Food for Thought: Should Restaurants Play the Yelp Game?


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.