In the previous post, I discussed some of the anecdotal reasons I dislike Yelp and other reviews sites. I think they are bad for the restaurant industry and often showcase misleading reviews without a measure of validity. Since my first job in this business I have been told that a satisfied guest will tell a couple of people while a dissatisfied guest will tell everyone they know. Now that same guest has the ability to tell the world. Unfortunately, now we are unable to recognize that “ficklefoodie87” is actually our bitter Aunt Margaret who hasn’t liked anything since Matlock went off the air.
This is only one of the reasons I think Yelp is inherently flawed. Here are a few more:
Yelp Prevents Feedback When It Matters: The proper time to voice a complaint about a meal is during the meal. This allows the restaurant to correct the problem and apologize. The review sites give someone the alternative of punishing the restaurant to express their dissatisfaction. When someone chooses not to say anything to the manager, but will broadcast it to as many people who cannot correct the situation as possible, it makes me question whether they truly wanted the problem resolved more than an opportunity to dispense “justice.”
No Opportunity To Respond: While these sites pretend to give restaurants a chance to respond, it can rarely be done in a way that is not viewed as tacky or exacerbates the situation. Owner responses often breed more over the top reviews from what are commonly known on the internet as “trolls.” These are people who have never been to the restaurant, but will post a review simply to see the owner’s response. The dialogue that should be occurring is one that is conducted directly with the owner that can solve the problem, not broadcast to the world.
No Baseline For Reviewers: There are a number of adjectives that you can use to review a restaurant that are highly subjective. Terms like “expensive” “overpriced” “slow” “unfriendly” etc are all quite relative. With these reviews, there is no basis given for comparison. When someone says a steak is “overpriced” they might be comparing it to the steak and egg breakfast with a Mornflake oatmeal at their local truck stop. When someone says the service is “slow” they may fail to mention that they had a well-done steak and chocolate soufflé. All of these comparisons are relative and you never really know what they are comparing it to.
Inhibits Enjoyment Of The Meal: I once took a pair of guests to a table and noticed the gentleman was typing on his iPhone. I also noticed that familiar orange Yelp logo. He was writing his review of the restaurant as he was being seated. I asked numerous times how specific items were and he replied, “fine.” Each time I approached the table, the conversation ceased. I made numerous attempts to get feedback and was given one word responses each time. I checked the site when I got home and found a newly minted review. Apparently everything was not fine, but no amount of coaxing on my part would get a response. I had to wait for the review with the rest of the world. This is certainly his right to do, but I can’t imagine it made for an enjoyable meal.
Anonymity Lessens Civility: Most major newspapers and message boards require you to register and sign in to post comments. It takes nothing more than reading the comment sections in those that don’t to understand why. The vilest comments are posted when there is anonymity. In a time when snark and sarcasm pass for wit, people express negativity as if it passes for eloquence. It is a sad state of affairs, but one that is common on these sites. When the mark of class is perceived to be set by the first segment of a Gordon Ramsay show, the result is a site filled with cynics and snarks.
It is not my feeling that guests should not have a way to express their feelings about a dining experience. I do believe that restaurant owners should be the first recipients of any criticism though. Restaurants truly do care about the feedback of their guests. They want all of their guests to leave happy. Unfortunately sites like this do more to encourage non-productive monologue and less to foster a dialogue that results in a truly pleasant dining experience.