Jan 062012

Christy Lorio (photo by Leslie Almeida)

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.

  7 Responses to “Christy Lorio: Sounding off on sounding off”

  1. A savvy review reader will be able to glean good information from bad reviews, as with any reviewing process. I feel on the whole, reviews, even “bad’ ones, can be good for a restaurant. Good restaurants should not be afraid of reviews. If a restaurant has good food and good service, a few disgruntled “bad” reviews will be apparent to readers. If a restaurant consistently has good food and bad service or bad food and good service, patrons deserve to know what they’re getting into before they go.

    As with music, art, and anything else that gets reviewed, an astute reader will come to know the critics they relate to, and the ones they know don’t share the same tastes and sensibilities. Therefore, if you know a reviewer whose tastes you disagree with, a “good” review from them, will mean a “stay away from” for you.

    Really, no reputable establishment need fear even the most uncouth reviewers. The truth, (for better or worse!) comes out, one way or another! The only restaurants which should be “running scared” are the ones that have been getting by on “name” only, and haven’t been offering good service or good food. Small out of the way gems are the places that benefit most from Urbanspoon and Yelp, so if for nothing else than for their sakes, I’ll keep reading reviews and supporting those sites!

    • I agree with everything you said here. I used to frequently write Yelp reviews, but now that I write professionally I don’t have time to do it. Review sites are certainly helpful, and it is fun to share your opinion on your favorite establishments around town.

      The problem comes when review writers feel a sense of entitlement, such as expecting freebies or having unrealistic expectations of a place since they are in critic mode. Businesses should be held accountable for their products and services, but often Yelpers unfairly nit pick and then blast out their opinion to everyone. For example, restaurant critics typically eat at their review spot a few times vs. basing their review off of one experience.

  2. Chow Hound is a really good source. It’s pretty closely monitored, so there isn’t a lot of crazy trashing of restaurants going on. Pretty thoughtful. I use it when I travel to other cities as well, with good results.

  3. Christy,
    Thanks for writing about this topic. I also thought Yelp was an ideal platform early on, however the “nameless” critics that go on these sites and jeopardize the reputation of an establishment based off of 1 visit and write mean spirited reviews must be taken at face level. If someone has to hide behind an online name and cannot stand behind what they have written they are shameless.

    Too many times on Uptown Messenger, people hide behind these anonymous web names and point fingers all over the place. The professional critics use their own names, ie Brett Anderson is an actual person, Ian McNulty is also an actual person. I have met Christy Lorio and she is a real person!

    If you have an opinion you want to share, don’t hide! “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”
    Kellie Grengs
    The New Freret

    • Christy, thank you for writing this piece and I agree with Kellie Greng’s comment above. For a while now, I have been turned off by the negative effects of using social media and the internet to voice ones opinion -no matter how unqualified it may be.

      Long ago the opinion of an unsatisfied customer would have only been heard by a group of friends or colleagues. These individuals would have the beneift of knowing the source of the information. Let’s be honest, we all have friends whose opinions we do not necessarily share. Whether it be about food, travel, politics, etc., we know enough about our friend’s tastes to politely disagree or ignore their recommendations/ criticisms. As a result, their opinions on certain topics may not carry much weight. This is the problem I have with websites such as these providing a platform, or rather, a megaphone to announce one likes, or dislikes. Obviously, this is our Constitutional right, and it can benefit an establishment as much as hurt it.

      Perhaps in this day and age of opinion overload, it would be best to keep a few things in mind. Reviewers – Proprietors have often poured their hearts and souls into their businesses, so for them what you have to say is personal. On the flip side, it is important for business owners to take both criticism and praise with a grain of salt. For the rest of us, it might be best to politely ignore these anonymous reviewers and formulate our opinions on the matter. That’s what really counts anyway.


      Kea Sherman

  4. Tip’s had a one star review based on the lax enforcement of the no smoking policy. As a smoker, that counts as a positive review for me.

  5. As a fellow Yelper but also business owner I see both sides to Yelp. The only real takeaway is Yelp and like sites aren’t going anywhere, so ride the horse in the direction it’s going.

    BUT! Take everything with a grain of salt (no pun intended). These are personal opinions. Personal. Rarely professional. Yelpers need to take themselves less seriously on many occassions.

    For a little fun, enjoy this link some fellow biz owners sent me last year. They’re in the restaurant world so this was especially funny for them: http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/72fe31e013/tricia-johanna-yelpers

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