YELP THIS COLUMN
As some readers of this column know, or can certainly
surmise, I don't write for a living. If I did, I would not only be broke
(once a week doesn't pay all the bills, unfortunately), but I would also be
deep in therapy, learning how to become less sensitive to criticism.
Instead, I went into business, opening retail stores,
where I could anonymously live my life, far from the bright lights of fame.
No one would judge me, for the most part, and my sensitive side was safe.
Then, about 19 years ago, I was gullible enough to open a
restaurant on Jefferson Street in Fisherman's Wharf. But again, I was
relatively safe. No friends ever came to Fisherman's Wharf, and newspapers
and other food critics had little interest in reviewing Wharf restaurants.
We did put comment cards in the checkbook, so I wasn't
totally immune to criticism. My favorite was the customer who responded to
the question "What can we do to serve you better?" He had a
one-word response: "Close."
But the criticism, and the praise, was just between the
restaurant staff and the customer. We would read the comment cards (and
still do) and learn from them. I could handle that.
And then along came Yelp.
Yelp has empowered a generation of self-obsessed jerks.
It has allowed mean-spirited knuckleheads to pass judgment on your business
for all the world to see. And it's done anonymously, with no repercussions.
Most are very positive, and I like those people. It's the
23 year old who thinks he or she is a "foodie" and announces to
the masses that the calamari is too salty and thus the restaurant gets a
one-star review and should be avoided at all costs---that's the little twit
that should be imprisoned for a lifetime.
I understand reviews. But a food critic visits a
restaurant at least three times before passing judgment to the outside
world. Most Yelpers go once, and will urge strangers not to patronize a
business, doing everything in their unwarranted power to sink a legitimate,
hard-working business that they really know nothing about.
It's just plain mean. Whatever happened to "If you
don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all?" At least
Here's the saddest part of all. I occasionally use Yelp
to choose a restaurant. I cringe when I do it, but it's a source of
information when I'm in a strange area. And if the restaurant I'm
considering has a particularly low rating, I'll naturally avoid it.
I hate myself for doing it, but it's the new world, the
age of information. Why experiment when some 23 year old Neanderthal who
eats fast food six times a week and might have trouble boiling water has
already passed judgment on the culinary wizardry and service capabilities of
a particular establishment?
The reason I do is that most Yelpers get it right. The
law of averages works its way through the system. The mean-spirited,
self-obsessed idiots get drowned out by the fair-minded pleasant people. And
a high-volume restaurant like mine ends up with a respectable 3 ½ stars,
which is about what it deserves.
Yelp (and other review sites like OpenTable, TripAdvisor
etc.) also makes a business want to get better. Our staff is trying very,
very hard to get to 4 stars. But it's not easy, primarily because of that
Neanderthal who has a fight with his girlfriend at the table and gives it a
one-star because he was in a bad mood (yes, we've had that
So, for better or for worse, Yelp and its cohorts are
here to stay. I suppose my only complaint is that if you're going to do
everything in your power to make an establishment go out of business, at
least take the time to know the business you're trying to sink. One visit,
and one dish that didn't meet your expectations, or one employee who was
having a bad day, does not warrant expulsion from the island.
But that won't happen, because some people are just rude,
arrogant, insensitive jerks that have never made a mistake in their lives.
And sadly, the internet has given them the power they should never have.