Kevin Arndt, Contributing Writer
Everyone does it. You’re trying to decide where to grab dinner or drinks and you’ve heard about this place that’s supposed to be great, so you grab your phone to look it up on Yelp. “How many stars does it have?” you ask yourself. “What are other people saying about it?” All in all, the reviews are pretty solid, but as you’re scrolling through them, you come across someone who left one star and wrote four scathing paragraphs analyzing every imaginable detail, so you glance over to see who could write such a critique and, sure enough, it’s the bane of every restaurateur’s existence, an elite Yelper.
According to yelp.com, elite Yelpers are “active in the Yelp community and role models on and off the site.” But, if you were to ask anyone who has ever professionally worked in the restaurant business how they feel about this special, entitled group of folks, you’ll likely get a response similar to that of the late Anthony Bourdain “There’s really no worse, or lower human being than an elite Yelper.”
The Yelp model looks great on paper; you patronize a business and rate your experience on a scale of one to five. Seems pretty harmless, everyone appreciates feedback, right? The problem that I and most industry professionals have with Yelpers, is that many of them apparently become Pulitzer Prize-winning food critics as soon as they step foot in the restaurant. From the interaction with the hostess, to the plating of each dish, to how the server addressed their party and every other minute element of their experience in between, the elite Yelper will seemingly spend hours crafting the most elaborate review accompanied by terribly lit, potato-quality photographs…all for what? Notoriety? Internet points? Did you even try to enjoy your meal and the time you were supposed to be spending with your guests or were you too busy documenting every bite you took?
Most Yelpers have good intentions and the reviews they write can provide valuable insight when done diplomatically, but even a single negative review can really take a toll on the business. Folks who use Yelp for its intended purpose might have certain expectations about a restaurant based on outdated menu items or employees who no longer work there because of an old review they read before coming in, which will ultimately affect their experience. And before writing a review or judging a place based on what someone else has to say about it, remember that taste and experience are subjective. Just because you didn’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t good, and just because you didn’t have a good time doesn’t mean the staff wasn’t trying to accommodate you.
As a restaurant industry veteran who has worked in every front of house role, I can speak for most chefs and restaurateurs when I express such disdain for the elite Yelper. Opening and operating a restaurant is one of the most stressful, high-risk business ventures one can possibly imagine. So much time, money, research, development and attention to detail go into running a restaurant and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be running a profitable business in five years. So when a nasty one-star review comes in from someone who has absolutely no idea how restaurants work or how much love and dedication go into every single ingredient, you can understand how we feel like someone has just insulted a family member. We do our best to please everyone and make sure everyone has a great experience, so before you leave that one-star review, think about the impact it could have on a business, especially the small ones.