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Your Customers Can Yelp

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again — the thing that makes a restaurant successful other than astounding profits is an exceptional review rating. Chefs work their way to get Michelin stars, while restaurant managers labor in their restaurant operations to get favorable user reviews. In a society that has increasingly become reliant on consumer reviews, restaurants, at the very least, ought to know what they are up against. We have learned a lot about Zagat Survey a few months back, and now, at the height of the Google-acquiring-Zagat-but-failed-to-get-Yelp publicity, (and considering that Yelp is one of the top three review sites in the U.S. today), we will now have a closer look at this popular review platform.

Yelp.com is not just a user review site—it also serves as a social networking and local search website, although most of its 54 million visitors are derived from its user reviews audience. They describe their site as an online urban city guide that assists their users in looking for places to shop, eat, play and relax based on the knowledgeable opinions of locals who has tested the services or goods of the businesses. People come to Yelp to check what other users have to say about an establishment or event, while others purposely visit the site to critique or praise a business. The site carries just about every industry in town– restaurants, nightlife, food, shopping, health and medical, beauty and spas, arts and entertainment, active life, event planning and services, hotels and travel, professional services, local services, automotive, local flavor, home services, pets, education, public services, mass media, real estate, financial services and religious organizations.

There are several featured businesses in their pages, which they call the Best of Yelp, but if a web user wants to find a business, he can do a local search, whose result already includes a user review and a rating that aims to help the site visitor decide in whether to avail of the business’ services or not.

So if someone searches for your restaurant, you can expect that next to your restaurant’s name, details about your business is already there–address, accessibility, hours, and parking. And alongside that are customer opinions about your menu and on how your apron-clad waiters treated them, plus a 5-point rating.

Here’s the thing – if your restaurant is not in the list, is that a good thing or bad?

It’s actually been a heated debate at the National Restaurant Association Show last May on whether Yelp is a good thing or a bad thing for the industry. The debate never got a conclusion, but the restaurateurs who were present at the show were pleased that Yelp came. The review site’s presence at the event was considered a positive spin, as it was one of the rare moments that Yelp became more accessible and open to the restaurant business. Its campaign of helping businesses manage their Yelp listings was considered valuable by the industry’s players, and in a way, it helped reduce any surging animosity with restaurants that have had bad reviews on their site.

Yelp has been criticized recently over the fairness of some restaurants’ negative reviews on their website, taking into consideration that a competitor can easily submit an anonymous, damaging review about a restaurant’s food, their price or their apron-clad wait staff. Some stories have also come out in 2009 that Yelp salespeople offered to “conceal negative consumer reviews of their business” if they pay for advertising contracts. When businesses decline to become an advertiser, positive reviews were allegedly removed. Yelp denies all these. And if Yelp suspects and detects that a competitor of a business is the one who wrote the negative reviews, they immediately remove the opinions.

Whether Yelp is good or bad for the business is probably immaterial at this point. The fact remains that the online restaurant review portals have become more dynamic than ever, and it is best that restaurants, big or small, know how to deal with them.