Is Yelp Fair to Restaurants?

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Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail laura.hahnefeld@newtimes.com.

Last December, when Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern called Yelp a "forum for uninformed morons" on his podcast Go Fork Yourself, the controversy over the local business rating community site re-surfaced once again.

See also: Chefs, What's Your Cold Remedy? and Is it Rude to Show Up at a Restaurant Before They Open -- What About Just Before Closing Time?

Accused of removing or hiding negative reviews for companies that advertise, Yelpers using their "Elite" status to get free food or preferential treatment, and some users abusing the system by blackmailing restaurants, the company has seen its fair share of bad press. What do Valley chefs and restaurateurs think about Yelp? Here's what a few of them had to say:

Pauline Martinez, Chef and Owner, Perk Eatery

Yelp is a double-edged sword. For diners, it's a valuable resource, especially when traveling. For restaurants, bad reviews can really hurt your business but good reviews can work in your favor. Unfortunately, there are some Yelpers who really have no idea what they're talking about, don't know food, and just like to write nasty reviews. Those people are a nightmare for restaurants.

Josh Hebert Owner and Chef, Posh

Yelp is not fair to anyone, including its reviewers. Yelp wants to be free speech, then let it be heard. Good or bad.

Silvana Salcido Esparza, Chef and Owner, Barrio Cafe and Barrio Queen

It's not Yelp, it's the people. Bottom line, I think it's fair. Listen, I had to take a whole lot of crap when I first opened in Scottsdale -- bad service, etc. I took it like a champ, and admittedly, it was well deserved. Problem solved. I think most chefs hate Yelp, but most foodies love it.

Jeff Kraus Chef and Owner, Crepé Bar

It's fair as long as they continue to monitor reviews for legitimacy. It could also be improved if they guided reviewers with a scoring standard that converts their experience into a more objective review.

Chef Payton Curry, Brat Haus

Yelp. Sure. The people? Maybe not so much. You get fired, you make a bogus claim about this that and the other. I don't read Yelp. I talk tableside, and that's not arrogance, that's Biergarten etiquette.

Andrew Nam, Chef and Partner, Stingray Sushi, Jimmy Woo's Asian Bistro, Spanish Fly, Geisha A Go Go

Everyone knows that the posts on Yelp are padded both positive and negative. It's a good base for seeing what a place is about when you read the four-star reviews. 5 and 1 are a waste.

Michael Monti, Owner, Monti's La Casa Vieja

Yelp is like a cross section of humanity -- you get all types of people. But it seems to favor attention whores who make egregious statements to make themselves sound witty.

Kevin Binkley, Chef and Owner, Binkley's and Café Bink

It's case by case. It's important to remember that the people writing are not professional food critics and that everyone's tastes are different.

Joe Johnston, Owner, Joe's Real BBQ, Joe's Fresh Farm Grill, Liberty Market, Agritopia

Yelp takes an even-handed approach to the process and considers which reviews are bogus and malicious. Yelpers are, for the most part, fair to restaurants. Most people write a balanced review, realizing their tastes may not represent everyone else's. As in life, there are a group of people who have a critical spirit. They will not be pleased. You can usually look at their review history and figure that out, though.

Deborah Schneider Chef and Partner, SOL Mexican Cocina

No, Yelp is not fair. And their business model is thinly veiled extortion.

Chef Kurt Jacobsen, Hidden Meadow Ranch, Greer

Yelp is a consumer-rated site, not unlike Trip Advisor. If you are consistent with your product, then you will have consistent reviews. The rest is up to you.

Romeo Taus, Chef and Owner, Romeo's Euro Cafe

Most comments on Yelp are genuine. There is some manipulation with how they filter some comments. Restaurant reviews are so personal, just like the tasting palate or feelings.

Michael Brown, Chef and Owner, Jamburritos Cajun Express

Yelp is fair since restaurants can respond to comments. Years ago, people didn't have a way of voicing their opinions on a large scale, so this medium gives the power to the people. If properly handled it can make us better operators. Do I think that there has been a knee jerk re-action from the public that hurts some small restaurateurs? Yes! People should always try to resolve their issues with the restaurant operator first before resorting to bashing them publicly.

Gregg Troilo Owner, British Open Pub

Yelp is innocent! It only provides a vehicle so that people can express their opinions. Unfortunately, many of those who do offer opinions have no idea what they are talking about. Constructive criticism is always welcome, showing others how big an idiot you are is not!

Charles Barth, Marketing Coordinator, That's a Wrap!

Yelp's contribution to a restaurant's business is immeasurable. Informative online listings and the GPS functionality of its mobile applications help to bring countless patrons to businesses they may never have known existed. A captive audience and user testimonials that are based almost solely on a restaurant's efforts to provide quality service? Seems fair to me.

Christopher Costantino, Chef and Owner, Costantino's Kitchen

People can put positive comments in Yelp as well as negative ones. As long as Yelp readers remember that more people will go out of their way to complain than compliment.

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