Yelp-ing: How and for Whom?

I have a couple friends who are pretty excited about Yelp. They are regular contributors. One has even achieved the exceptional – elite status. And not just once. She’s a three-time champ.

Having watched from the sidelines for quite some time now, and using it regularly to make more informed dining-oriented decisions, I’ve started to feel like the right thing to do is to give back.

And given my foray into the restaurant business, I’m also quite interested in how it feels on both sides. While I’ve been in the seat of a diner more than my fair share of times, lately I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to be behind the counter as someone who aims to serve.

I had a great conversation today with two gentlemen about how they use and think about Yelp. The question I thought to be most interesting – what do the stars mean?

Since there are various things that go into a review and much of it comes down to expectations:

Is it 5-stars for what it is or 5-stars compared to everyone else?

One of my conversation partners says for him it comes back to this one basic question. If somebody was to ask him, where should I go to eat in New Haven?

His answer would look a bit like this:

Answer = Food Quality + Experience + Service + Price

My other conversation partner then wondered back to the question of the number of stars “for what it is.” Let’s say that we’re eating at the only buffet in New Haven – no matter what type of food – does that change the numbers of stars you assign?

Are we comparing apples with apples or apples with oranges?

Now, I’ve had a bit of experience with the whole social media rating game having worked at The Linden Centre, a boutique hotel in rural China (Yunnan Province, Dali Prefecture), where hospitality meets a richer educational and/or immersion experience.

TripAdvisor was always on the owners minds, and rightfully so, so many people use it to inform their final decisions about where they will stay. Anything less than a 5-star review on some levels felt unacceptable.

But after a conversation with one of our guests one afternoon, my perspective changed.

Instead of reading the positive reviews, he actually likes to read the negative reviews first. For a place like The Linden Centre, and most places he would choose to stay, these reviews are few and far between.

The advantage to reading the negative reviews is that he can very quickly figure out how much he is or is not like the people writing. And whether the things they care about are the things he cares about.

Rather than reading all the good stuff, the “bad” stuff he finds to often be more useful and more telling. Of course the good stuff helps for some recommendations on how to spend his time. Or point him in the directions of things not to miss.

But the bad stuff could be the clincher, in a very good way, whether or not he thinks the hotel is a good fit for him and his lady.

In slightly more direct words, he told me, the negative reviews helps him decide if the people writing them are crazy. And, if so, he definitely wants to do the opposite of whatever their review says.

I thought back to that moment today because of this article we talked about at lunch.

It’s interesting what expectations we bring to the table when it comes to dining – and reviewing. And how some of us feel we have the liberty to comment on things – and desire to influence the decisions of others – without balancing the facts.

In the unhappy review highlighted in this article, the writer(s) expressed their displeasure that stemmed from a service that the restaurant did not offer. After following through on their promise to write a scathing review, someone from the restaurant wrote a direct and thoughtfully tongue and cheek reply.

But let’s zoom out for a moment.

While we may make many balanced and level-headed decisions on a regular basis, what sometimes makes us so resolute about our opinions, especially in those times when our opinion has not taken into account all the facts?

Why do we sometimes project ourselves – and our biases – into our on-line and off-line conversations with others? Do we realize it when we do this? Do we realize it when others are doing this to us?

These reviewers were so hell-bent on getting their food, they forgot to take into account that deliver is just not an option.

But, of course, they’re right. Aren’t they?

What has you feeling so resolute these days that you’re not willing to take other important facts into consideration during your next conversation about it?

When do you want to believe something so strongly that we’re willing to overlook the facts?

How does that influence our review(s)? And how does that affect others involved in that and future moments?

So, when we’re making comparisons, are we comparing apples with apples or apples with oranges?

And when we’re assigning ratings – is it 5-stars for what it is or 5-stars compared to everyone else?

Is it 5-stars for them or is it 5-stars for you?


First thing’s first – the focus of the post written by Andy Isaac is a restaurant called Voltaire and I would absolutely love to go to Kansas City to eat there.

My conversation partners are working on a couple cool businesses these days.

The first, IQzic, a new music platform that just might provide a fun way for you to find your next favorite artist(s). Interested in getting in on the ground floor? Consider supporting their Indiegogo campaign and/or signing up for the beta launch.

The second, Chairigami. Think the furniture you need, that’s durable, but also easy to move, because it’s made of cardboard. Myself, I’m thinking about going for a standing desk, but you should see what might fit your life and your space here.

And by the way, you may have been wondering where we ate today – Sitar, Indian spot, buffet lunch. Hence the hypothetical “only buffet in New Haven” question.

As far as my review, I haven’t written my first one yet, though I’ve pretty much decided what I’ll give them. 3-stars. Food was fine. Service was good. Nothing to write home about. But the company was exceptional.

Though I wonder how I’ll feel while thinking more about the meal when I write my review. And how I’ll feel next week. I only had a few items today. But with an afternoon of work ahead of me, and since I’m planning on being a regular, I was pacing myself.


2 thoughts on “Yelp-ing: How and for Whom?

  1. I use Tripadvisor in exactly the same way, MCK, as the guest you talked to. If I see that the negative reviews are about things I don’t care about (like how many channels did the TV have) then I am confident that this negative review, in my opinion , does not count. About the star ratings – I have no idea. Does Yelp give you the opportunity to elaborate? Like, give 5 stars because the place is close to where you live, the staff knows you and treats you like an old friend, etc?
    These things are important to me but they would not apply to someone who lives far away and is not a regular.

    • Sibylla, Yelp does give you the opportunity to elaborate.

      And I think you speak to a larger point I’m thinking quite a bit about. That we often give advice on Yelp – or in life – based more on ourselves than others. Few of us work towards achieving balancing when communicating.

      What’s important to you, may not be important to me. But when you’ve read what you’ve read, or heard what you’ve heard, it’s hard to go back to the blank slate. You can’t help, but be affected. Particularly if the person giving the advice is someone whose opinions you trust

      Perhaps that’s why I never read movie reviews. There’s a good chance I’ll find something in the story I enjoyed. And even if it’s “2-stars,” it doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy it.

      But as I learn more as a fuller participant in the Yelp community, I’ll be interested to see how my views evolve.

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