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From the Ivory Tower Kitchen: To Yelp or Not To Yelp

"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" may be Thumper's Law in the animated world, but versions of it have been around a bit longer than Bambi. The hospitality industry, more than any other, may have created an expectation of servitude and pandering at all costs.
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"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all" may be Thumper's Law in the animated world, but versions of it have been around a bit longer than Bambi. The hospitality industry, more than any other, may have created an expectation of servitude and pandering at all costs. When that expectation is not met, the show of dissatisfaction manifests itself in numerous ways. Nowadays, venting on customer review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Urbanspoon has become the norm. Ironically, even though the world's population is at an all-time high, individuals resort to an inanimate review site for expression rather than word of mouth which was perhaps the most powerful mode of spreading an opinion before the advent of the Internet. It should be noted that on many occasions, our guests have written us privately and almost always, we have corrected or at least addressed the matter without getting defensive.

I also teach (Mathematics of all subjects) at a private university for a living. I've stopped reading my student evaluations for a few years now even though I am probably expected to because I am supposed to reflect on my teaching every semester. I stopped because for me, the positive ones felt good for only a moment compared to the negative ones which angered and depressed me for days. Almost the same is true when individuals use online review sites to evaluate their experience at our restaurant. Perhaps because I am a tenured faculty member, I feel more secure than I do with the restaurant. Any suggestion that I don't care about my teaching because of my security may be dealt with a swift counter. So, the point of this piece is to urge restaurant goers to carefully consider the consequences of lambasting independent restaurants for what seems like a slew of unreasonable reasons. Some prospective guests are even turned off by management responses to unfair reviews. We know that because they write a review stating so. Theoretically, a business has recourse and can appeal a poor review, but in our experience, more often than not, the review in question will stay on. It almost has entertainment and sensational value at this point. So, why are so many disgruntled guests rushing to the nearest online review site for expression? Is it because the general public believes that under all circumstances, a business must practice the customer is always right policy? But, we are all customers in this world and how could we always be right (correct, actually)? With enough middle-management, it is possible to mitigate most customer dissatisfaction issues, but when small independent restaurants like ours have to deal with what we believe are unfair and downright mean-spirited reviews on online sites (sustained by advertisement revenue), we naturally wear our emotions on our keyboards and sometimes fire right back.

The company Yelp has had to defend itself (and rightfully so, in my opinion) against a slew of accusations primarily from business owners of favoring advertising for higher ratings. This statement is from Yelp: "An independent academic study (not commissioned or paid for by Yelp) found that advertising plays no role in how reviews are recommended on Yelp."

So, I took the time to read the afore-mentioned study which I might add is fraught with statistics and its analysis, but regarding the claim by Yelp that the paper proves for them, advertising and review recommendations are unrelated, here is the clip from the section in the paper which specifically addresses this issue: "...while our analysis provides some suggestive evidence against the theory that Yelp favors advertisers, we stress that it is neither exhaustive, nor conclusive. It is beyond the scope of this paper, and outside the capacity of our dataset to evaluate all the ways in which Yelp could favor advertisers." In fact, reading on will reveal that a majority of the analysis conducted in the paper deals with the question of what drives positive or negative fraudulent reviews.

Most small businesses do not have the time, resources, energy, and sometimes courage to stand up to the bullying customers of the world who are now enabled by outlets like Yelp. If you are unhappy with your experience at a small business, please consider doing one of the following:

  1. Communicate with a business owner away from the stressful environment of day to day operations.
  • If you feel so inclined, afford them a second chance.
  • If you are still unhappy, by all means, spend your money and patronize elsewhere. But, please consider the consequences of tearing down a place on a review site, which ironically wouldn't exist if it weren't for the existence of the businesses themselves.

    Recommendation: Do Not Yelp