The Curious Case of the Missing Yelp Reviews

yelp angry logoWalla Walla found its tourism groove when the rolling hills that once were covered in wheat fields gave way to grape growers, and rows of vines, carefully structured, took over the topography. Sitting on enormous paychecks, the Seattlites who worked at Yahoo! and Amazon and Microsoft discovered that it was a pretty drive through the Cascades or a quick flight to the tiny airport, and they could boast of their own wine club memberships, since Napa and Sonoma were booked full.

It was only a matter of time then, for a hospitality industry to respond to the need to serve the west-side tourist while they spent copious amounts of money in our little town. One of the fastest growing businesses in Walla Walla was the independent restaurant. In fact, there are no mid-range chain restaurants within the city limits; right next store in College Place is an Applebee’s, and that’s notable for its singularity of presence.

When the bottom fell out of the economy, many of the fine dining establishments closed up. Even the Microsoft executives were feeling the pinch. But time passed, and people started carving out new opportunities for themselves in the city’s downtown. A public house, a beer tavern, gourmet pizza, $9 sandwiches that boast of their hand-craftedness. In the space of one month two breakfast eateries opened up, and excited as we were, Susanne and I tried them both out to see if they would likely stick around or make it onto our dining circuit.

The Maple Counter opened first, in an old car repair shop on Alder Street. Yes, there is great food to be had there, but the environment inside is a bit overdone, more a fabrication of what tourists think Walla Walla should be, rather than what it is. Prices were geared for tourists with thick wallets, with a plate of pancakes running more than $13. It’s a nice place to get good homemade fixings, but it’s not a restaurant where the average townsperson can eat on a frequent basis.

Bacon & Eggs opened soon thereafter. Featuring Stumptown Coffee, a Portland extract, is a little bit of a thumbed nose to the Walla Walla Roastery that sits next to the airport, but I’ll give them a pass because I do like a good cup of Stumptown. Susanne, my good friend Michael, and the Wee One joined me in a breakfast during their first week of operation. Every single thing we ate there was not just good but amazing, except for some mushy challah bread French toast. We planned on telling friends to eat there, and I thought I’d leave it at that (as well as becoming something of a regular there).

I was surprised then to learn from a friend that Bacon & Eggs was getting trashed on Yelp, the restaurant and business rating Web site. Because I’m never more than six inches away from the Internet, I looked it up. An average of two stars? Why?

I read through the reviews:

Stay away from the bloody Mary. Pretty sure they put taco seasoning in it. Nasty. Food is good, lots of hipsters. LOTS.

This one gave a three-star review because the breakfast was under-seasoned—”I had the biscuits and gravy. There biscuits are great but they didn’t give me enough gravy and the gravy was way under seasoned ( a little bit of salt and pepper would go a long way.)” All the way to 5-stars? Huh?

And this condemnation, which makes me wonder if he wasn’t dumpster-diving in the back alley:

Just tried that new ‘Bacon & Eggs’ place downtown. If you refer to yourself in such a lofty title, DO NOT serve me bacon that powders to the touch from being burnt. Make sure the eggs aren’t some bland lifeless chunk of yellow. If you choose to serve me fruit with my meal, keep the mixture of rotting and freezer burnt desicated seed rejects behind your kitchen doors. Please make sure that my ice water has ice in it. Is it really so hard to see that my hash browns are still in a state of liquification that would be better suited to a decaying corpse? Ketchup is not considered a gift, do not serve my breakfast with a dollop of disappointment and hopelessness. In short, I’d like to summarize our visit in these simple words: ‘High-priced garbage, served lovingly on a plate’.

Curious. Sure, some places have a hard time in their first few weeks of service, but none of the actual people I know who went there said anything remotely like these reviews described.

I’m not a big Yelp user, but I noticed a little link that said, “filtered.” Apparently this means that the Yelp site owners are concerned as to the validity of the review—in other words, they’re on the lookout against the business owners writing their own glowing reviews. I suppose that is a risk in the let-anyone-write-a-review industry. But I noticed something odd: they were almost all 5-star reviews stuck behind the filter.

Eleven reviews that Yelp buried, leaving mostly negative and so-so reviews on the main page. That seemed suspicious to me.

Susanne wrote a nice review, and I did too, each of us sitting at our laptops in the Patisserie. I read mine aloud to two other people and asked if I missed anything, and then clicked submit. Power to the people, right? Now I could at least add my voice to the group.

Yesterday, I got an email from Yelp, to a no-reply address:

I’m writing to let you know about our decision to close your user account. Your account was flagged by the Yelp community, and our Support team has determined that you have violated Yelp’s Terms of Service (http://www.yelp.com/static?p=tos) by creating multiple accounts.

I think that because Susanne and I wrote about the same restaurant and posted 5-star reviews within minutes of each other, that we were both flagged. But there’s no investigation beyond what some Yelp manager—in this case, a woman named Miranda—determines as a likely invalid review. The Yelp hand of God reached down and obliterated my entire account without hesitation. I was a Yelp voice no more.

Now we were pissed. The mean reviewers were winning! All of the work the owners had put into their new place and childish, awful things were being said about their product and I couldn’t do anything about it?

Wait a minute, I thought moments before I gave myself a head slap. I have this blog. Thousands of people read this blog. And my Facebook, and Twitter feeds.

So let me say: I am sticking to Zagat’s and the advice that comes out of the mouths of my friends and acquaintances. More than that, there is reason to believe that Yelp is involved in actual extortion of businesses by how they manage the reviews on their site, even as one class action lawsuit was dismissed last year. Yelp is aiming to open an IPO this year, by the way. An IPO based on a business model of what, exactly?

 

About these ads

Tags: , , , , ,

Categories: Food & Dining, Pop Culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

26 Comments on “The Curious Case of the Missing Yelp Reviews”

  1. laeltaylorLael
    January 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    So disheartening. Yelp has helped me out several times in locating great food eateries, especially when I’ve been out of town. I usually weigh the star review against what’s written, since certain things that bother some people don’t bother me. But how can Yelp expect to stay legit with such heavy-handedness???

    • evmaroon
      January 20, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

      My question exactly, Lael!

  2. Barbara
    January 20, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    Yikes! I like the “meanie yelp” image.

    • evmaroon
      January 20, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

      Here here, I do, too.

  3. Dana
    January 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    Oh, so you were both logged into the same IP address at the Patisserie, which is what got you flagged. Yelp just assumed you were one person creating multiple accounts. Nice. That’s shows a huge disconnect with regard to how people are using, and socializing by way of, computers these days. You’d think Yelp would be less out of touch in this area, given the nature of their business.

    As much as I love social sites, the metrics some of them use to determine which activity is legitimate and which is illegitimate can be wildly off base. And once an account is disabled, it’s cumbersome, if not impossible, to get that account back.

    I hope you have some recourse, in addition to your blog, with regard to what they did to your account and your reviews. Small businesses, and those who support them, should not suffer because these companies are both ill-equipped to properly evaluate legitimate activity and unwilling to correct their mistakes when they make them.

    • evmaroon
      January 20, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

      Good points, Dana. I wasn’t a Yelp user to begin with so I don’t feel much loss at getting deleted, except that the spectrum of reviews is so broad and potentially hurtful to a business. There seems to me to be way too much latitude in corrupting the system they’ve created. At least give users the ability to give a thumbs down or up on the reviews posted. There are sounder ways to evaluate products and services and still allow for the usefulness of technology.

  4. January 22, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    This is horrible. Thank you for bringing light to this subject. Just emailed and posted on Facebook.

    • evmaroon
      January 22, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

      Thanks for sharing! Horrible is a good way to describe the situation.

  5. January 22, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    That is really disappointing. Walla Walla is such a friendly place; it’s disheartening to see such meanness messing with a local business.

    • evmaroon
      January 22, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

      And right as they open, no less! At least let them establish themselves before manipulating the reviewer feedback.

  6. January 22, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    This is a really interesting topic for me. Being a small restaraunt owner and all. I think Yelp, and Urbanspoon, and all the other reviewing sites are a huge help to new establishments. Good food, good service, and some good online press and a place can get up to speed, and hopefully profitable much quicker today than many years ago. Are some reviews unfair, yes, are some too glowing, absolutely.

    Any regular reader of online reviews can read the “crazy” in the super negative Bacon and Eggs reviews. One bad review doesn’t kill a place, just like one good one won’t make it. Yelp’s filtering system adjusts with a restaurant over time. We have reviews that are ‘filtered’ and then become ‘unfiltered’ after a reviewer reviews more places. Yelp is very suspicious of first time reviews of newly opened restaurants.

    It is pretty cool to see guests come to BandE’s defense. The reviews were not fair and definitely not constructive. My guess is the onslaught of good reviews following the bad ones tripped the Yelp filters. In time they will be “unfiltered” by yelp as more good reviews come in, and the reviewers review more restaurants.

    As for Zagat, the reviews on places are done every two years, by a tiny group of diners. Hardly an up to date method of reviewing an industry where change is constant. I have much more faith in Yelp, Urbanspoon, et al, and reading the reviewers who sound like me than Zagat.

    A good topic Everett. Cheers.

    • evmaroon
      January 22, 2012 at 6:58 pm #

      I’d feel better as a consumer if yelp backed off of the filtering and such for a new business’s first couple of months or so. The stake is too high for letting extremely negative reviews stand while hiding positive ones, than if they did the reverse. Meanwhile, I’d love to write more reviews for yelp but they deleted my account. Their business model is way too corruptible, though I take your point about zagat’s process. That’s not a great way to structure reviews either.

  7. Kimchee
    January 22, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

    intriguing thought.
    I have used YELP a few times but had no idea that it was quite this monitered. As a Walla Walla homey myself; this makes me want to YELP all Walla Walla restaurants and write accurate accounts. thanks for the informaition.

    • evmaroon
      January 22, 2012 at 8:52 pm #

      Let’s start a movement to write accurate reviews for Walla Walla businesses and talk to each other about which businesses have earned our dollars!

  8. Kramer
    January 24, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    I think the point about Zagat is valid (and you should have heard the outcry here [SF Bay area] when Michelin got things blatantly wrong in their most recent edition) which is why I tend to go for reviews out of my local paper. They tend to keep on top of things, and even if my tastes don’t totally coincide, since I read them all the time I tend to know how we differ. Now, I don’t know is W2 has a Michael Bauer equivalent… Here’s an idea: Everett, in all your free time I think you should start a restaurant column!

    • evmaroon
      January 24, 2012 at 10:47 am #

      How do you feel about Urban Spoon, Kramer?

  9. Kramer
    January 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    Never used Urban Spoon. I’m not so into user generated reviews in general (kind of like I’m not into “Any old asshole” interviews), so I tried Yelp, and immediately turned around and invested some time getting to know Michael Bauer (and Mick LaSalle and Tim Goodman) and have tried to stay away from user generated reviews since. But then, I’m a more than a little bit of a Tory at heart.

  10. rossnik
    February 3, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    Evmaroon,

    I read your article because my five star review was flagged on yelp too, but I was quickly put off by your negativity.

    In your article you shame people for bashing Bacon and Eggs saying: “All of the work the owners had put into their new place and childish, awful things were being said about their product and I couldn’t do anything about it?” Does this quote you wrote not also pertain to the other new business owned by another nice young couple?
    I am disappointed that within the same article you bash The Maple Counter Cafe, another locally owned business that has just opened and is also trying their hardest to make it while complaining about others who are only doing exactly what you did here.
    I try to make it a habit to leave more positive feedback than negative.

    It’s nice to be nice.

    • evmaroon
      February 3, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

      Well, I disagree that I bashed the Maple Counter. I think their food is great, though their prices are a bit out of reach for me to go there on a regular basis. There’s not a thing in my comments about that restaurant that comes anywhere near “desiccated corpse,” or that I would characterize as childish, but of course you’re free to have your own opinion. Thanks for reading and responding here!

  11. February 8, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    While I don’t understand Yelp’s filtering process, the fact that they completely canceled your user account is concerning! Had you JUST created the account only to write that review? And wouldn’t it make sense that several people might write a positive review at the same time if they ate as a group? Also, why only filter the positive reviews? At the very least they should put a note on newly opened restaurants stating that the ratings might be very low initially because they ‘hold’ the reviews with high ratings. I don’t know … it seems like there must be a better way to handle this.

  12. February 18, 2012 at 12:54 am #

    I want to take a moment to talk openly and candidly about what I love. Making people smile and happy by serving good food, and helping people forget about the bad day they may have had, by giving guests a place to have a great cocktail and relax. I was especially touched recently by a father who was so excited he was able to bring his family in because of the Groupon offer. It brought tears to my eyes that I was able to make his night special, and it’s for reasons like that that I love this business.
    Like every business we have our ups and downs, we’re humans that’s how it works. But I can promise that I always try my hardest. I think of everyone that steps through the door of one of my restaurants as a friend and family. So with that in mind I’d like to mention Yelp. I personally read all online reviews from sites like Open Table and Yelp and try to learn and improve from what I read. What strikes me about Yelp though, is that good reviews seem to disappear because of their “Filter system” while bad ones remain. Even if they’re incorrect or misleading. On Open Table and Google we retain a 4 out of 5 star rating while our Yelp is just 2 ½. Reviews are a great tool for feedback, and I learn allot from them. But I ask that people remember what’s one persons trash may be another mans treasure. Try things yourself before making a decision. I’m truly proud of my staff and love my guests. Thank you

  13. February 18, 2012 at 7:04 am #

    Interesting viewpoint, given that Yelp earns more criticism for catering to business owners by way of removing negative (but valid) reviews. Thanks for the read.

  14. Annie
    May 3, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    As an owner of a small business, one with a relatively small customer base, I agree completely. Yelp has a great way of filtering many great reviews and leaving the worst ones up. In our gase, it’s the disgruntled, biased customers, who, I might add, border on some sort of personality disorder. The worst part is, not everyone who is satisfied Yelp’s, then the satisfied ones that do get filtered! What’s up with that?

  15. May 11, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    I can confidently say Yelp is in some way trying to extort my business.We have had five reviews go filtered. One unfiltered. I told them I was not interested in advertising because of this.Then we got another great review from a client, which got filtered the next day.It seems too odd and coincidental.

    • kristen Rizzo
      May 26, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

      Oh my God! That happened to me! I kept getting calls and emails to upgrade my account-which I wanted to but could not afford to. My only precious 3 reviews were suddenly gone shortly after. I am so angry.

  16. Joy
    September 6, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    If you want your review to be unfiltered, you have to review somethings you don’t care about first and then review the business you want to support. Someone’s first review is almost always filtered. You also have to spread your reviews a few weeks apart. Once you have more than 10 reviews, all of your reviews will be shown. It’s not just restaurants that have a problem with these filtered good reviews. Thank you for educating the public that there are more reviews than are showing on the outside and to find the filtered reviews to make their decisions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,059 other followers

%d bloggers like this: