Thursday, December 17, 2015

Why Yelp?

Yelp is very popular, and for good reason. It's a convenient and comprehensive website of businesses and their hours/location/etc, and especially used for reading and leaving reviews by patrons.

Restaurant reviews are really Yelp's bread and butter, but ever since Yelp's existence restaurateurs and patrons alike have been battling it out.

It's human nature to not like criticism, especially nonconstructive. Some restaurateurs recently have taken to anonymous articles to announce their distaste for "Yelpers" and their unhelpful and irrelevant reviews. While I believe the restaurateur's opinion certainly has some merit, I also believe that Yelp is actually very helpful. Yelp is really just a tool, and like any tool, it can be misused and well wielded. The fact that anyone can leave a review means that you are almost guaranteed to get a bell curved shape of reviews ranging from unhelpful and irrelevant to insightful and accurate. I posit that it's the wisdom of the crowd and the law of large numbers that bring sanity to the insanity of open public criticism and to the outliers of undue criticism as well as undue praise.

It make sense that restaurateurs don't appreciate Yelp, because they are more likely to take criticism personally, after all it is they who are on the judge's table. They are also more likely to ignore or forget the praise and middle of the road reviews too because they don't hurt. It's similar to the saying, "You don't know what you're missing, until it's gone." The good becomes everyday but the hurt sticks around.

On the flip side, the general public is not on the chopping block. We are not the ones being criticized and are therefore not as vulnerable to taking it personally. As a Yelp user myself, I read a lot of reviews (15 or more) before deciding on where to go for the first time. I look up their website and read what their backstory. I go to Yelp read the critical reviews, the suspiciously high praise reviews, and a lot of the regular reviews. I read a lot of regular reviews, because that's what there is most of. I read them by default, not because I am looking for them. When I come across a review that is irrational, either one of those "BEST FOOD EVARR" reviews or "WORST FOOD EVARR" reviews, I ignore them. They scream: "I'VE NEVARR BEEN TO A RESTAURANT BEFARR" childishness and yes there are more of those than I'd like to admit. Yet, the general truth about a place and their essence can be formed by reading enough reviews. Yes there are exceptions - like when there just aren't enough reviews about a place yet and therefore do not qualify for the law of large numbers. Or when the wisdom of the crowd is dependent on a crowd of people in a particular city that just isn't wise about that type of restaurant (a bad example: a Filipino restaurant in Idaho). However, by and large, Yelp is useful and it's not hard to cut through the noise. How many times have you asked, "Hmm what's around here?" - opened Yelp and found a place?

To want Yelp to go away is to want our opinions to go away. There are plenty of websites that can replace Yelp, so it's not "Yelp" specifically, it's our opinions. Everyone has their own expectations of a restaurant, and articles like this help the average person learn more accurately what to expect when dining out. I think the diversity of thought allows each person offer their own take on their experience, whether reasonable or not. This is where the wisdom of the crowd works. Your own expectations and reactions allow you to determine whether someone else's expectations/reactions in their review match your own or not. A good example is: when your food comes out differently than you expect, how do you react? Do you try it out first? Do you immediately say something about it? Do you suffer through the meal, leave without a tip and leave a nasty review instead? Many people react differently, and likewise restaurants will have various reactions to your actions. There a lot of reasonable actions on both sides, and fewer actions that are not normal or reasonable. There are many restaurant etiquette guides out there, and of course a lot of what is reasonable is circumstantial and subjective.

Reasonably, most restaurants want you please you, after all, they're in the business of hospitality. They want you to tell them (the waiter or manager) when something displeases you, so they can fix it. Since most things are very fixable, it's not a big deal when something goes wrong, so we shouldn't act like it, we should just have them fix it. Everyone makes mistakes, even the most expensive of restaurants. When mistakes build up and are not addressed after being brought up, fair and constructive criticism can be made. Even when they are addressed, fair and constructive criticism can be made. Reviews should be accurate and void of wild emotions. A restaurant that is normally perfect every night, and then has a mishap with one customer, should still receive a review reflecting that experience. Oh no! Now the perfect restaurant is tarnished! Not exactly. One negative review among hundreds is just not going to make a meaningful difference. However I want to emphasize, that review has its place and should be there. It accurately shows that that restaurant isn't perfect. If it wasn't there it could actually look very suspicious and/or artificially hype a place too high.

We the users of Yelp aren't going to take a few bad reviews with much weight if the overwhelming majority of reviews are positive. So while yes, there is a lot of noise with unhelpful reviews, we generally know how to turn on our noise-cancelling reading goggles and read between it. While your hatred for Yelp and those Yelpers is somewhat valid and certainly understandable; don't fret over the outliers because that's exactly what they are: statistically irrelevant.