Why restaurant owners hate Yelp

Patrick Maguire gets fed up with Yelp after reading somebody gave the Lincoln Tavern in South Boston just one star, not because of the food, but because they gave her a pizza to go in a generic box:

Maybe it’s a ruse, or maybe Nikki is just looking for a little attention, but restaurant workers have a right to be frustrated and angry when anonymous dimwits fuck with their livelihood. It’s not funny.



Free tagging: 


Lots of reasons to get fed up with Yelp

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This is not one of them.

Yelp is notorious for extorting businesses who get negative reviews to try and push those off their summaries so that only more positive reviews show up first.

However, for Yelp to be accurate, even the morons who give 1-star reviews for stupid reasons need to be allowed to be included. If that review is so powerful and simultaneously inaccurate, then it's only because there aren't enough reviews from the 4- and 5-star customers to vastly outweigh it. There is always noise like Ms. Pizza Box in your sampling data. You're dealing with literally everyone who has ever eaten at that restaurant and all of their proclivities, hang-ups, and druthers. You're not going to please every single person who ever eats at your restaurant and those people's opinions matter too. However, what you're hoping is that you please far more people than go away dissatisfied. And when it comes to something like Yelp, you also have to hope that the ones you pleased are more willing to share their opinions too.

When it comes down to it, that's all that matters and has ever mattered, even before Yelp existed. The people you entertained and who enjoyed your meals need to go and tell others and convince them to give you a chance. One 1-star review about pizza boxes isn't going to change that.

This is all absolutely true.

This is all absolutely true. Lincoln Tavern has 161 reviews and a four-star rating overall. One moronic review from a shithead isn't messing with anyone's livelihood. Sounds like Patrick Maguire needs a hanky to cry into, and the Lincoln Tavern should be more concerned about the 1-star review that mentions the bouncer's anti-gay attitude.

This sort of thing is what Maguire's blog is all about

Server Not Servant advocates for service industry workers against the abuses of idiotic, uncivil, jerkwad customers with an inflated sense of entitlement. This kind of Yelp review is red meat for that blog. It's one example of millions as to why you have to be selective about whose advice you listen to online. Do you ask strangers on the street where you should eat? Choose a North End restaurant because it has a line out front? How do you know that five-star rave isn't from some putz who thinks The Cheesecake Factory is the most awesomest place evar? Caveat emptor. It's just that some idiots are so egregious, they're worth pointing and laughing at.

Local versus Visitor

Do you ask strangers on the street where you should eat?

Well, when I'm not in Boston, or other cities that I know well, what are my options?

Yelp can be very useful for tourists - particularly those with minimal time and an entourage. They do give you the opportunity to drill down on their data and see the distribution of reviews,etc. Most business travelers are savvy enough to junk those one-star reviews like this one, some are not and that can affect the bottom line of a small place that wants to vend ambiance to tourists who are willing to go off the beaten path.

Yes, but there's no substitute for homework

I travel a lot for business, so I cultivate a network of trusted locals who can give me far better dining-out advice than the typical lowest common denominator that Yelp, Zagat and their ilk yield. Rely on Yelp, and you won't even be able to dodge tourist traps, which are essentially defined by their location in areas with high tourist traffic and can survive despite mediocrity because they don't have to worry about repeat business. Yelp has nearly 1000 reviews apiece of the Sewage Crab and the Union Oyster House, and both still rate a solid three stars I don't think either remotely deserves. You are welcome to the so-called wisdom of crowds; I don't have much use for it.

Really? You figured out 3 out of 5 stars is average?

Congratulations. Was that all by yourself, or did you have help?

My point is that awful tourist traps like my examples often deserve barely a star, but the kind of crowds that queue up for hour-plus waits at The Cheesecake Factory usually rate them higher. Star ratings on amateur review sites roll up a lot of advice from people whose opinion I don't value.


I never said "3 out of 5 stars is average." I guess you might need some help figuring things out.

I said that three stars = not good, right there in the subject line. I'm sorry that you missed it.

I also insinuated that anyone who reads into a three star restaurant that it is anything above average doesn't understand the rating system. That also doesn't mean that 3/5 is average.

However, you seem to be bent out of shape because two restaurants you don't like have three star ratings. Anyone who understands the Yelp rating system knows that means they aren't very good. Maybe you should just get over it.

You say "Star ratings on amateur review sites roll up a lot of advice from people whose opinion I don't value."

Wow! Did you figure that out all by yourself? Should I sarcastically congratulate you?

My point was that people on Yelp, in aggregate, overrate establishments. I don't think we disagree about that, but you felt the need to be an ass about it.

Guess I missed something there

"My point was that people on Yelp, in aggregate, overrate establishments." That was my point, too. Even utter crapholes get three stars on Yelp. My examples are simply two that came to the top of my mind; there are countless others among Boston's tourist traps.

Incidentally, Yelp describes a 3-star rating to mean "A-OK": good, not great.

You just don't get it.

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It's only an "utter craphole" in your own mind. Hundreds of people trump the opinion of a few. That's democracy at work.

If you don't trust the collective opinion of the unwashed masses, then don't use Yelp. Read the local food critic's reviews if you want the "expert" opinion. However, most people (by definition) have tastes that are closer to the "common man" so Yelp is useful to them.

Hundreds of people are indeed greater in number than one person

But let's not make the mistake that because something is popular, it's going to be awesome. Following mass taste leads you to the Olive Garden, Justin Bieber, and The Bachelorette. (And the Sewage Crab.) Yelp is no different from any random collection of citizens: its typical reviewer is someone with unknown, probably dubious taste and limited experience of the dining world. Trusting the average person for dining recommendations is no way to ferret out the extraordinary.

Figure out who's got great taste and follow their advice, great taste meaning different things to different people -- it's not so much about who's a so-called expert, but who has sensibilities, likes and dislikes, that closely match yours. (But note that some people do indeed have expertise that you don't and may find useful, like the gal who grew up eating her Taiwan-native mom's cooking.) Going to strangers about whose taste, intelligence and experience you know nothing and asking them for restaurant advice is a terrible strategy. Rolling up the opinions of thousands of random strangers only gets you to the great mean of popular taste. If you trust mass taste to guide your aesthetic experiences in life, then you deserve to go wherever Yelp star ratings send you.

Point and laugh, fine, but

Point and laugh, fine, but don't get all huffy and pretend that someone's "livelihood" is threatened because of one moronic Yelp review.

Anonymous "Scratchie"

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Hold the hanky, and the douchebag comment.

"One moronic review from a shithead isn't messing with anyone's livelihood."

If several 1-star, moronic reviews are allowed, eventually a restaurant's rating will go down. I've spoken with several people (tourists and locals using Yelp) who confirmed that on the fly they'll scan restaurants by neighborhood, use the star system, choose the type of food they're looking for, then read a handful of the most recent reviews. Some people set standards, "Nothing less than 4+ stars." They don't always have time to do their research on the reviewers or their credibility. There's often a significant delay between when an obvious idiot posts and when Yelp removes their review, if they remove it at all. Anonymous morons with no credibility are fucking with the livelihoods of a lot of hard-working people, and I believe we should continue to call them out.

And there will be people who

And there will be people who set standards like "no red signs" or "no generic pizza boxes". Whining about Yelp isn't going to change anything since it's a long-established website that many people rely on (rightly or wrongly). If someone really sets a standard like "Nothing less than 4+ stars", then I don't know where they're going to eat, since I don't think I've ever seen a restaurant on Yelp that has never gotten a three-star review (or below). Most people with two brain cells to rub together can judge a review on its own merits -- just like they do on Amazon and dozens of other social-media websites -- without doing "research" into the credibility of that particular reviewer, and anyone who's used Yelp more than once knows to take any of the reviews with a grain of salt.

If you actually think that any "good" restaurant is never going to get any bad reviews on yelp, then you're living in a dreamland. Restaurants that provide good food and good service will prosper, Yelp notwithstanding, even if a few clueless tourists happen to give them a pass.

PS: Thanks for deleting my comment on your whiny blog, too. If you can't take a little bit of criticism, you've got no business being on the internet at all!

Anonymous "Scratchie"

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My post isn't "whining" about Yelp, it's calling out an anonymous idiot Yelper, and I will continue to do so. I'll also continue to moderate and filter anonymous comments from my blog when people make douchebag throwaway comments like you've made. They don't add any value to the conversation.

I disagree that Yelp isn't going to change. Lawsuits, public sentiment, and media exposure of late, are heading in the direction of more accountability and transparency.

From Anonymous "Scratchie": "If you actually think that any "good" restaurant is never going to get any bad reviews on yelp, then you're living in a dreamland."

I don't recall anyone here implying that. Savvy restaurateurs know that they're not going to please everyone, and that they shouldn't try. That doesn't mean that we can't expose the anonymous morons for them.

Like a Child on the Playground

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Stay tuned for my blog post titled, "The Parting Shot" about customers who have to get the last word in when they don't what they want. Something tells me it will resonate deeply with you. Go ahead...

Ignore single high and low ratings

Probably the stupidest I've ever seen was the turd that downrated Bloc 11 because there were death camps that had a Bloc 11 (the name came from the property parcel designation on the City of Somerville land maps).

I shit you not.

Also ignore: any review that says "I got food poisoning" that isn't backed up with a health department investigation (Clover). Those are typically hit jobs or hapless fools who happened to dine there when they were coming down with Norovirus.

Lauditory reviews without any details? Shitcan them, too.

Yelp does give you the ability to see the distribution of reviews, and also the date. I use that to get an idea of how many spurious reviews there are.

yeah, no

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Prettty sure I can tell the difference between food poisoning (which ends pretty fast) and norovirus (which is like being a double-ended firehose, for far longer.)

Tons of people get sick from food in the US - far more than in any other world, just about.


Too bad the WHO and the CDC don't seem to agree with you.


Then again, what do they know.

Most foodborne illness isn't isolated to a single person and place. Period. You are also wrong about the time course of both diseases. If only one isolated person "got food poisoning", chances are very very good that they did NOT have food poisoning, but a typical communicable pathogen. That's because a bad bunch of food or a bad restaurant practices are not limited to a single dish served to a single patron.


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" FoodNet reports on the changes in the number of people in the United States sickened with foodborne infections that have been confirmed by laboratory tests. "

Because whenever people get a bout of diarrhea, or even if they get fire-hose-like sick, they rush to their doctor and the doctor orders a workup of lab tests, and then ships the sample off to WHO. People think "I have the flu" or "I caught a virus" and they don't bother even calling their doctor, especially when said doctor won't be able to fit them in for a week.

Special world you live in.

Please explain

People think "I have the flu" or "I caught a virus" and they don't bother even calling their doctor, especially when said doctor won't be able to fit them in for a week.

So you are saying that, despite survellance data much to the contrary, that you believe that food poisoning is somehow DIFFERENTIALLY under reported? In other words, people who do go to their doctors are more likely to NOT have food poisoning than people who don't go to their doctors? Somehow?

Because that is what would have to happen for your lay person assertions (amok actual surveillance data) to make any sense at all.

BTW, you still haven't provided any support whatsoever for your initial assertion that food poisoning is rampant in the US, or that it is more prevalent than in other countries.

Until then, your "just so" stories about your "gut feelings" about these things are truly irrelevant arguments against the actual data, and do not support your attempts to claim that I live in some "special world" of some sort where CDC data are wrong and you are right.

Relief for Business Owners from Yelp

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There is finally Search Engine relief for the small business owner. One of the biggest problems with Yelp is that because of its size and volume it outranks all original websites on Google. For example, it you put Johnny's Pizza into a web search, JP's site doesn't show up, Yelp's does. This is known as scraping. When you use someone else's content to rank above the original site, it is against Google's rules. This week Google has implemented reporting procedures. If you are successful, the Yelp page with your listing will come up below your page in searches in the future. So go to Google, put in your company name and if any pages come up about your company (yelp or otherwise) above your website that you did not authorize, report them. Here is the official Google report url: http://t.co/WohXQmI45X

here is the solution

Remove any posting made by an account with 0 friends and only 1 review after a specified amount of time. Most of the time you see a review from an account with no picture, no friends, and only that one review it is either an account made by an employee/owner trying to elevate the ratings, or made by someone with a petty grudge against the place. So after 60 days, if that account has no new activity, no friends, no pictures, then remove the account and it will eliminate the harm done by these accounts.

How do we remove the account!

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How do we remove the account!?!? YELP is infuriating. No phone number. No human to speak with. A convenient "no reply" email address. How do fight this cowardly online monstrosity?

"Why" is more impotant

Like any other rating service, I always look at *why* someone didn't like something rather than just the raw rating.

For example, TripAdvisor may have a bad rating for a B&B, but if someone didn't like it because they weren't waited on like at the Four Seasons, I ignore the rating. There's lots of stuff like this. So, if someone doesn't like their generic pizza box, ignore it and look at the other comments.

Yelp is inaccurate by design

Yelp is inaccurate by design and purpose. More people are more likely to post a yelp review for a poor experience than a positive. I highly doubt most people going out with friends and having an enjoyable and satisfying time is going to have the mindset to post a glowing review.

I do

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No I do, I'm very active on Yelp and write a ton of reviews. (so active, sometimes regional admins often message me to say 'keep up the good work'). I've written several glowing reviews for places that didn't have a yelp presence or what was there were not very good review (but I knew otherwise). I do it because I know people DO look at yelp so if I can write a nice review for a place I do like and throw some business their way, then that's great. I've supported a small business..

Same here

In fact, I'm more likely to review places I like that don't have many reviews or have inane ones like the one here. I don't generally write a bad review unless it's repeated service and/or quality issues. I always figure a place can have a bad night and if it's promising enough I'll try again.

One of my favorite spots in the North End had very few entries and was being dragged down by three reviews from people who came in with no reservation on a Friday night and then had to wait for seating. I just. . .really? You're in a major tourist area during a weekend rush time and you expect to waltz in and sit right down? Where are these people from?

There's also no way

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To point out that a review is "unhelpful"...or "idiotic" or "are you f'ing kidding me? What kind if status obsessed moron gives a [email protected]& about a pizza box?" I'm not a restaurant owner but I can hardly stand to go on Yelp. Two thirds of the posts seem to be written by entitled, 22-year-old whiners who write things like "well we stopped by at midnight but it was closed. Didn't seem to have many gluten-free vegan options tho so I am giving it two stars."


You have "helpful" and "funny" buttons under a review, but never an "unhelpful" button. That is badly needed.

I rate those "funny"

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Because I think it's funny that someone got worked up enough about a pizza box or whatever to take the time to log into a site and write a review.

Sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor reviews are helpful, but the key is to focus on what is written, not the stars. Someone doesn't like the pizza box? Well, I guess that's helpful to others who rate pizza on the type of box it comes in. But since I don't care about that, I just ignore those reviews. Same with Tripadvisor. Someone once gave a one-star review to a hotel I was considering because the colors of the comforter didn't match the rest of the room. Since I don't care about hotel room color coordination, I ignored it.

The forums can be pretty helpful too, sometimes more than the reviews.

No, that's completely wrong.

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No, that's completely wrong. Most people tend to overinflate their ratings on Yelp. If you look at the average Yelp rating sitewide, it stands around 4 stars. And we know that should not be.

Apropos of nothing else, no

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Apropos of nothing else, no one will choose to forgo this establishment because of an absurd review like that.

Apparently, their livelihood

Apparently, their livelihood is now very much in question, at least according to Mr. Maguire. I guess they take Yelp reviews pretty seriously in Southie.

You're missing the point.

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Yes--there are some people who drill down and read the reviews but yes--two or three morons who give a place one star because of some idiotic reason do drag down the ratings. I'd be willing to bet that most people just scan the stars and don't do in-depth analysis of the ratings. We once stayed at a terrific B & B in Maine--it had been recommended by friends but I checked the Trip Advisor reviews before we went and was surprised to see them ranked much lower than the other local b & b's? The reason? One disgruntled reviewer who took offense at the enthusiastic political signage on display (let's just say that it was 2008 and this traveler was a fan of neither hope nor change).

Let's think about this

If a restaurant that would normally be a 4 star restaurant has 160 reviews, but three of them are 1 stars while the rest average to 4 stars, then the restaurant would have a ~3.94 star Yelp rating.

So, two or three bad ratings don't really matter much in the end, as far as the overall star rating goes.

Can't blame them

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For what you pay for a pizza there, they should deliver it to you.

So, what's the best value for pizza in Southie?

Serious question. I've been working my way through them -- Southie has like three dozen pizza places in three square miles, especially if you include the bakeries and cafes that also carry pizza. I think Cafe Porto Bello might be my favorite so far.

Depends What You Want

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If you like a decent New York crisp crust, nothing fancy, a good slice can be had at either Liberty Bell, at C and Broadway, or at The Village, corner of L and 3rd. Liberty Bell offers a good roast beef, too; one of the best in the city, in my humble estimation. The Village also serves pretty good subs. Neither is a fancy joint, by any means, but both serve a good standard pie.


Spot On

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Well-written review, and spot on. The first paragraph, about the appearance of the place... Where I said, above, "Neither is a fancy joint", I considered saying, "The Liberty Bell looks like a dump from the outside", but I didn't want to turn you off of it immediately.

Are you doing reviews for anyone else now? I'd like to follow your stuff.



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Hands down. I also like Pizza Pie-er but that is a thing altogether different from pizza. The new Pizzeria 260 was also good (not great), but more of your standard greek/italian hybrid that you seem to get around here, with an olive oil crust that still has some crunch to it, iirc. And then there's Olympia if you really need greek pizza. That one day a year or something.

If you take Yelp "star" ratings at face value

You're doing it wrong. It's really not that hard to read comments, look at dates they were posted and find trends that might raise some flags or make a place more enticing. I get the frustration, but the rant only looks at one side. I've used Yelp quite a bit while traveling and found some great places I may have otherwise overlooked. And businesses have the ability to publicly respond to reviews at any time.

Not just a Yelp problem

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Even though Yelp is one of the worst sources of reviews, it's far from the only one. People take to review sites and review irrelevant factors constantly. Ordered something from an online store and UPS screwed up your shipment? Leave a bad review on the product!

The other day, there was an influx of 1-star reviews on an iPhone app in Apple's App Store because it was given out free as part of an Apple 12 days of christmas kind of promotion, and people didn't like that it was the free app and they would have rather been given something they liked better for free.

Messing with Livlihood

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No matter what any of us think this is true. Could you imagine if you were reviewed by people for your performance? Even if you work in an office, picture someone posting a review about you. Maybe you suck at your job. I know when I was 17 I wasn't all that great.

I am not a server but I worked at a restaurant and some wait staff were truly great but a customer who doesn't know them, catches them on a bad night, can give a heinous review. I'm sure all of us have had bad days but nobody is reviewing us. You can just sit at your desk doing nothing and nobody would know. I know lots of people who pretend they are working which basically is a job in itself and exhausting if you ask me.

My cousins boyfriend, no matter how good a server was, always has something negative to say. Always. He yells at them etc. It's embarrassing. If he got on Yelp no restaurant would get a good review, anywhere. (ps this comment box is awful)