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What is the deal with Yelp?

Yelp Reviews

We posted a blog two days ago, The Ugly Truth about Dirty Restaurants and Yelp, and it has generated some very passionate comments about Yelp and the people who were apparently sickened by the restaurant.  The original article that the blog is based off is from the Food Poison Journal.

I don’t own a restaurant or manage one at this time, so I am disconnected from Yelp reviews as a business owner.  I do travel a lot and use Yelp to find restaurants.  I pay attention to the star rating, and I read the top 10 or so reviews and make my decision based off of that, so that is my connection to Yelp.

We’ve heard rumors; I can’t prove any of this, about Yelp strong-arming restaurants to advertise with them and even promising to remove bad reviews if you become a paid customer.  I’ve also heard that people will place phony reviews to hurt their direct competitors.

We need to hear from you about Yelp – but to be heard you need to follow the rules for commenting:

  1. Keep you comments to experiences that you have had directly with Yelp and Yelp reviews.
  2. If you were able to fix the situation – post what you did to fix it so that it can help others.
  3. Keep the cursing and the direct naming of names of people or other businesses out of your comments.

If you follow those rules, we will post your responses.

Here is the question:  What is the deal with Yelp?

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Written by

I've been in the restaurant industry for most of my adult life. I have a BSBA from University of Denver Hotel Restaurant school and an MBA from the same. When I wasn't working in restaurants I was either doing stand-up comedy, for 10 years, or large enterprise software consulting. I'm currently the Managing Director of OpsAnalitica and our Inspector platform was originally conceived when I worked for one of the largest sandwich franchisors in the country. You can reach out to me through LinkedIn.

9 Comments Published

by Tom Geis , post on 8 May 2015 | Reply

I had a restaurant and I maintained a 90% to 96% on Urban Spoon during the entire time that it was open. I held 4 stars or better over that same period on Yelp.

The negative reviews that I received were “creatively bad”. So that is the operating agenda for Yelp. It is far more interesting and fun to read a funny bad review than to read a positive one.

I answered every negative comment and was able to turn some of them around (1 in 4 perhaps). The others went blissfully along writing scathing reviews about other business. And that is the real problem. These people think that they are experts and business people. Yelp feeds that fantasy by rewarding their elite reviewers with market parties and perks. They are sarcastic and snarky reviewers, rewarded by Yelp for their negative appeal.

You cannot get any information when positive reviews are deleted, other than a vague story about how their system determines when reviews are fake.

Every time that I received a negative comment, I got a call from Yelp trying to get me to advertise. Never did, never would.

by OpsAnalitica , post on 8 May 2015 | Reply

Thanks for your comment Tom. That’s interesting about how Yelp rewards the “Yelpers”. That just seems to feed the machine. It’s like the media, they love disasters, horrible stories and spend the majority of the broadcast on those, but spend maybe 2 mins on a feel good story every once in a while.

Interesting that you never got a call to advertise when you got positive comments. There’s a huge conflict of interest in that they are reviewing restaurants, but make all their money from the restaurants that advertise with them.

by Brett K , post on 8 May 2015 | Reply

As an owner of several businesses I have found Yelp to be the most disingeous of the review sites. TripAdvisor, Urban Spoon seem to be much more legit. In my opinion YELP seems to have many more fake reviews both positive and negative. I have personally seen former disgruntled employees post some horrible reviews about their former employer. I have also witnessed competitors posting an inordinate amount of fake reviews. I may be mistaken but it seems Yelp encourages this sort of inaccurate reviews.

by Kirk , post on 8 May 2015 | Reply

I know the owners of 2 restaurants and they say the same thing: Yelp holds restaurants hostage to bad reviews. If you don’t pay, bad reviews go on top, if you pay they are put at the bottom or removed. Neither of these restaurants have paid Yelp which may hurt business (very slightly because there any many other sources of reviews). Based on these stories, I stopped using Yelp as a reliable source of ratings. As noted by other, there are more trusted sources of reviews.

by Chuck Dorris , post on 8 May 2015 | Reply

My firm, eDining, does digital consulting for restaurants in suburban New York and Connecticut. In ten years, I’ve probably worked for 70 restaurants and every single one of them tells the same story about Yelp’s extortionate business tactics.

You dont pay for the ad, they will do their best to bury you. No metrics are given to try to justify the cost of the ad, its simply give money to a virtual bagman.

That no federal oversight or public uproar has been brought to bear is truly astonishing.

Yelp has cornered the restaurant market segment and holds every single establishment hostage.

Not what the Internet was supposed to be about… jerks with data holding a gun to the head of anybody who doesn’t pay. Mob stuff, pure and simple

by Alexander , post on 8 May 2015 | Reply

When there is no way to verify proof of purchase, how could anyone trust if a review is true or not?

by Stuart , post on 9 May 2015 | Reply

it is a sad state of affairs when we as restaurant owners are literally beholden to yelp. Unfortunately, their reviews have an impact on business. I have personally been badgered by yelp sales people on an off for years. They’re like herpes. They never go away. Incrediblely unrelenting high pressure sales tactics that make the most disingenuous car salesmen look timid.

Like the previous commenter mentioned, Trip Advisor, Urbanspoon and other smaller sites are considerably more reliable.

by OpsAnalitica , post on 11 May 2015 | Reply

I think that Yelp could do a lot to make their process more transparent and hold everyone more responsible. For instance, they should require the date and time of the meal when writing reviews. They should also require that you take a picture of your credit receipt or check to prove that you were there when you say you were.

They should also be doing stuff in the background, looking at review metrics and seeing how many reviews a person is posting, etc.

Implementing small changes in their process would go a long way in reducing fraudulent reviews.

I am a Yelp user, their app is great, and they have never steered me wrong. I’ve also posted reviews on Yelp for restaurants that wowed me. I know for a fact that not every Yelp review is fraudulent.

Also, restauranteurs need to take some responsibility for the bad reviews and admit that not every single meal served is perfect. Not every single guest experience is perfect. The guest’s perception is their reality and whether or not you think you did fine is irrelevant.

From a marketing perspective, advertising on Yelp makes sense, you are advertising to diners when they are trying to make a dining decision. The fact that Yelp uses such harsh tactics tells me that this hasn’t come to fruition. I don’t know the reason.

Yelp has damaged its credibility by manipulating the placement of reviews for money. Even if they aren’t doing this, the appearance that you can manipulate reviews for advertising exists and that is just as bad. Yelp needs to stop this practice immediately.

by Yelp Wrap-up | Opsanalitica , post on 30 September 2015 | Reply

[…] May 7th, we posted a blog What’s the deal with Yelp, the purpose of the blog was to get feedback from the restaurant community on some of the rumors we […]