Why Restaurant Yelp Reviews are Garbage

By: Karen DeVincent-Reinbold

5 Minute Read

Nov 17, 2017

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restaurant yelp reviews

Imagine it's a Tuesday and you’re already thinking about the weekend. Your (potential) customers are probably doing the same. You start online searching for cool things to do around town, and - if you’re anything like me - you always end up checking out the newest restaurants.

This is especially true when visiting a new city – because what even is the point of going anywhere if you can’t try the food?

But first, you must research. And make no mistake - your customers do this before they come by.

You know the feeling of checking reviews after a hectic week. You’ve got 17 tabs open in Chrome: a listicle from Eater, a recommendation from Zagat, lists upon lists from sites like Thrillist and Spoon University, and, of course, Yelp.

Diners and restaurant owners, I can hear your collective groans. The title of this post is “Why Restaurant Yelp Reviews are Garbage,” and you knew what you were getting yourself into here. So, let me first say this: there are pros and cons to any review site. When it comes to Yelp, I plan on sharing both sides of the story. So with that, let’s dig in.

Who Even Has Time For This "Yelp" Thing?

Okay, take this header with a grain of salt.

How dare I ask who “has time” to write Yelp reviews, yet, I admittedly spend hours pouring through reviews in search of the most perfect [insert food item] in [insert city] on the regular.

I get it - but let's call it like it is. Sometimes these Yelp reviews are totally out of hand.

When I come across a particularly nasty review, my internal dialogue is usually something like this:

“Hey Nancy from North Dakota, did you really need to write seven paragraphs on how your grilled cheese at some adorable old diner wasn’t crispy enough for you? Just enjoy the experience! How did you find the time to be so mean? Did you even consider what your scathing review did to the poor old couple who owns the diner? Now they are scrambling for positive reviews to counter your unnecessary post. Also, you aren’t even from here, Nancy. You’re a tourist. What do you even know?”

Guests and restaurateurs alike, you know what kind of post I am talking about; it is clearly useless to the business. While some negative reviews are justified and offer an opportunity to learn, some of these reviews are just flat out garbage.

But the fact of the matter is, reviews do still matter. According to a 2016 Vendasta poll, “92 percent of consumers now read online reviews versus 88 percent in 2014, and, 40 percent of consumers form an opinion by reading just one to three reviews versus 29 percent in 2014.”

So, not only are consumers reading more reviews than ever, but one nasty analysis at the top of your Yelp page could have a negative impact on whether they choose to dine at your restaurant or not: “86 percent of people will hesitate to purchase from a business that has negative online reviews,” as noted by an Invesp study.

Point is, diners, if you’re guilty of taking your Yelp reviews too far, think about how it could impact a business, particularly the small ones.

I’d like to also take this opportunity to slide in the tale of the Yale dean who was put on leave last month for her insensitive Yelp reviews. Think before you Yelp, people.

Yelp Reviews Do Draw in New Customers

Online reviews - much like having social media profiles - are a necessary evil in 2017.

If you aren’t online, do you even exist? Most often, the benefits of opening your restaurant up for reviews on sites like Yelp outweigh the typical negative posts that come with the territory.

This is especially true for independent restaurants. In a recent Bloomberg article, author Leslie Patton wrote,

“Free-marketing websites, such as Yelp Inc., have boosted the fortunes of independents in the age of McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel, Domino’s, Taco Bell, Olive Garden -- the list goes on. In a shift, annual revenue for independents will grow about 5 percent through 2020, while the growth for chains will be about 3 percent, according to Pentallect Inc., an industry researcher in Chicago. Sales at the top 500 U.S. chains rose 3.6 percent last year. The gains were larger, 3.9 percent, for the whole industry, Technomic data show."

This clearly presents a unique challenge for restaurants. SMBs are practically forced to leverage sites like Yelp to showcase their uniqueness, but at the risk of potentially welcoming poor reviews.

On the other hand, larger restaurant groups face the issue of how to stand out in a sea of growing mom and pop restaurants, despite the fact that they have the ability to shrug off most negative Yelp comments.

No matter which way you look at it, though, Yelp has 145 million unique users, and not engaging with review sites is likely to have more of a negative impact on your business than some extra harsh online criticism.

Where Restaurants Should Go From Here

1.) If you are a restaurateur, tell us if you use Yelp or other review sites to market your business. Have you found that the benefit of engaging with diners outweighs the risk of getting a negative review?

2.) Download our Restaurant Social Media Guide to help draw in new customers beyond review sites. Today, more people are eating in restaurants than ever before. Diners love to research their options on Google and look at their social media sites before choosing a location. That means you need an awesome social media presence.


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