Yelp - is it extortion or fun for angry diners?

Yelp - is it extortion or fun for angry diners?

I know normally this is the news recap day but the news that struck me hardest recently revolved around a Yelp reviewer.

The lawsuit against Yelp by a group of local business isn't breaking news. Their practices of providing a "helping hand",if you advertise, against bad reviews is part of the filter process according to Yelp. Um, I grew up Italian and that sounds like extortion to me. Let's - extortion defined as the crime of obtaining money or some other thing of value by the abuse of one's office or authority.

Hmmm looks like, smells like - must be extortion! Yeah...


But wait it's not just Yelp, its reviewers now are out to extort the local restaurant. Recently local Chef Graham Elliot Bowles received an email from a diner asking for 50% off after he poorly reviewed the restaurant in Yelp, Timeout, Trip Advisor and Zagat! Chef Bowles politely told him no. In fact, you can check out the email exchange and story from

There was even a Facebook group against Graham Elliot. When I recently tried to find the group through the search feature it was not to be found. Who says Facebook doesn't take privacy seriously? Groucho Marx did say, "I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members." You have to admit this guy is a bigger snob then me.

When I previously worked in the industry, I dealt with the unhappy and liars of the world. My favorite story as a chef is when a diner sent back cream of mushroom soup because it was too mushroomy! The server was terrified to say it and I promptly walked in to our cooler, shut the door and let loose a tirade of colorful language that would have made Ted Williams proud.

Working as GM at Graham Elliot, I once had a table of 9 complain they only got one round of drinks, not everyone received what they ordered and then wanted, again, 50% off. Now when something goes wrong during a dinner with a party this large everyone wants to explain what happened. This time ONE guy spoke and the majority hung their heads! The only mistake I could find was that the complainer didn't get his last beer - his third. We only comped drinks and I looked each of them in the eye apologizing for such a horrible experience they had and for ruining their evening. Not one person met my eye. I even gave them my business card so they could call me personally to make their next reservation! My phone never rang.

I don't expect everyone to love every meal or have the time of their life at dinner. Yet, this is part of the motivation for me writing this blog. I've busted my butt working a long time and have something of value, I hope, to provide others. Yelp allows anyone and everyone to say anything and everything without any checks and balances. Then to have them be sued because they may have extorted small business is an interesting case for social media to deal with.

The words of a restaurant or business review have power and can impact lives. I think it will be interesting to see what comes of the Yelp suit. I only dealt with them once when they offered to up our "presence" for advertising dollars. We declined.

Food Snob's rules for writing a review, any review...
1. Go more than once and on different days to the business to see if the good or bad is the real experience.
2. Have a clue what you are talking about! If you've never had a tasting menu, don't review your first one...and a tasting menu is 5 or more courses in my opinion.
3. IF you had a bad experience or dish SAY something to the server or manager. You'd be surprised how that feedback is appreciated. There are some places who won't do anything - don't go back and don't review.
4. IF you have that bad dish...say something before you finish it. You should know a bite or two in.
5. LIGHT'EN're spending money, but you know what? Dinner isn't life and death. If you had a bad day - don't blame the server, the hostess, the busboy or the business.

6. Not every meal is going to be life changing. Sometimes it's just a meal that was prepared well. Do you stop going to the movies when something doesn't speak to you personally?

I've had regulars love me and make small talk. I've had people yell and scream at my face and swear to never return. I never hid from a complaint in my career. I always dealt with them through courtesy and respect. Sadly, writing an anonymous bad review is easy, gutless and without consequences.

I think sites like Yelp have a place in the world but they will come and go. Remember citysearch or metromix...I can't remember the last time I checked those for anything. In time a more respectful site will come along, I hope, and Yelp will be but a memory.

Did I stir up a hornet's nest? Anyone? Bueller?

twitter @chifoodsnob

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