. You actually need to read through the reviews. I think this one of the reasons some chefs do not take Yelp seriously. It’s way too easy to leave a one-star review because you only had 4 ice cubes in your drink instead of 5. Or because you love a burger with extra cheese and dripping in grease, you give that place 5 stars. When I visited New York a couple of years ago, I checked in at the Staten Island Ferry. When I looked over the reviews, one of them was 1-star, and all it said was “I hate Staten Island.” Okie dokie. There is also a fair share of “padding” that can happen. Restaurants have been in trouble for having their employees leave amazing reviews. Owners have also gone a little crazy on the site too when they see a review they don’t agree with.
So take 5 minutes (or less) and read through reviews before you decide on going somewhere. Obviously if a vegetarian doesn’t like a restaurant because there aren’t enough choices for them, and give a place 2 stars, I (as a carnivore) might still check it out. If several reviews talk about how messy the place is and the smell of garbage in the air, well I might avoid it.
Chefs and other business-owners, don’t ignore Yelp. Sure, it’s a hodge-podge of people and when you combine a free site with humans who can hide behind a user name, you will get idiots here and there. But some of us actually take our reviewing seriously, and want to either promote the hell out of you, or help make you better if there is something wrong. Interact with us too- we’re more likely to come back and try you again if you tell us you’re improving or changing what could be a problem.
With great power comes great responsibility, and Yelp can be a pretty powerful social media tool. Not only do you have to be smart about writing your reviews, you have to be smart about reading them too.