Food for Thought: Should Restaurants Play the Yelp Game?

BY JUSTIN PAHL

In a recent e-mail sent out to the members of his mailing list, PYT owner (and Philly promoter) Tommy Up implored his fans for a little help. A few reviewers on Yelp had been critical of the vibe, clientele, and location of the NoLibs hotspot, and Up was concerned that his restaurant wasn’t getting a fair shake.

So Up wrote: “One thing I noticed is that our regulars who really enjoy our place haven’t been reviewing us. So what I’m asking is: will you take a minute out of your day and leave your opinion of PYT? … I’m not asking you to go make up reviews and give us 5 stars or anything … but if you enjoy our place and want to see that reflected in reviews, please help us out by leaving your own review.”

It’s old news that the internet has altered the way people get their opinions of restaurants, and Yelp has lately dominated this new word-of-mouth market — and clearly the restaurants are listening. Steve Cook, owner of Zahav, Xochitl, and Percy Street, admits to perusing the site. “Most of the reviewers are pretty knowledgeable,” he says. “Their opinions are valuable.” Still, Cook is uncertain whether reaching out to patrons and asking them to speak out is the proper course of action: “We don’t want to impose. We serve the customer, not the other way around.”

But Up just sees nothing wrong with controlling what he can — to him, it’s smart marketing. “Social networking is incredibly important to what we do,” he says. “Twitter, Yelp, Four Square. These are all free ways to create buzz, to reach customers. When you don’t have a large marketing budget — and we have almost none — it’s essential you build a relationship with customers.”

Still, it was the last part of Up’s original email that struck us as a bit off: “Not only would we really appreciate it, but if you print out your review and bring it into PYT we will give you 10% off your check to demonstrate our appreciation.” Doesn’t this kind of quid pro quo inherently bias what’s written?

“We didn’t ask for good reviews,” explains Up. “The reviews on Yelp didn’t address our restaurant — they were critiques about hipsters, or about the Piazza, things that didn’t pertain to the food or the service. In fact, we offered anyone who wrote a review — positive or negative — to print it out and bring it in for a discount. We only got one negative review, and I was hoping for more. I wanted to use it as an opportunity to change their mind. There have been some legitimate criticisms on Yelp about the speed of our service, and we’ve tried to fix that.”

What’s your take — is it kosher to ask “regulars” to show support for an establishment? And how much credence do you give to user reviews in general? Let us know in the comments.

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  • HC

    I’m a yelper and I’d have no problem with what Up did. From my own experience I believe that the reviews on Yelp, etc. may often stem from an unsatisfactory experience or irrelevant event that the reviewer wants to vent on. I’m not so sure that the positive experiences are reported as diligently. I don’t think that the 10% discount was necessary since you’re far less likely to hand a restaurant a “bad” review and then expect a deal to eat there. I think just asking your patrons to write a review whether good or bad is enough.

  • Kim

    I think given the latest news release regarding Yelp’s unfair business practices I will most likely not utilize this site when looking for any type of recommendation in the future. For those of you who have not yet come across this story, here’s the gist. Yelp was telling people that they would remove the negative feedback so long as that establishment placed a certain amount of advertising with Yelp. Be cautious with what you believe.

    http://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20100228/ISSUE0504/302289988

  • JoeyP

    I think it is the simple rule that negative news and/or reviews spread much faster and to more people than positive ones. With the ever increasing ease of posting reviews and comments (as I am doing now) it is much easier to go home and find a place to complain without face to face conversation with the establishments manager. It will always be more likely for people to take the time from their day to complain rather than praise. If someone is a “fan” of an establishment and they need a little reminder to post about their positive experiences and why they be came a fan that’s just the reality of today.

  • Marco

    Hmm – you mean reviews like you encourage people to publish here, in your restaurant club? How about opentable reviews, or cityscape, or foobooz, or any of the other hundreds of review sites out there.

    Anyone with an IQ above room temperature can see that when looking at reviews on Yelp, someone with no friends and a single five star (or one star) review is probably a ringer. Most of the Yelp regulars tend to flag such ‘bobble head’ reviews so the admin team will pull them down as appropriate.

    As far as unfair business practices, it does not change the quality or integrity of the majority of the Yelp community. Look for a reviewer with a picture, a continuing series of updates and new submissions, and a review longer than ‘It sucked’ or ‘Was Good’ and you’ll probably find what you’re looking for.

    Of course, there’s that old ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ adage, but who follows that anymore. Right Kim?

  • ChrisB

    I think most people know which reviewers to believe and which ones are just disgruntled 1-review wonders.

    What bothers me about Yelp is that the company started taking down negative reviews from established reviewers, robbing the community of their opinion because it was negative. That’s a problem with Yelp specifically.

    The Philly community leader, Monica S, did a great job picking up where Carrie left off, but the problem that Yelp & folks like Up bring to the site has cooled me off to contributing reviews.

    Savvy folks looking for a discount who don’t want to play the game could just print off a recent review and claim it as their own for the discount.

  • Peter

    As the chef and owner of a restaurant I find the feed back on yelp and the opentable reviews extremely helpful. These sights in particular because yelp is a self policing website which stops owners and friends of owners from writing great reviews as well as disgruntled customers from destroying a business. I use them as a tool to see if there are any issues with my restaurant that need fixing. One too salty comment can be dismissed but several of them can show you a true problem that needs to be addressed.

    I think directly addressing your clients warps the information you need in order to improve your business . Once the business is improved the five star reviews come all by themselves and you don’t even have to take 10% off a bill.

  • Herman

    As the chef and owner of a restaurant, if customers left your establishment with a legitimate reason to “yelp”, I suggest you are not doing a good job of communicating with your customers. Conversely, if customers reject an earnest request for feedback and then go home and “yelp”, it is simply self serving whining and should be ignored. Restaurateurs are told by communication specialists and marketing gurus that it’s best to respond positively to negative online comments so as not to fan the flames. I find it hard to believe that any restaurant owner, manager or chef truly appreciates a negative online comment.
    Bloggers, yelpers and the like should confine their comments to “I” statements. Such as I didn’t like this or I
    wanted that to be crispier. You are not qualified to “review” a restaurant nor to state how something “should” be prepared or served. You are NOT professionals. If you want to vent about a bad experience, that’s fine. However, when you couch your personal complaint in the form of an encompassing, unbiased “review” you are unfairly prejudicing potential customers and negatively
    impacting the the business of someone with a great deal at stake from the anonymity of your cozy apartment.
    Restaurateurs and their staffs as well as customers should realize the relationship inherent in their interaction. Who is more important, the milker or the cow? Don’t they need each other equally? Customers who want to have an impact on a restaurant should speak directly to a responsible party, while in the establishment (thereby giving an opportunity for rectification) or by phone or e-mail if a cooling off period is required.
    Personally, I don’t seek or require the approval of others
    before choosing a dining destination, preferring to make up my own mind. After all it’s just dinner, not open heart surgery. Picking the wrong restaurant is not punishable by death. Besides, lot’s of “bad” restaurants stay in business for years, so somebody must enjoy eating there. Who are you to speak for anyone other than yourself?

  • http://www.pornhub.com/photo/3086153 Silverado

    They put “honest reviews” in the filters.

    I had an account and wrote a few reviews, they were filtered so I stopped using it.

    Forgot about first account, opened another. Started writing reviews….

    Figured how to get around the filter. Put a picture in your profile, does not have to be you. Also write 10+ reviews, make sure at least a few are 5 stars. Much like CL, even if telling the truth, the flag nazi’s will try to shut you down.

    Posted on the threads, found people were petty and mean. Called me a “troll”-I made another account. Made up “funny” threads which offended the flaggits-wrote about Thads even though I had never been there. Had 70+ friends, all laughs, didn’t think people were taking it serious. Got put in Talk Jail. (couldn’t post in threads.)

    My “serious” posts from the “serious” account got attacked by a maniac who would bend the truth to fit his political agenda. My comments and reviews got flagged. Got a message from the Yelp HQ that I had violated the TOS and my accounts were banned. hahahaha. They took down all the “free” content I gave ‘em.

    I guess it was against the rules to have more than 1 account……

    Anyways I found out more about their devious ways of working by going against the grain than by following the rules.

    Made another account and my IP address got banned-hahaha little good that did, first, ever hear of an anonymizer?

    Second, I have a dynamic IP that changes every few days……

    So, if you do use Yelp, realize that most of the reviews are sugar coated and the honst ones get filtered.

    Now, if you must post and don’t want to be filtered, as stated above, write 10+ reviews. Also have a pic on your profile. Avoid the talk threads-losers.

    If you have multiple accounts, access them via an anonymizer or one only at a work location, another at home and the third at a different location or on your phone, don’ criss cross.

    These are the things THEY don’t want you to know so cutt and paste, cutt and paste.

    Pissing of one Yelp IT person at a time.

    * Location: how to get around the BS
    * it’s NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

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