Are Yelp Extortionists Giving Restaurants the Shakedown?

Categories: Wake Up Call

YelpHate.jpg
Francis Storr/Flickr

Editor's Note: Obtaining a basic business account through Yelp is in fact a free process as is responding directly to Yelp reviews.

Generally, here at Chow Bella we tend to report on restaurant owners behaving badly. Whether that be Amy's Baking Company's Yelp tirade or Tina's Ethiopian Cafe's comment section meltdown. We still have a team of our best people decoding some of those pseudo-sexual insults. But today we're considering reports of customers behaving badly.

Timothy Sandoval of the Sacramento Bee has reported several cases of aggressive Yelpers trying to extort restaurants for cash and prizes. In one case, a restaurant owner actually offered the pissed-off customer a $60 gift card to a restaurant of the customer's choosing -- only to have the customer counter that only a $100 gift card would prevent an otherwise inevitable negative Yelp review. Unsurprisingly, the owner balked but is unsure whether the negative review ever materialized.

Perhaps the problem with Yelp is that it projects itself as a democratic process when, in fact, it really isn't. Yelp, much like Google, uses a closely guarded algorithm to decide which reviews are promoted and which reviews are buried deeper in the review gestalt. Though the site's official description of this filtering system sounds innocuous enough, business owners have filed lawsuits alleging that the system is rigged to coerce them into buying Yelp's ad and subscription services. Even if these charges are false -- and similar lawsuits against Yelp have been thrown out before -- there still is a strong profit motive for Yelp to promote negative reviews, albeit through their "objective" but secret, review filtering algorithm. What's more, as our colleagues at SF Weekly discovered last year, Yelp has no interest in correcting or amending reviews, even if parts are outright fabrications. And their profit motive is strong because Yelp, despite it's growth and popularity, has never turned a profit. Even after a successful IPO and a large increase in their revenues, Yelp still posted losses this month.

But in fairness, Yelp has taken actions to appease the business community and, presumably help stave off further lawsuits. Reviews that the algorithm deems unworthy no longer drop into a digital void completely but continue to persist on the user's account. However these phantom reviews no longer count towards a businesses overall rating. Yelp has also taken a page from traditional journalism and erected a firewall between their advertisers and the user generated content.

So we have to ask our business owners in the audience. Have you been extorted? Does this video sum up your feelings about some Yelp reviewers?

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35 comments
eastwood09
eastwood09

First.. If a yelper is asking for anything in return for specifics in a review.. its against Yelps TOS (terms of service). and the yelper should be reported.. where.. after an investigation.. will end up being banned and removed. Secondly, I lot of businesses end up offering people that have given negative reviews compensation to remove that said review.. again.. if the user accepts this compensation for that removal.. then that user is in violation of yelps TOS.. and that yelper should be reported and removed. I've been an elite yelper for 5 years now. I've been offered many a bribe to taint me reviews. of course.. as some of these are quite tempting (I had a dentist offer me 1400 to remove a review).. I've never done it and never will. The concept is called integrity .. The reason why so many people read and trust my reviews is because they can have the faith that they are being told truthfully about my experience. Yelp isnt perfect. I've seen businesses and yelpers game the system both ways... but yelp does try and keep things under control a bit.. Which is much better than "google or yahoo reviews" which do absolutely nothing to try and deter anything.

alehound
alehound

You yelp shits, all of you. We are going to relaunch and I invite my Israeli friends to eat the pizza with afterbirth of Palestinian pigdogs. Fuck all YOU bitches Amy is a Goddess of cats.

redboar1
redboar1

The majority of Phoenix Yelp reviewers are among the most vile, two faced, lying and repugnant human beings I've ever met.  The day yelp.com gets shut down for good will be great, if it happens.  I think it's pathetic that Phoenix metro is such a cultural & social vaccum that what Yelp reviews say matters at all.

amysbakingco
amysbakingco

We like to call them "The Camel Toe Mafia" just a bunch of Pussies hiding behind a computer screen, or working for YELP.

 

Hock
Hock

Slight off topic...I've also seen Yelp reviews that were clearly written by people who worked at, or were friends with people that work at certain places.  When you have many people posting 3 or less stars...then a handful with 5 stars...I'm always suspect.

should of advertized
should of advertized

As a business owner, I have reject Yelp's request to advertize with them.  Then I realized a dish of mine was ranked 6 in phoenix. I was pretty stoked and posted it on my business facebook page. The next day the dish was moved to 35 on the list.  SHADY!!! SHADY!!! SHADY!!!

Anon
Anon

I have just the opposite experience.  Whenever I write a negative review on Yelp it gets buried into the filtered, never seen reviews.  I guess those restaurants have business accounts or pay to advertise.

jliven23
jliven23

Those two links above about Amy's and Tina's should be NSFW because you can EASILY lose an hour or two reading them and the comments. Is there a Chow Bella hall of fame? There should be.

Mikey1969
Mikey1969

Wow.... I clicked through the links. I was already famiiar with the Amy's story, I happened to read it when it originally came out, but I hadn't heard about the whole Tina's meltdown. Insane. Totally insane.

The original review was well written, wasn't bashing the place, and just showed disappointment, she even mentioned that they were still working out the bugs. Then the crazy boat left crazy town on a crazy cruise, what the fuck was THAT? Even people who came on and said that they were fans, but that the new location wasn't quite up to speed got crucified.

I don't care how stellar the food is, if an 'Amy' attacks a bad reviewer like that, I write the place off my list, period. That wasn't an unfair review at all, the guy was extremely disappointed. Same with Tina's. Maybe those were just trolls, but ol' Tina could have easily gotten in touch with NT and they would have updated the article to mention that she was not attached to any of the comments.

And restaurant owners--- Don't give in to these extortionists, it's not worth it, it will just perpetuate a problem that shouldn't exist anyway. When I read bad reviews, I read WHY they are 'bad', and what problems they had, then I read some more reviews and see if it is an ongoing trend. I also look to see if it seems like the person is a paid shill with multiple alts on Yelp!. Fuck these bastards, let your reputation stand for itself, your customers will always be your final judge anyway, just concentrate on them.

Joel LaTondress
Joel LaTondress

I've never heard of this "three public comment" thing, but if that's the case, it's a new rule.  That also exempts Amy B from ever commenting on Yelp reviews again (at least in the business owners comments section), which is probably good. :)

David Bickford
David Bickford

Yelp has its flaws, but it's incorrect to say that business owners have to pay in order to respond to reviews. That privilege is available to any business that takes the time to claim its page on the site.

Jeff Ward
Jeff Ward

One thing that is not coming accross in the article.. A business account does not cost anything with Yelp, you do not have to do advertsing to have this feature as a business on Yelp, But yes the filtering process is very seedy and tainted, and yes once in a every great while a guest will throw out how hey are going to "write a bad review on Yelp" But if you ask me, in 5 years Yelp will be a nostalgic memory like cupcake parlors and deal of the day sites.

MarcusXL
MarcusXL

@amysbakingco Hey Amy and Samy: You people have no place dealing with the public; you're both completely off your rockers and you suck at your jobs. Those two waitresses could run the restaurant by themselves and you'd have ten times the quality of service and food. Amy: in particular, you need therapy ASAP, because you a terrible human being and obviously deranged. You are the worst restaurant owners I have ever seen; not only does the food suck, but you cannot even manage to cook it properly, and when people point out this obvious truth (that could easily make people sick!), you scream at them like a lunatic. SEEK HELP, FREAKS.

Slade Grove
Slade Grove

That's typical I think for yelp but proving it is like trying to prove a negative. Only Yelp has access to internal policies and details of the supposed super secret sauce on what reviews are hidden and those that are not. However, there's enough of trail to lay out the fact that they are up to something to get people to advertise on the site. Even if a court compels them, they most likely have two sets of books for a CYA.

Ando Muneno
Ando Muneno

If decreased productivity makes a story NSFW I should have buried a TVtropes link in there. 

Dominic Armato
Dominic Armato

I dunno.  Amy and Samy rants go a long way towards making the world a more entertaining place.

jliven23
jliven23

I love your last line....one day groupon will be sold as a groupon.

Ando Muneno
Ando Muneno

That is correct. I unfortunately conflated the free business accounts with the improved profile pages companies can pay for. My apologies and we'll make that correction.

jliven23
jliven23

Just another few yelp blow ups would suffice. Might have to do a google search for yelp inspired violence...pretty sure that is a real thing by now.

EDIT: Two minutes later... http://gawker.com/5396122/yelp...

Slade Grove
Slade Grove

Actually, the free business accounts limit the business owner to only THREE (3) public comments. The Free Business accounts are prohibited from posting any more than three total replies (owner comments). The site even warns you to post wisely and tells you basically, you only get three chances and that's it. Then the sales calls start rolling in. When you tell them no, reviews are suddenly hidden. However a site viewer can still see the reviews that are hidden, but the viewer has to take additional steps by clicking on a link that is barely visible and then the viewer had to type in a captcha code to see the hidden reviews. It's a two step process which is partially hidden and not very visible to the viewer. Most people won't go that extra step to magically reveal the hidden reviews. They did that as a defense to some threat of lawsuits so they can now claim "well all the reviews are on the site, but some are automatically hidden due to potential review fraud." Personally, I think its a crock of crap. I'm not paying Yelp over a $1000 a month (that's the package that I was pitched). 

Slade Grove
Slade Grove

Dear "YelpPro" - Actually the business page warns you that you only get three public replies and it gives you pretty good wording to basically watch what you say as the business owner and not piss of the yelp crazies. The page DOES state you get to message 5 users per day. it does NOT say that about the Public Replies only gives you a limit of 3. And here's another example of "pro yelpers..." posting from an anonymous account. If you're a Yelp Elite then post from a valid social media account like Facebook, Twitter, or Whatever instead of hiding behind the internet so no one knows who you really area. Just don't use a picture of yourself in your undies sitting behind a computer eating a bowl of ice cream just like Perez Hilton did until he lost off of the weight.

YelpPro
YelpPro

Slade is incorrect. There's a daily, not lifetime, cap on responses.

Slade Grove
Slade Grove

for the reply limits it's only on the business owner's page and it's sort of hidden - Here's a cut and paste of the exact text - You may message 5 more customers today, and your business may make up to 3 public comments.

You can message 5 customers a day but you can only make three (3) public comments (ever.. not just for that day).

Ando Muneno
Ando Muneno

Can you point me at their terms of service or what not?  I'm rather unsurprised that the three comment max wasn't exactly advertised in their public literature. 

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