Why Every Restaurant Hates Yelp!

Seriously. Every chef, cook, server, manager and bartender hates the popular customer review platform Yelp!, and the majority of the people who contribute to it. Not because we don’t like it when someone points out a bad experience they had at our place of business — although, this would be totally fair: I mean, would you like it if, when someone didn’t like how you just did your job, went straight to a public social media forum and rated you with a 1-star rating, writing two paragraphs about how much you suck at your job for all the internet to see? Listen, those of us in the service industry are all critical enough of ourselves and our peers, and we can take berating criticism better than most. Once you work in restaurants long enough, you stop feeling feelings anyway!

Actually, the reason we hate amateur critics because that’s what they are: amateurs.

Back when I was aiming to become a professional writer — before I’d even considered a career in the kitchen — people used to suggest I start a blog. Keep in mind that this was before 2010, and blogs were seldom more than online diaries that people were okay with publicizing. So my philosophy went as follows: If someone’s writing is good enough to read, then someone else will pay them to do it. This is clearly not my current opinion on the issue, nor should it be, as the essence of blogging has changed dramatically over the past decade. But the sentiment remains steadfast when applied to restaurant critics.

Let’s face it:

If you’re qualified enough to cast judgement on a foodservice establishment, then someone will ask for your opinion and/or pay you to give it.

First and foremost, I hate that the main review tool is the star rating, because it’s one, very generalized statement. I feel very strongly that there should be separate ratings for the food, the service, and the value of a restaurant. As a chef, I’ve always hated the idea that a restaurant review is interpreted as a review on the food. The food is but one (albeit significant) part of a restaurant experience. But I’ve dined at some great restaurants, where the food was just okay, and likewise, had some phenomenal food at very average restaurants. If I made the best goddamned meal in the world, and your server slapped you across your face before you got to taste it, you’d probably get up, leave, and post a 1-star review. But I digress…

Most people have no frame of reference, perspective, or context for each of the other aspects of a meal had at a restaurant when they critique their own personal dining experience. Sadly, an all too frequent shitty Yelp! review will read something like this:

“My friend and I went to this new place in a hip part of the city, that was getting all this great press. It was 7:30 on a Saturday night, and I was unhappy that when I arrived, I was told it would probably be a 45 minute wait! They sat us in 30 minutes, but still! We were left to nurse waters and bread (no butter!) for ten minutes before our server came over to get our drink orders, by which point, we were ready to order food, and did. Cocktails took forEVVVVER to arrive — almost ten minutes! But that was a fraction of the time it took for the food to arrive. Seriously, I don’t know what it is about a medium well filet mignon, or a bone-in double veal chop that takes 40 minutes — but it did! No dessert — it was almost 10:00 by the time we finished dinner — but I couldn’t believe how expensive the bill was! Barely tipped the waiter anything. Probably won’t go back. 1-Star!”

Let me help offer some perspective on all the things about this (mock) Yelp! review that suck:

  1. You went to a popular new restaurant at peak dining hours on a Saturday night without a reservation. Of course you had to wait for everything — it’s their busiest time! (Newsflash: as a diner it’s up to you to be aware of the time and day of the week when you start your night out.)
  2. Be aware of what you’re ordering. Yes, to an extent, it’s the server’s responsibility to notify you of a particularly long cook-time, but they are human, and if it’s busy they might forget (hot tip: there’s also a good chance such a warning has been written somewhere on the menu, so pay attention to asterisks or fine print). Diner’s be warned: if you order a piece of meat that is particularly thick or cooked more than medium, or a specialty cocktail, it will take a good deal longer to prepare. Your server will assume you know this, because it should be common sense!
  3. You, diner, should be aware of the price of things before you actually order them. The bill should never be a surprise, unless something was added to it that wasn’t ordered yet received at the table. It’s not the restaurant’s fault that you don’t know the little numbers next to the menu items are price tags, and that there are usually things called state sales tax, and liquor tax that will increase the cost of your final tab. Also, if you can’t afford to tip at least 18% on a meal, then you can’t afford the meal, which brings me to…
  4. None of the things that bothered you were the server’s fault. As much as I’m sworn to hate servers, being a cook, don’t punish them with a bad tip for things they can’t control — that just doesn’t make sense and isn’t fair at all. While sometimes, portions of the tip you give the server will go to the bussers, bartenders, food-runners, kitchen staff, or any/all of them, in most cases the kitchen never sees any part of your tip. You can ask the server if they pool tips, and who gets tipped out, but do your best to ask this towards the beginning of your meal. If you didn’t like the food or how long it took, feel free to let the manager know, but understand (even if they assume the blame for it), it probably wasn’t your server’s fault.

I also understand that the opposite scenario happens: rave reviews are written about very mediocre places, by basic people. That sucks too, but those bogus reviews aren’t as harmful to quality businesses, so we’re gonna leave that scenario alone for now.

At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “Didn’t this guy say earlier that service industry people have thick skin? Why is he getting so bent out of shape about a stupid Yelp! review?” Yup. This guy sure did say that. But, to be clear: we’re not offended by the reviews. Nope! We’re just pissed about the negative economic effects they can have that personally affect us.

Regardless of how much we dislike Yelp!, lots of people use it to help them form their opinions about places they’ve never been, and decide where they’re going to spend their money. Hell, as much as I don’t like to admit it, I too use Yelp! as a barometer. But before I make a snap judgement based on the amount of stars, I will actually read the reviews to see what issues people have had. If a place gets great comments about everything except one dish, high wine mark-ups, or poor acoustics in the dining room, then by my account that’s still a great place to go. I realize though, that most people aren’t this thorough — or woke!

It’s my hope that reviewers everywhere could understand that a lot of hard work and sacrifice from a lot of people is required for every restaurant in the world to open, and required in order to stay open. Admittedly, there are those who, despite how hard they work, don’t operate very good restaurants, and those restaurants ultimately fail. But there are several places where the hard work of the people behind a restaurant pays off, in the form of a fantastic establishment. But just like the tree that falls in the woods with no one to hear it, is a great restaurant still a great restaurant if nobody ever goes to it? With undeserved bad customer reviews, fewer people will be inclined to experience great new restaurants for themselves.

In the end, even the stupid reviews get counted and a star is a star on Yelp!. A negative review is cheap, dirty and low when it’s from an uninformed, entitled asshole who has been empowered by Yelp!. In casting their (undeserved) judgement on a place of business that’s probably trying to do its utmost best, they are (potentially negatively) impacting that restaurant’s ability to get people in the door, and hampering their ability to succeed as a business.

Don’t get me wrong, businesses that don’t hold up their end of the bargain largely deserve this. But reviews from presumptive critics who feel they should be treated as a celebrity reviewer by being seated at the best table and waited on hand and foot, are baseless at best. At worst, they’re harmful because any restaurant that is super busy on a weeknight should be interviewed about what they’re doing right.

So, patrons, please do your part to keep the world of restaurant reviews pure: shut up, put down your stars, and leave it to the professionals.

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