"Everyone's a Critic "

“There are positive ways to influence people. The relentless commercialization of influence is also a corruption of the more uplifting processes through which we can affect and inspire one another.- Laurence Scott, New Yorker Magazine, April 21, 2019

My childhood dream was to be a restaurant critic. I am passionate about food and have been since I was a little girl. At early an age, I read the “Culinary SOS” column in the L.A. Times religiously. I tuned in weekly to Elmer Dills on KABC Channel 7, and later read his column in the PennySaver to see what exciting new restaurant he had visited. In the early 2000’s I started writing online reviews, first on Chowhound, and in 2009, I became a Yelper. I’m sure Yelp has helped many people with the same dream of becoming a restaurant critic become reality. But sadly, it has also become an outlet for douchebag customers to exact vengeance on businesses who don’t cater to their every whim. This article will be the first in a series about my experiences and observations as a Yelper. I offer my own food and wine reviews here on Paso Gurl, but I haven’t said goodbye to my benevolent work as an Elite Yelper

Lately, I’ve seen vitriolic commentary shared on social media, particularly by my chef, restauranteur and other business owner friends with regard to Yelp. The truth is, whether they like it or not, Yelp has millions of users who rely on the site to tell them where to go to spend their money. Yelp has given consumers a voice and businesses more positive or negative exposure than ever before.  It all hits the social media network very quickly. Today’s travelers roll into a new city and pull up the Yelp app to figure out where to go. Unfortunately, it takes a bit of vetting to figure out how much credibility a reviewer has, and how responsive a business is to their customers. As a true lover of food, wine and fun, I understand both points of view.  

A chef friend recently shared Zachary Crockett’s article on “theGig.co” about Davide Cerretini, owner of Botto Bistro in Richmond, California. Maybe you are familiar with the story, but   just in case, let me fill you in. Cerretini claims that because he “rebuffed” Yelp’s offers to sell him ads, his 5-star reviews would almost immediately be removed from his page. He took a series of measures in an attempt to “get back” at Yelp. His most famous stunt was to try to collect 1-star reviews. He offered to give a discount to anyone who gave his restaurant a bad review. It certainly gained him wide recognition. His other ideas to counter-attack Yelp were clever and kind of cute. A Hall of Shame is awesome. Even a Yelper will agree people ask stupid questions. He would post the stupid question of the day and he had a great time very publicly exchanging snarky emails with Yelp. This all started about 5 years ago and we are still talking about it today.  

With hundreds of thousands of users reviewing businesses, I’m just not so sure how effective Cerretini’s methods to take up arms against Yelp would be for many other businesses. And I honestly don’t think many business owners would rather “sit alone” in their restaurants “than get business from Yelpers”. In this same article, Crockett describes Yelp as “the controller of every small business’s online reputation — and fate”.  He also mentioned the dismissal of a case that was thrown out of the 9thCircuit Court of Appeals. Levitt v. Yelp alleged extortion, a violation of California’s Unfair Competition law and that Yelp authored negative reviews.  The judges concluded that the facts only showed that the reviews were likely from actual customers, noting that “Yelp is a forum for consumers to review businesses, and huge numbers of consumers do just that.” (Levitt v. Yelp, September 2, 2014). 

I have quite a bit of experience writing up reviews and giving business recommendations and I find myself engaged in conversations pretty much every week about how Yelp works.  I have way too much to say about it- to Yelp users and to business owners, to cover in one article, so In upcoming articles, I will explore both sides of Yelp, from how to leave a credible review to how (and if/when) to respond to a bad review.  In the meantime, if you have a particular question about Yelp, drop me a line tess@pasogurl.com, and if I don’t know the answer, I will do my best to find out.