SF Restaurant Sign Calls Yelp ‘Bully,’ Integrity of Reviews Questioned


Inside Bai Thong Thai restaurant in San Francisco, a sign brandishing  the words, “Stop the Bully! — Boycott Yelp,” was posted on its door. Bai Thong Thai currently holds a 3 out 5 star rating on Yelp, yet the sign suggests that their score would be higher if the site didn’t manipulate rankings. The restaurant claims that when it approached Yelp regarding the disparity between their positive customer reviews and actual score, the company replied, “Perhaps if you paid to do Yelp ads we could help you with this.”

Unfortunately, Bai Thong Thai is among hundreds of restaurants who have accused Yelp of granting higher star ratings and more favorable search placement to businesses buying advertising. These issues have brought many to file several lawsuits against the networking powerhouse, all thrown out by judges before reaching trial.

Upon seeing the sign at  Bai Thong Thai, Times writer Sandy Banks felt compelled to delve deeper into Yelp’s reviewing process, noting that the company favors consistent reviewers over first timers, in part, to avoid “fake” reviews. Banks continues to question how much influence a restaurant’s ad buys have on the overall algorithm determining their rankings.

“I don’t know the exact script people use when they sell advertising,” Yelp spokeswoman Kristen Whisenand told Banks. “There’s no amount of money anyone can pay Yelp to manipulate reviews.”

Still, Banks states that Yelp’s current “algorithm seems to me aimed less at protecting consumers than rewarding reviewer loyalty.”

As Yelp strives to increase its profitability, the issue of how much influence ad sales have on the integrity of their reviews will continue to be as pressing as ever.

H/T Eater, LA Times

By Charisma Madarang

Charisma has an undying love for gritty literature and drinks coffee like water. She also hails from Toronto, Canada and is a die-hard Maple Leafs fan, sigh.

12 replies on “SF Restaurant Sign Calls Yelp ‘Bully,’ Integrity of Reviews Questioned”

I have dealt with the extortionist tactics of Yelp first hand. As a marketing director for a small business, Yelp has literally been my only obstacle.

Yelp has a diabolical practice of burying the legitimate, favorable reviews of small businesses who refuse to submit to their exorbitant advertising program.

I work for a small business in New York City. We have a devoted, appreciative clientele, many of whom have submitted favorable reviews, only to have them relegated to Yelp purgatory – the “filtered” review section.

Yelp may claim that they’ve found a way to detect which reviews are legitimate and which are not via their secretive “algorithm”, however, that is not the case. In perusing the filtered reviews for my own small business, I recognize several of my clients in these reviews. These are honest, legitimate reviews. Over the past few years, we’ve received dozens of positive reviews. Because we refused to advertise with Yelp, these five-star reviews will never see the light of day, yet a mediocre anonymous review from 2008 has always remained on our Yelp page.

Yelp’s overly aggressive sales pitch, and the vindictive consequences if you refuse them, make it clear that it is money, and not accuracy or objectivity, that is their primary concern.

Specifics: Yelp calls businesses that have not had many reviews filtered. If the business declines the $300+ a month “advertising package” many positive legitimate reviews move the filtered section causing the business to lower in rank (usually from a 4-5 star to a 2-3 star average). Any local competing businesses in the area paying for Yelp’s advertising gets to control their reviews and keep themselves at 4-5 stars while businesses not paying Yelp appear to have flaws due to only mediocre reviews being left on the company’s Yelp page.

There is no course of action for business owners that are against Yelp trashing their companies in this way. Yelp promotes “honest reviews from real people” but a federal investigation into Yelp would prove that the company is committing extortion and racketeering.

Do you understand separation of powers? Lawmakers would not be involved with a Federal investigation into Yelp. I guess I should not be surprised that the poster spamming anti-government comments doesn’t even have an American Civics 101 level of understanding of how our government works. Reminds me of discussing evolution.

A small restaurant in my home town was not highly rated. There were mentions of bad service and rude people. Once the owner caught wind of this he removed the bad servers and tried to clean up the image he had. The business invested in a minor remodel, and upgrade of the food and service, even hiring a chef, instead of a series of line cooks. The food improved, service got much better. However, no matter how many good ratings they received due to the changes, Yelp refused to publish them, and kept bad ratings that were nearly 5 years old, instead of the newer, better reviews. In the end, business suffered, as people new to the town and tourists wouldn’t step into the place because of the Yelp reviews. In the end, they went out of business, and the building is still empty 18 months later.

A friend of mine owns a Chinese restaurant. He is professional chef, and has been featured many times on local television. The food has is restaurant is very good, and reasonably priced. However, the Yelp review all talk about the food being like dog food or La Choy, or how the Restaurant is really a Bar with a restaurant attached, neither of which is true. Regardless of the number of good reviews that people leave or the numerous comments on other review services, the negative Yelp reviews remain, and the positive reviews are few and far between.

Another friend runs a food cart in Portland. They make amazing sandwiches, and have been featured many times on national TV winning several tasting prizes. However, looking at their listing on Yelp all anyone can do is complain about the prices ($5-$10), the wait for food (a busy food cart usually takes some time to eat), the state of the area around the cart (it is downtown), and someone complained because they didn’t have seating (again, downtown). They have many positive reviews that have been submitted to Yelp, TravelAdvisor, Google, and FourSquare, the latter 3 show it with 4 or 5 stars, yet Yelp has them at 2 stars on a good day.

Yelp is extortion, and must either be fixed by the government, or destroyed by the people.

No, that actually sounds exactly like how ‘social reviews’ work in real life – some random popular kid sandbags you in front of the other popular kids, and you are marked for years. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Yelp is worth the price you pay for it. In other words, nothing.

I submitted a favorable review of a restaurant and it got “filtered”. I’m not affiliated with the restaurant; just a customer who liked his meal. Same thing with a local hardware store. Ridiculous waste of my time, to post a review and have it censored for no apparent reason.

Their “algorithm” is designed to prevent abuse, perhaps, but it also takes out innocent civilians as collateral damage.

Now I just find it amusing to read the reviews, some of which are quite funny, but definitely you should take the site with a grain of salt. Someone should create an site and allow people to post reviews of Yelp there. Poetic justic.

I have heard this REPEATEDLY from local businesses in my town as well. i refuse to read or use yelp after numerous stories of such bribery and bullyng. I hope more people find out about this… Yelp does not deserve the klout it pretends to have. I think more and more people are becoming aware! thanks for the post.

Dude, this is why I hate Yelp. I ran into this EXACT same thing with my business I had in AZ and the one I helped my friend start. They “filter” them for BS reasons, like a new account or not enough reviews so telling your customers that don’t actively use Yelp to rate you does Zero good. It’s a racket and I didn’t pay, nor did I advise my friend to. They say they can’t control what their algorithm filters like an all-knowing computer controls their reviews. HAHA!

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