I stumbled across Yelp several years ago when looking up a restaurant’s address.  It seemed interesting enough; a cloying aggregator that collects people’s instant opinions to form an overall one-four star rating system.  However, like most things on the internet, reading the actual reviews by customers made me wonder how reliable this service actually is.

Far be it from me to suggest conspiracy theories, but Yelp can be easily manipulated by stores that crave good reviews.  This isn’t a new concept, but it still makes me question the motivation of most posters.  It’s hard enough to form one’s own opinion on a restaurant’s food, atmosphere and service without secretly wondering if this place has been recommended to you by the restaurant manager posing as Suzie Q.

Ah, and the ranking system.  Any time you go from 1-5, one would expect rankings to reflect the following logic when ranking a restaurant:

1: Terrible service, terrible location, food was almost inedible.
2: Food was actually okay, but rest of experience was lacking
3: Everything was mediocre
4: Decent service, food was great
5: Already thinking about returning

I had a LOT of problems writing number 2. Why aren’t there four stars? Let’s look at some reviews and try and determine the metric for a 2 star rating.

“Yeah.. I know I will get crap for this.. and I know it’s a very unChicago thing to say… but I find corn bread crust yucky. I hate cornbread, so don’t make a pizza out of it…The ingredients were fresh and tasty. I also didn’t think that the “large” pizza warranted the large moniker. It was more like a medium. For more than 2 people, I’d definitely recommend more than 1 pizza.”

Laura does not like corn bread crust, so the establishment immediately loses some stars. But is every pizza made with cornbread crust? Also, why apologize for your opinion when writing an opinion-based review? The ingredients were fresh and tasty, but the pies were too small. I’m not sure I get it. Is a two star review always so muddled and confusing? Based on the content of the review, I would’ve given the place a 3-star rating. But let’s see some other 2-star gems. Dave S. similarly complains about the size of Pizano’s pizzas:

“The were probably the smallest and most overpriced large pizzas that I have ever had. They were not even that good. I paid nearly $90 for four pizzas that were supposed to be large but were more like mediums in the real world. Come on with the toppings guys, these pizzas were very, very bare. I was not really impressed with them at all.”

Uh, woof. Notice his comment about “real world medium pizzas.” What does that even really mean? What is the gold standard size-wise for a large pizza? Are we talking deep-dish or thin crust? This is all getting very confusing. Let’s confuse things even more by adding Dave S.’s reasoning behind his two-star rating:

Crust = very good

Toppings = very skimpy

Quick Delivery = Nope, very slow

Friendly Service = “Leave the attitudes at home, I am paying you good money here”

Price = Not worth it at all

So he hates the price, the service, the delivery time and the toppings. And he only likes the crust of the pizza? This looks like a 1-star rating to me.

Also, I’ll also add that the whole, “I’m paying you GOOD MONEY, so ACT like it,” bit. If you write that in a review, you’re asking to be treated like a jerk.  Yes, you have paid these people to offer you a service, but don’t act like you paid their future kids college education off.  This pizza delivery person is  a human being.  You tip them 15-20% and shut the door in their faces.  What more do you want?

Perhaps Christina S. will be more honest with her ranking?

“I picked Pizano’s because it’s close to the Contemporary Art Museum and had a four-star rating. Yelp, you’ve done me wrong…Our deep-dish pizza was thin, watery, and undercooked, and my fettuccine dish was totally unappetizing. The nail in the coffin was the smoking policy, though. No smoking within 15 feet of the bar. Well, my friends, the bar runs along one side of the dining room and the building itself is no more than 20 feet wide. What a joke.”

Alright, now we’re talking! Food that is awful and looks awful! A watery deep-dish pizza is a blasphemous thing indeed, and a critique of the establishment’s smoking policy which is now rendered moot by Illinois’s smoking ban in restaurants and bars helps lower the bar. The location is lauded as well, making this a solid two-star rating.

Using a small sample size has shown us some small truths about Yelp, namely that you can’t really trust a rating.  People have different levels of taste and shifting palates, and Phil’s 2 star rating could be Janet’s 5 star meal-gasm.

I plan to further delve into my conspiracy theory that half of every restaurant’s positive reviews are written by employees.  If you have any first-hand accounts of any such heinous acts of deception, you can email me at [email protected].

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2 Responses

  1. Ed

    Unfortunately, Yelps system includes hiding reviews according to a magic ‘algorithm’, which distorts everything anyway. I wouldn’t put too much thought into a review that might be arbitrarily removed…your blog is much better.

    See: http://www.yelpscam.com for more…


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