Anytime I go out to eat, I look up reviews of a restaurant. Be it a professional critic or an amateur foodie, I like getting a preview of what to expect before I plop a linen napkin onto my lap. Of course, you don’t need to be a member of the press to dole out your opinion, at least online. With sites such as Urban Spoon and Yelp, you can share your own thoughts on last night’s fried chicken dinner or find out what Fred thought of his coq au vin just by doing some quick research.
People either love review sites or hate them. Customer service is certainly given no room for error, since sites like Yelp take the word-of-mouth mantra and run with it. While many people use the site as a way to become unofficial cheerleaders for their favorite taco trucks, Magazine Street boutiques, or veterinary clinics, peeved patrons clearly enjoy the chance to badger a businesses with scathing reviews. So what’s fair? Don’t overpriced t-shirts or burnt pancakes deserve to be put on blast? The problem lies with users who are too quick to judge versus ruminating on potentially damaging recaps of an off night.
Susan Whelan, social media manager for Converse Digital, frequently relies on review sites for business ratings.
“I enjoy using review sites as I like to both seek and share information. I began with Urbanspoon, using it in Dallas. The gimmicky slot machine effect is fun, especially if you want to explore new restaurants. Yelp has richer user content — more reviews, a broader variety of reviews, more photos, etc. Yelp fosters their ‘communities’ so that more content will be generated, creating a better user experience (which will help them sell more advertising). It is easier to add friends on Yelp, therefore enhancing the user’s ‘community’ experience. I enjoy Yelp for sharing my own opinions or advice. Since I do not have a blog, this is an easy way to point someone to information. Try googling ‘New Orleans restaurants open on Monday.’ My list shows up on the first page. I enjoy creating content and Yelp gives me a platform to do so.”
Jennifer Lloyd, a librarian and a Yelp user as well, finds that “Too many people use the sites for ax grinding/shilling/etc. My other pet peeve is folks who review businesses that they haven’t been to in years. For example I reviewed Nick’s in 2010 because the 1st review was from 2008 and the reviewer thought it was still open. Dumb.”
Leslie Almeida, a food writer, blogger, and dining event coordinator, isn’t sold on the concept.
“Yelp operates on a simple formula: Get people to do the work of writing reviews for them under the guise that a) Yelp is helping businesses attract customers and b) Yelp is obtaining ‘free’ goods for the reviewers. The truth of the matter is nothing is free.
Without divulging details from private conversations, many restaurateurs do not have kind words to say about Yelp as a business. Additionally, some professionals in the dining industry look down upon those that use Yelp, or at least the ones that take it seriously. Additionally, I can’t say that the Yelp formula really works in a city like New Orleans. There’s tons of free and cheap entertainment at every corner of the city on any given night. Why spend the energy writing content for a website that generates income from your efforts?”
Susan adds, “There is a stereotype of an ignorant, demanding Yelper. Those same people can be found on almost every site. I see uninformed comments and poorly written reviews on Urbanspoon and Trip Advisor as well. Yelp or Urbanspoon provide a general consensus of a business. If you want reliable opinions, you need to build a network that will provide information that you trust (on Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, or in real life).”
No matter if you love them or hate them, review sites are only going to grow in popularity. Just remember, if you start to get sour looks from the waitstaff after penning a nasty review, don’t be so surprised.
Christy Lorio, a native New Orleanian, writes on fashion at slowsouthernstyle.com and is also a freelance writer whose work has been featured online and in print magazines both locally and nationally.