When posting to Yelp, remember that your reviews have the power to make or break a local restaurant that, quite frankly, needs all our support right now.
As we approach Spring and what is expected to be a local outdoor dining boom this season, I have a bone to pick this week - and it’s not a chicken bone.
Restaurants are excited to bring the tables and chairs back outside this month, to fill the sidewalks and alleys with festive foodies, and they are talking big, anticipating the best season in three years. Like since spring 2019.
That’s why I’d like to start a friendly and healthy discussion about Yelp and other online restaurant review sites, and the responsibility we all have as Monday morning quarterbacks, so to speak, in assuring that reviews are fair and don’t, quite frankly, prove the demise of the local businesses that work so hard to keep our Hill vibrant. There’s enough working against restaurants right now.
Posting a review on Yelp has become a rite of passage for so many self-proclaimed foodies who dine out - sometimes only once at a place - and have something to say about the experience. Locally, our restaurants earn up to five stars depending on the reviews they receive. But is this “Chopped?” Is this “Hell’s Kitchen?” No. Some reviews, however, would have us think otherwise.
After two years of running a restaurant nearby with my husband once upon a time, a long time ago, I can tell you firsthand that Yelp reviews can be stilted and can prove detrimental, all while a restaurant is struggling not only to pay staff and make ends meet, but to support their families and preserve what is sometimes a life savings invested in the endeavor.
One of our reviews came after the first night we opened. A waiter dropped a wine cork in the street. Another critiqued a dish because my husband forgot to drop microgreens atop an entrée. Another time, I spilled a coffee while trying to help wait staff during a rush. All fair enough. But we weren’t operating during a historic pandemic.
What I find hard to swallow right now is that after exactly two years - this week - of our local restaurants still struggling mightily to get through unprecedented, almost insurmountable problems with staffing, food shipments and restrictions, Yelp is still lighting up with one and two-star reviews for our local hospitality heroes.
First off, everyone is allowed their opinions. And second, one review never killed a place outright. But as much as we all love our food, when did we all become professional critics after one experience? Even the paid pros - hello New York Times - visit a restaurant at least three and up to half-dozen times before making their final assessments. And their reviews have taken everything into account, including things like how many staff were present, whether some foods were unavailable and whether chefs changed - or had Covid and couldn’t cook - the night reviewers were present.
But recently, we have some Yelpers offering up one star reviews for our restos, like one guy during the height of the pandemic who reviewed a local eatery and said something to the effect of he “wants better for the business” so here comes “a poor review,” something he “must” do so that hopefully things will change? No, what might change is the staffing after someone they desperately need is fired thanks to the review, or the menu, which a chef had been losing sleep over because he can’t get the right foods delivered.
Or this woman, who reviewed a local Mexican restaurant and said her guess is that “reviewers have never had delicious Mexican food before.” She then admits she came for the first time and doesn’t offer up in her nearly 200-word review whether her expertise with delicious Mexican food was honed as a native of the country or via recent visits to said country.
And pizzas and deliveries definitely aren’t off limits for reviewers, either. A couple months ago one Yelp critic destroyed a local pizza place, deeming the delivered food “inedible” and offering up one star after the delivery was timely, but the food didn’t arrive the way he wanted it. This time.
Who does all this fussing ultimately benefit? I’d like to argue that it’s no one.
I know my view may not be in the majority, but if we stop and think for just a moment about what is at stake here, perhaps we can all come to an agreement about the responsibility food review posts carry. Some places go on ticking despite reviews, that’s true. Others will lose staff, some will ultimately close, leaving vacancies aplenty on the Avenue and elsewhere.
Yes, not every restaurant is five-star quality. And yes, there will be nights when gosh darn it, we paid the babysitter, had a couple margaritas, and we felt we were entitled to a Michelin five-star date-night meal.
But while everyone in the industry is finally getting back on their feet, wondering whether they can have outdoor seating again and hoping for a normal spring, complete with al fresco dining, fun, and yes, survival, can we take a little hiatus from the armchair chef reviews?
Have an idea or foodie thoughts? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org