Crowdsourced reviews can put local restaurateurs on the defensive

  • Article by: Bill Ward , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 6, 2013 - 2:11 PM

Serving great food is only half the battle. Now local restaurants have to win over DIY reviewers on social media sites.

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swmnguyJul. 7, 13 8:33 AM

As a customer, I tend to read all online reviews and balance out for crazy. Some of the nastier negative comments will actually encourage me to patronize a business, as I can see how unreasonable the commenter really was, and how many hoops the business-owner was willing to jump through in the impossible pursuit of pleasing someone who simply would not be pleased.

Having worked in restaurants as a younger man, I know what issues to be concerned about and which ones not to bother with. That, combined with remembering how completely unreasonable some customers are, helps me to balance reviews.

I like to read online reviews of businesses I already know well. This helps give context to the ravings of a nut, as well as insight to hidden problems and areas for improvement.

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mplsstrwyJul. 7, 13 9:05 AM

It's about time restaurant customers had a way to fight back from the lousy food and service a lot eateries dish out these days. In Hopkins alone in the last ten days we've been told a local bar and grille (on fabled Main Street yet!) was out of it's signature meal and chain ice cream shop was out of a promotional item! The basic problem is that restaurant owners have yet to realize the value of a customer and how placing the needs of the customers first is their only way to success. I know a guy in Tampa who made $1 million a year from a hotdog stand in the shadow of Busch Gardens because he realized the value of his customers. Local eateries have no one to blame but themselves!

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rnvhillJul. 7, 13 9:07 AM

There is no need to go through all that trouble with Yelp - they offer a program where bad reviews are buried or even removed entirely - you'd think you'd find it on their site under 'protection racket' but they instead labeled the program 'advertise on yelp.' Try searching with your favorite browser "Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0 " or simply "yelp advertising scam"

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bigbear815Jul. 7, 1310:39 AM

Who would waste their time filling out a Yelp review?

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chasefranzenJul. 7, 1310:44 AM

First off - fair disclosure - I'm a restaurant owner. However, I can anecdotal confirm what rnvhill is saying. My restaurant used to have 4 to 4.5 stars on Yelp, depending on the week. Then, we were approached to advertise on Yelp. I thought their ad program was pretty unethical - basically, if you signed up, you could advertise on your competitors' pages, but they could not advertise on yours. Also, you got "preferred" status in search results (didn't Google and Yahoo get in trouble for that at first?!). Anyway, because I felt their program was unethical - and quite honestly I didn't want/need the added expense of advertising on their site - I declined. Less than a month later, the VAST majority of our good reviews were "filtered" off - thus they do not count in your overall average score. We had new, negative reviews that had been filtered off all of a sudden become unfiltered. We now have 2.5 stars. We get a new positive review almost weekly, but EVERY one has been filtered off. We have at least four stars or 80% on every other review site - except for Yelp. Very frustrating. Apparently there is a class action lawsuit against Yelp for this. As rnvhill said, Google the Yelp scams. I'm all for the review sites. I think it keeps the restaurants honest. And, as this article says, it really keeps us engaged. We respond to every negative feedback we get. However, there needs to be checks and balances. Yelp seemingly authoritatively decides what can count toward your score, and what cannot. This is not okay. - Chase

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bythebeachJul. 7, 13 9:33 PM

From the article: “I wish there was a way to say ‘Let’s be decent, folks..." Amen!! Like swmnguy, I disregard the rants when I read reviews. But there are so many social media platforms now. I know a young woman who has a major following on Twitter. During the Super Bowl last year (and a big snow storm where she lived), she ordered a pizza from a national chain. It was late. She tweeted a VERY nasty message to her followers and the national chain about the lack of service. The chain follows Twitter and picked it up immediately and tried to make amends. But I really felt her behavior was unfair, particularly given the circumstances, and she wasn't just complaining, she was truly ranting. I asked if she ever tweets when she gets good service or she's happy but, of course, apparently not. ‘Let’s be decent, folks..."!

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billward4Jul. 8, 13 7:52 AM

I heard from a couple of people about the Yelp advertising thing. The lawsuits were dropped/settled, best I could tell. That hasn't stopped the accusations (made off the record, alas).

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felcusJul. 8, 13 7:55 AM

mplsstrwy says "It's about time restaurant customers had a way to fight back from the lousy food and service a lot eateries dish out these days." It's about time? The best way to deal with lousy service is to avoid going back, not by complaining about it anonymously on the internet. Just don't spend your money there. Opinions from Yelp trolls should only be used for entertainment purposes, and at most, MAYBE, as a partial factor of setting expectations. Honestly, how can you seriously judge a restaurant without going there on your own? Don't you want to make your own decisions, or are you so lazy that you require someone else's opinion to make up your mind for you?

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FrankLJul. 8, 1310:13 AM

felcus, why would I want to waste my hard earned money on a restaurant with poor quality. Perhaps if the owners read the reviews they might see a trend. For example, a restaurant near my house has a new owner every couple of years, but none have fixed a fundamental problem: the kitchen is in the basement so food ends up showing up cold as the wait staff tries to make fewer trips up the steps. Why shouldn't future diners be warned about this flawed operation?

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felcusJul. 8, 13 4:20 PM

FrankL, Part of living life is exploring and trying new things to make up your own mind about the world and how it works. Besides, "quality" can be very subjective. One mans trash is another mans treasure (pick your own similar analogy). I'm not saying to avoid Yelp completely, I'm just saying not to take it so seriously, like this article is implying. Something like your example is a good reason why to use Yelp; It's an objective observation. But the opinions of DIY foodies are another thing entirely. Maybe 1 tenth of 1 percent of Yelp users provide quality information/reviews. All it takes is a handful of douche bags or bag(u)ettes (that don't know what they're talking about, or were having a bad day, or don't like somebody that works there because of an unrelated incident, or used to work there and want to try and ruin their reputation, or any other number of reasons that are completely unrelated to the actual quality of the restaurant) to convince someone who can't make up their own mind that it's not worth going there. Grain of salt.

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