Letter of the Week – Give Us Help From Yelp (Updated: Yelp’s Dirty Secret Exposed)
I agree with your post that Yelp has ruined food journalism. While I don’t agree with your reviews all the time, I put much more weight into your reviews than any of the amateurs on Yelp.
But I think bemoaning Yelp in general is the wrong tactic here in your case. I think you should use your journalistic skills to investigate why Yelp is so horrible. As someone who has an account and has been active in the Yelp community as mostly an observer for the last 6 years, I can note that these people that are being trusted more than you are some of the most uneducated, morally bankrupt people I have ever encountered. This goes triple for the elite squad. I think an article (or series of articles) would give national attention to a corporate run corrupt community.
For example, one complaint I made to Yelp that landed me in hot water years ago with Misti Yang, and for which I still receive grief over today, was that the Elite Yelpers, whose reviews are weighted much more heavily than us “regular folks” do not tend to reflect the reality of a dining establishment. That is, many of these individuals attend sponsored events which are specifically set up for Yelp members, and then review the establishment based on that experience alone.
My original complaint, with regards to this phenomenon, was regarding Sushi Goyemon, which hosted an unofficial Yelp event and then received the unanimous praise of all attendees, who described a much different restaurant than I ever attended. I, on the other hand, was greeted with poor service and mediocre food, to say the least, when I went there. And there have been examples, both with Misti and at present, with a new Community Manager, where those attendees who do post criticisms are not invited back to future events. At least professional journalists tend to be more objective, and have the experience and (usually) the intellect to discern a truly good place from the crap.
In fact, at least in the case of Las Vegas, Yelp’s claim that its content is representative of “real people” is laughable at best. Opinions and reviews which diverge from the Elite hive mind, or that are deemed offensive or incorrect, are regularly removed from the website via the flagging functionality. Negative reviews given to restaurants which are considered trendy are reported en masse by the various cliques on the website, are deleted, and the deletion is often justified by Yelp corporate and its community manager based on a technicality, such as an inappropriate word or phrase, or the claim that the review is of an experience that is not recent enough, with no real justification.
I agree with your general commentaries, and your laments, of people placing equal value on the reviews of the often unintelligible masses on Yelp as those from professional food critics. I even attended your lecture/debate featuring you, Misti Yang from Yelp, Al Mancini, and Brock Radke, and was firmly in the food critics’ corner. Know that there are still plenty of us out there that value the opinions of you and others like you, and that professional food critics will always have an audience among people who care more about quality, accurate and reliable reviews, and impartiality than about following the trends. Keep writing, and we’ll keep reading!
Yelp Yak Yoker
Your concern with “hosted events” for “elite Yelpers” (whatever the heck that means) is understandable, but such bought and paid for recommendations by “reviewers” are no worse than the “hosted” dinners every food writer (save Heidi Knapp Rinella) in this town flocks to because the cheap ass publishers of their free magazines won’t pay their expenses. (In some ways, their ethical breaches are worse since they call themselves professional critics and food “journalists” — which in this town generally means: “I beg for food to write articles for a pittance.”)
As for us, we believe everyone deserves a voice, but not everyone deserves a microphone. Yelp has the same flaws all democracies do: the shouts of the stupid often outweigh the the more measured arguments of the well-informed. The majority is not always right…and more often than not it is the most wrong….but overall, giving even a bunch 0f know-nothing hipsters a voice in telling people details about their meal has been a good thing for the food world and restaurant industry. So I can only go so far in criticizing it.
It would seem, however, that deleting negative reviews to curry favor with establishments (or give that elite set a puffed up sense of their own importance) is Tammany Hall-style governance at its worst. So any other anecdotes or information about such practices are of keen interest to him. (Our day job prevents us from having the time to delve into the type of muckraking/exposé you suggest.)
In the meantime, ELV is happy that he has a voice, and multiple microphones. He promises to continue calling out the frauds (either behind the plate or the printed word) and thanks you for your kind words.
Best and bon appetit,
We received two “comments” about Yelp from a couple of friends (both of whom are experienced restaurateurs) which we feel merit inclusion into the body of this article.
Mario Maccioni wrote on our Facebook page: A top F & B director in Las Vegas once told me his division relies heavily on Yelp. I was so shocked I told him “God help us if we run our businesses by Yelp.” He told me, “We do.” That factored into my decision to move back to New York.
LaPorte Haiku added this in our comments section:
As a restaurateur, I can confirm that I have NEVER been able to get Yelp to remove a single comment or “review.” Not once. I once had someone review one of my restaurants by saying “it would be better if I stood outside the restaurant and punched you in the face.” That comment was flagged by not only me, but my team at the restaurant, and it was never removed.
LaPorte continues: So here’s Yelp’s dirty little secret…
Yelp makes money off restaurants and other businesses by selling Yelp ads. This alone shouldn’t be a conflict of interest. However, Yelp runs a 1950’s style mafia protection scheme which at it’s core “helps” business owners keep their Yelp page looking it’s best. Yelp sells your direct competitors ad space on your Yelp page, unless you buy their ads. This will keep that ad space free of competitor ads. Yelp has no direct line of communication unless you buy ad space. Then you are provided with a Yelp account manager who can help you maximize your page effectiveness. When there are “reviews” of your business that you would like removed, you can’t call them, you can’t write – unless you are a paying client. In essence, if you don’t buy Yelp ads people can run amuck all over your Yelp page.
And I refuse to pay the person who is bullying me, to stop bullying me.