Yelp So Serious

I’ve been on Yelp for awhile, now, and finally made Elite status last year. What this means (aside from what they tell me) I actually have no idea. The status did, however, make me want to Yelp more. I signed up for their Yelp 100 Challenge, which means I review (or meaningfully update) 100 businesses during this calendar year. I have been pretty much reviewing every place I’ve gone.

What is interesting to me is how seriously some people take Yelp. I know that I take my reviews seriously, and try to be fair and informative in my reviews (It’s my duty!), while maintaining that my point of view is mine, and mine alone. I may come off as being righteously judgmental, but I want to be fair to other people’s experiences of these places. Certainly, as was the case when we were visiting Houston a few years ago, it was a negative Yelp review that steered us to our extremely positive experience at a local eatery.

For instance, some people really, really like chain restaurants. They like comfort, they like predictability, and certainly, in most any town outside of Seattle (that’s not PDX or SFO), I love my Starbucks. You rave about an Italian restaurant because it’s just like Olive Garden? Likely not my scene. You claim to have had the worst restaurant experience because you saw words like “cornichon,” “pig cheeks,” and “rabbit terrine” and didn’t know what anything was – probably worth my consideration (though not without context).

I don’t want to say I’m a food snob, because frankly, I don’t require fancy food or great expense to make me happy. Good food can come from a food truck, great coffee can be brewed at home (and the folx at Tonx Coffee can help), and sometimes the best burger can be found at Dick’s.

That being said, I’ve had a few people respond to my reviews since I started Yelping more regularly. A local shop owner felt that I was unfair in my stars. I wrote her back, since she had reached out to me politely. A local cafe owner reached out to me, and we arrived at the same appraisal: his cafe wasn’t out to make fans of everyone – just those who “get” their aesthetic. Most recently (and surprisingly), I was contacted through my blog by someone who was sputteringly LIVID at my poor review of Ruth’s Chris in Wailea, Maui. I came to the conclusion (after some Googling) that the author was less concerned with my Ruth’s Chris review, and more concerned with the critical, yet positive review of an establishment he co-owns on Maui.

This brings me to my question – do people really take Yelp that seriously? While certainly, it does help guide some of my choices in situations of indecision, I find it hard to believe, as was the case with the first business owner I cited, that one single star review could taint a business that was knee deep in five star reviews. Further, I view Yelp reviews as the opinion of individuals aggregated for ease of the masses. Kind of like the Rotten Tomatoes for food and services. If Roger Ebert loves a movie, but A. O. Scott does not, and you know you tend to agree with Roger Ebert’s opinions more (historically speaking), it doesn’t make A. O. Scott definitely wrong, it just means he has a different aesthetic.

Choosing to write 100 reviews for Yelp this year is my way of committing to writing. I have been woefully out of practice, and while I’m not truly editing all that I put out there, my hope is that through repetition, I will find my critic’s voice, and hone my critical eye and expression in prose.

Do any readers here have any insight as to why anyone (businesses or consumers) may take Yelp so seriously?