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Jul 10, 2008 07:33 AM

Yelpers making threats to get comped?

Interesting blog post by the San Francisco Chronicle reviewer Michael Bauer about an email he received from a Berkeley restaurant chef/owner:

"Customers have begun threatening to 'Yelp' the restaurant if their ... comps were demanded with the threat that a harsh review would follow on the Yelp website if we didn't comply. ... People do follow through on their threats ..."

That email doesn't really put things in an adequate context. Did these customers make the threats as simple blackmail, or did the threats arise during a discussion regarding a complaint regarding bad food or service?

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  1. On Chowhound at least, it's pretty easy to spot someone who is just posting negative nonsense about a restaurant because they have something against the place. If the place is actually good, usually other people who have been there will pipe up and defend it. I agree that the restaurants can probably stop 90% of these dopes in their tracks simply by not being intimidated and asking for a business card or some other form of ID.

    1. I have issues if people demanded comps in order for them not to post negative review on Yelp. If they just threatened to post a negative review during a discussion without any expectation of comps, I find that okay. The prior is extortion. The latter is just a heated argument. If a person did receive a comp and decided to post about his or her experience, I would expect that the person to disclose that info.

      While I will post negative reviews regarding food, I generally think twice before posting something negative that happened to me specifically that's non-food related. I don't want one employee's issues/problems to reflect upon the entire establishment. I recently had an issue with a cashier not giving me the correct change on purpose (I'm pretty sure it wasn't a mistake). I dealt with the situation directly with the owner and did not post my experience on this board. As this place has two locations and is probably more of an isolated employee incident, I thought it would be unfair to the entire establishment for me to rant and rave on this board.

      6 Replies
      1. re: Miss Needle

        Yeah, I generally don't post about one-time problems.

        I had a ridiculous argument at one of my favorite restaurants over a wine mixup. I posted about it on the Wine board because it was such a bizarre story, but didn't identify the restaurant as I figured the novice who made the mistake would most likely either learn fast or they'd get someone else to handle the list.

        eBay recently changed its feedback policy to reduce the opportunities for abuse.

        1. re: Miss Needle

          I have chosen to only post positive experiences on my site. My feeling is that if a place is bad then it won't stay in business. I don't need to kick them when they are down. However if a place a really great I'd like to share it with others and hope that their business thrives. Overall i think a positive approach as a greater impact then being negative.

          1. re: hudsonvalleyfoodblog

            If it is food-related, I will post my experience, whether or not it is positive, negative or mixed. And as people have different tastes, what is considered bad to me would be considered great to others. On my local boards, I realize that certain posters have tastes more aligned with mine. Doesn't mean it's 100% of the time and doesn't mean that the posters who don't share my views are wrong. It's just different tastes. An example would be Momofuku Milk Bar in NYC. It seems that people either love it or hate it. I fall into the latter category. I'd probably be more apt to try a dessert rec from the people who hate Milk Bar than those who love it. I come to this site to learn. I don't want to hear glowing reviews about everything. I just want to read people's experiences for what they are. It does help when people explain why they didn't like a certain restaurant instead of reading, "Katz sucks." But if somebody wrote that they felt Katz sucked because the pastrami was too lean even though they ordered fatty, that tells me something. And it's not just one opinion but the aggregate of many voices on this board.

            I've been wrestling for a while whether to post this disgustingly unsanitary incident that I saw at a very popular place in my hometown. Has nothing to do with rats or roaches but how one employee treated the food. Because this was one incident I've seen, I decided against it. But I will never be going there again.

            1. re: Miss Needle

              I'd also like to add that restaurants can learn from constructive criticism. If they take the effort to read the blogs and see what others think of their food, perhaps they can correct their errors that may prevent them from going out of business in the future.

              1. re: Miss Needle

                Whoa, how can you dangle that and then not tell us?!

                Although that said I think the mods are very, very careful about anything to do with sanitary practice/health violations.

                1. re: tatamagouche

                  Yeah, the mods probably would have deleted it. And I think I would have caused a lot of hounds to be unhappy -- for various reasons.

          2. One of the nice things about Yelp is that they have a ratings aggregator. You see the average rating based on all reviews expressed on a 5-star scale. So, if the restaurant is good they would likely have enough positive reviews to render one or two malicious ratings meaningless. I also like to click on a poster's name to see what else they posted on other restaurants, this tells you a lot about how seriously to take their point of view.

            17 Replies
            1. re: Shane Greenwood

              Of course the flip side of this is the fake positive reviews posted in order to increase the aggregate rating. Often it is the owners/employees doing this, but there are "professional" services who will post positive reviews on an establishment they've never actually been to under multiple handles on multiple blogs for a fee. I was looking up restaurants on another site and noticed that almost all of the positive reviews on a particular establishment were all written in the same style (multiple exclaimation points, lots of caps etc...) by users who all joind on the same day and had only written reviews on that particular place. I stayed clear of that place during the time I was visiting the CITY i had SEARCHed.

              1. re: LabRat

                The key on sites that have that sort of rating is to scan through the reviews themselves and see who is giving what * rating. Yeah sure, it doesn't give you a nice pretty average score but you get a pretty good idea quickly of who the shills are and what the "real" average score is going to be.

                1. re: LabRat

                  I wish wish wish Yelp had an "ignore this user" button, which you could click when a user is either phony (as you mention) or just has tastes you don't agree with.... Then all other review averages would not include those users, and the reviews would appear greyed out.

                  1. re: LabRat

                    Yes, and quite often we see those style of reviews here on CH, almost always by, you guessed it, new users making their very first post.

                    Sometimes they're deleted, other times, only the posts calling them out as shills get deleted. C'est la vie.

                    1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston


                      Just wanted to let you know, we are a very small team here in the "back room", and we don't always see everything that is posted. If you feel that a given posting is suspicious, just click on the Report link and give us a heads-up and we will take a look at it. It is never a good idea to accuse another poster on the board of being a shill, just "ping" us and let us look in to it.

                      1. re: The Chowhound Team

                        I regularly report apparent spam posts. In most cases the posts are removed by the moderators within a couple of minutes.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Agreed. I regularly report them and have the same experience, in most cases they are removed right away by the mods, who are doing a great job.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Ah, so THAT'S why none of my posts have been appearing!

                          2. re: The Chowhound Team

                            jfood has also reported these as well and the TEAM does a great job in pulling the shills.

                      2. re: Shane Greenwood

                        How does Yelp treat advertisers in this aggredator. I'l bet you big time they trhow out the negativer reviews.

                        1. re: rworange

                          I believe they generally leave up anything/everything but a review can get flagged for breach of TOS.

                          1. re: jgg13

                            That seems to be the case. policies at Yelp are pretty lax when it comes to reviews. I know I've flagged reviews for places that have yet to open (i.e., an actual violation of the TOS), only to come back weeks later to see those reviews still up, and as near as I can recall, these weren't all businesses that I would expect to be major sources of ad revenue over at Yelp.

                            There are aspects of how Yelp works that I find kind of lame and/or unsettling, but I do think that right now they are allowing the ratings to speak for themselves.

                            1. re: hohokam

                              In general I prefer the laxer moderation than the tighter policies here at CH, but I've said before that I'm more of a "live and let die" type when it comes to moderation. Plus, like I said, it isn't hard to mentally filter out the ones you don't like - I'd never go just on the aggregate rating anyways but rather would want to know how that was influenced.

                              The bit about pre-reviewing is usually so people can pump up their "first to review" numbers, which I think is pretty silly ... I'm not a huge fan for the encouragement towards status (# of reviews, first to review, elite, etc)

                              1. re: jgg13

                                I've yet to see a perfect moderation scheme, but I suppose that's a topic for another board. ;-)

                                When I attend to the reviews on Yelp, which is about 1/2 the time, I too read individual reviews and then do "meta-reviews" of the posters who provide something other than vacuous 2-line reviews. I've noticed that once the bandwagon starts rolling, it's hard to slow down. So, we end up with a lot of mediocre-to-good (but not great or excellent) places getting 4.5- to 5-star average ratings. And due to demographic differences, a lot of worthy places that might appeal to the over-35 crowd are ignored and languish in ratings obscurity. C'est la Yelp, I say.

                                The "encouragement awards" you mention are some of the lame aspects I was referring to. I have a whole rant about how Yelp is exploiting narcissism for commercial gain, which I'm sure will someday appear in my Curmudgeon's Manifesto. ;-)

                                1. re: hohokam

                                  Yeah, I wasn't trying to start a moderation tangent - both sites do things the way they do things ... was just saying that I tend to prefer things a bit more "wild west", but obviously I still like this site the way it is or I wouldn't be here :)

                                  On the bandwagon though, the same thing happens on both sites ... how many times do you see some poor sod get piled on by the regulars of a locale's board for daring to knock one of the board darlings? I think it is just the nature of the beast. You raise a good point about the demographic - I've got one foot in each of what I consider to be the target demographics which is probably why I like both so much ;) I've seen some Yelpers deny that they swing to a more younger/hipper (for lack of a better word)/raucous group but others embrace it saying that they don't want to know what the old fogies drinking prune juice have to say about anything. *shrug* Again, it is what it is. My personal experience is that I'm a bit too old/stodgy to really enjoy the review style that a lot of the "into it" people do but I do tend to like the sorts of places they'd review (and remember, it ain't just food!) that wouldn't really get coverage here.

                                  As for curmudgeon's manifesto ... i've been that old guy shaking his fist at "those damned kids" since I was about 15 ;)

                                2. re: jgg13

                                  I agree--I think the Yelp reviews are pretty transparent to anyone with a bit of common sense. So much gets censored here that I'm finding I'm relying on CH less and less.

                                  1. re: newhavener07

                                    I take exception to your remark. I usually take quite a bit of time with the reviews I write on Yelp, albiet with a sense of humor. Of course I'm one of those old fogies...........

                        2. There have been a few threads on Yelp Boston that have touched on this sort of thing. It seemed like a lot of people were semi-joking but it really left a bad taste in my mouth if they were being serious ... in these cases they weren't threatening a bad review so much as hoping to angle in on free stuff to sweeten the review:
                          to a lesser extent:

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jgg13

                            That's really gross—& immature, which goes to show the potential median age difference btwn. Yelp/CH that has been discussed before.

                            So much (yet again) for the revolutionary power of the internet.

                          2. As a business owner , my employees and myself have been threatened with being yelped , a few times !
                            What we do is when the threat is made, we make the complainer give us a written account of everything that went wrong and what we should do to fix the problems. In almost 99% of the cases, they walk away with a threat but no written account. Since all of the complainers who threaten yelping are in the 20-35 age grp., writing down something with a pen on paper intimidates them and they just give up.
                            I believe every business owner wants to provide the best service , afterall he/she has money, time and reputation invested in the business.