yelp me if you can, I’m feeling down

I’m a pretty big fan of Yelp, especially since it now dominates  the user review market for restaurants. There’s a bit of controversy from professional food critics about what all of these public voices contribute to the dialogue about a restaurant, but I’m largely in favor – Yelp provides a platform for reviews that are diverse, up-to-date, and prolific. When I wanted good sushi near Millbrae, California, I turned to Yelp, and found a place with over 600 reviews, most of which were positive. The reviews gave me a lot of insight into the place: what’s popular, what’s worth avoiding, the best times to visit, and thoughts on the menu from sushi newbies and lovers alike. That’s much more information than I’d get from a traditional restaurant review. Are there useless reviews mixed in there? Yes. Does Yelp have astroturfing from restaurant owners, staff, or their friends? Yes. But if there are enough voices present, it should be largely unbiased.

Yelp helps me find new restaurants, and it also helps me make informed decisions about whether a restaurant will suit my needs.  Looking for late-night sushi in DC?  Yelp made it easy for me to find a place that serves a limited sushi menu until 2AM – and to see that diners have mixed feelings about that menu.  I especially enjoy using Yelp when I’m in an unfamiliar city, as it helps me pick interesting places to try when I don’t have a lot of time, information, or direct input from locals.  This usually works out very well.

But I’ve discovered an interesting aspect of being an amateur critic – it opens me up for criticism, too.  Today I got two pieces of strange Yelp feedback.  The first, a private message entitled “that’s not true,” which didn’t offer any context for the following rebuttal:

I don’t have kids, dogs, and I didn’t touch anything.  And he still acting like a freaking bitchy Queen.  The guy was a real class A dick.  You must be a friend of his…

My first reaction was, “Whaaaa?”  This totally came from left field.  But then I had an inkling that it could be in response to my review of The Gold Bug in Pasadena. Many reviewers commented that the owner was rude, but I’d had an excellent experience and shared it. Apparently that makes me a liar. But I returned quickly to confusion when I found that the author of the private message never reviewed this place. Somehow, she feels like I’m invalidating an experience she had that she never shared? I’ll say it again, “Whaaaa?”

But today was apparently a red letter day for Yelp insanity, because I also got a comment on one of my restaurant reviews from the business owner.  This occasionally happens, and my experiences have been uniformly positive – if I offer praise, the owner thanks me.  If I had a concern, the owner apologizes and promises to look into the matter.  Wholly satisfying.  Not today, however.  A few months ago, I reviewed Rhode Island Reds Cafe in Hyattsville. I wasn’t too impressed, and wrote a few paragraphs (Yelp encourages reviewers to be detailed) about my experience. Well, this apparently confused the owner, who said:

yikes, she’s got a lot to say. How come? Does she dislike me or is she being friendly? I don’t want to know.

While I recognize that it’s technically possible to dislike someone and be friendly… this is a bizarre response to my 3-star review. Apparently, I got off easy – here’s what he said in response to a 2-star review:

You ” did not have a great time ” ,so you post a bunch of crap about my business?! You found me pretentious- as you write “A CERTAIN AMBIANCE” I don’t have foam containers. Nothing I sell costs $13.00 dollars. Delicous thin crust Roman style Pizzas,$10. $6.50 for gourmet sandwiches with a side, nice salads? Beers and wine unavailable elsewhere. It’s Italian influenced, not fucking French .Everone tells me my prices are LOW. A pan from a boob like you is actually good for my trade. What do you do that’s worth a damn? Type? Whine? Do something useful, like drop dead. Regards Red.

…wow. Several reviews mention that the owner is gruff, surly, or some other flavor of unfriendly, but I’d upgrade that assessment to batshit crazy. Advising a customer, in a public forum, to “drop dead” is nuts – especially when you consider that his overall Yelp rating is 4 stars! He doesn’t have anything to worry about from a couple of poor reviews when the majority are positive. I updated my own review (without changing my star rating) to reflect my reaction to his retaliatory commenting – I won’t be eating there again.

Not that any of this will stop me from continuing to Yelp.  I have opinions and will continue to share them with the world.  Isn’t this why I blog?

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