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News Mon Mar 09 2009

Is Yelp Distorting Ratings for Favors?

The Trib reports that Yelp.com, the opinions website that gives everyday folks a chance to applaud or criticize thousands of businesses, has been conducting some unfavorable business of its own. Yelp staffers reportedly approached owners of local businesses (e.g. Ina Pinkey of Ina's and Patty Rothman of More Cupcakes) to ask for sponsorship of Yelp events in exchange for guaranteed higher ratings for their business's entry. Graham Elliot Bowles says he had his Yelp account suspended after personally contacting reviewers whose entries about his restaurants seemed questionable, and several other business owners claim that Yelp removed positive entries after they passed on offers to advertise on the Yelp website.

This doesn't seem shocking. What comes to mind is a restaurant whose review skyrocketed after a free party held exclusively for Yelp "Chicago Elite" members a couple years ago. While the food is perfectly edible, the place will never be a culinary standout in the city. Here's a review from the night of the Yelp party: "Every bite was a mouthful of satisfaction." Now compare that to a line from their most recent review, written a few weeks ago: "It is always dead too so at least you know you'll get a seat."

Yelp, after all, is a business. Their Myths section addresses the problems cited in the Trib article and claims innocence in managing their site and customers, but I doubt that Rothman, Pinkney and Bowles are voicing their gripes merely for publicity. What do we do as customers? Continue to use it, but like any opinion, take it as another piece of information floating out there for us to use or discard.

 
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Audarshia / March 9, 2009 11:46 PM

I don't remember the name of the San Fran paper (the company's based there), but they blew this story wide open about last year this time in their region, then Eater San Fran jumped on it. I am surprised that it took this long for local restaurateurs and media to figure out Yelp was a sham. I don't even look at it anymore.

Andrew / March 10, 2009 1:00 AM

@Audarshia: It was the East Bay Express.

We've actually been hearing rumors about this story locally for months, but nothing on the record. Didn't feel right publishing it.

Steven P / March 10, 2009 12:05 PM

Why would a business with good ratings bother to pay? They get the yelp page for free. Unless mysterious bad reveiws start appearing.

When you did into the reality of yelp, you'll see it really has little to do with helping the consumer and does more harm to small businesses. It's not a fair forum for grips, more like a free-for-all for bad mannered and immature people.

jeremy / March 11, 2009 3:10 AM

Yelp reviews cannot be trusted, and neither can Jeremy Stoppelman. Search for Yelp on Google News to see story after story recently detailing the facts in California, Chicago and New York. Check the comments sections in these articles for even more stories of reputations of people and small businesses damaged by misinformation spread by Jeremy Stoppleman and Yelp. Stoppelman gallingly claims to be doing a favor for small businesses while he tries to squeeze personal profits out of a machine that damages them. Most recently he can be found on his blog crying that his poor unprofitable 31 million dollar venture capital company (fueled by ANONYMOUS user’s baseless attacks on small companies) is being criticized by "anonymous" small business owners. Real people who work hard to make their businesses survive, in spite of damage done by Yelp in it’s quest for massive profit.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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