There was a time when someone would have a bad experience in your restaurant and they would tell 10 of their closest friends, who would then tell 10 of their closest friends, and on and on until your business slowly gained a less than stellar reputation. In the age of social media, however, we have access to our 874 closest acquaintances at the click of a button on twitter, facebook…. or Yelp!.
Yelping is curious to me. It actually isn’t anything new; since the dawn of restaurant culture in 18th century Paris, diners have been sharing their experiences with friends. Regardless of where one grew up, or what level of education one has achieved, anyone can have an opinion about food. But Yelping in its current form is different in that we are not sharing with just our friends and family; when we Yelp, we share our opinions with untold thousands of strangers. Is this an illustration of how distant we have become from one another that we no longer have “10 of our closest friends” who can stand to listen to us blather on about the trivial mishaps that we encounter on a night out?
Anyone can have a Yelp account. Disgruntled former employees, rival business owners, the chef’s mother…. and on that account, one can say whatever one chooses. It’s America, after all.
With this awesome power, though, should be some attempt at honesty, and perhaps a dash of self-restraint. Below are a few guidelines that I use in the writing of my own Yelp reviews, and would suggest to anyone as a “Best Practices” guide.
#1: If you accept freebies as an apology, you have forfeited your right of Yelp! review. Or, if you write the review, you must mention that the restaurant made every attempt to correct the mistake.
On Yelp, it’s unsettling to read things like:
“the chicken was underwhelming and I sent it back. We won’t be back“
when what it should say is:
“the chicken was underwhelming and I sent it back, the manager took it off the check and sent dessert, but we won’t be back.”
Obviously, the manager or owner is offering these things as an apology; as an attempt to keep your night running smoothly. If a guest accepts these peace offerings, it’s a sort of verbal agreement that the issue is now settled.
At several restaurants where I have worked, we have a business Yelp account, and can actually directly message the reviewers. It’s definitely awkward when we remember this person who is slamming us, and recall the specific steps we took to rectify the problems at their tables only to see no mention of them in the subsequent review. End result, we look like complete jerk-faces.
#2: For every poopy review you write, try to write a great one for a place that gave you great service, never disappoints you, or is your go-to neighborhood spot. Even out the karma.
Most people only take the time to write a review when they have had a bad experience. While that’s fair, I try to end every Yelp review session on a positive note by writing a quick love note to a dependable spot that I adore.
Most restaurants are small businesses. Everyone has an off night, and most places do whatever they can to make up for any mistakes that occur. It’s not rocket science, we’re not saving lives. It’s an incredibly transparent business.
#3: If your food and service was truly terrible, and unacknowledged, by all means go to town. But don’t get so carried away with your imagery that you slam the place more harshly than is necessary.
From actual Yelp! reviews of establishments in LA:
“Pardon me for my economically challenged palate. I thought the Kobe Schezuan Beef was a little too rich for my blood. (get it… economically challenged… rich.. hehe:”
“As I was sitting there pondering what literary device would best convey my feelings about my second visit to XXXXX, the closest analogy I could provide was to compare the experience to what I would imagine what a bad second date would be like after one had already experienced a mediocre first date.”
That is a terrible analogy. It’s not even an analogy, really.
Not everyone can be Kyle J. Just tell us about your experience, and save the eloquence for those with a gift.
#4 Have reasonable expectations.
“After asking for another table, our party waited nearly 10 minutes before being greeted by our server, who also made very few trips to our table throughout the course of dinner.”
This was probably because the table you asked for was not in a station that was staffed. There was a reason the host didn’t seat you at this table in the first place, probably because she realized that the service would be slower there.
“Food was ok, fried provolone seemed a little under-inspired. The pizza crust however was super booooring.”
Fried Cheese and Pizza are usually not intended to be life-changing. I don’t imagine the chef was trying to knock anybody’s socks off with these offerings. He was probably thinking “these go great with beer and game!” Which is true; they do.
“My endive salad was unremarkable”
Aren’t most endive salads unremarkable? I don’t think I’ve ever had an endive salad that blew my mind. (Although if anyone has had one in LA, please share…)
“the biggest disappointment is the store-bought catsup for the fries. Surely someone in the kitchen knows how to make catsup.”
In this case, it is probably not that the kitchen lacks the knowledge to make ketchup, but that the cost of the ingredients and the labor to make ketchup are prohibitive. For every guest that loves home-made ketchup, you will find 2 people that are adamant about the superiority of the Heinz 57th variety.
“Pork Belly sliders: After all the rave reviews, I was pumped to try these. Um… I think they forgot the pork. Try fat fatty sliders because that is all I could taste.”
Pork belly is fat. It’s pretty much a big old slab of fat, fatty bacon. 92% of the calories in Pork Belly come from fat. It’s one of the fattiest things you can eat. (yum)
From behind the kitchen door, I an can assure you that when we see patterns in these reviews (a particular server pops up for consistently poor service, a new dish is roundly panned by several guests), changes are made. Staff is re-trained or let go, dishes are changed or disappear forever.
Regardless of what some diners might feel, restaurateurs are not trying to hood-wink you; we genuinely want to please our guests and provide you with enjoyable experiences. Most of us got into this business because we love food and –god help us– we like people. But reading the Yelp page for any restaurant is enough sometimes to ruin even my best mood and send me on a punching spree through the dining room.