A Field Guide to Yelp's Unhappy, Unhelpful Eaters

Restaurant and bar owners are often captivated by online reviews. Yelp's eponymous chatter on the street can seem an invaluable resource for knowing what customers think. I used to pay attention with great interest. I even contacted particularly upset reviewers at previous establishments I'd worked and offered them either a free meal or drink when we erred. I get it: restaurants and bars are loaded with miscues, mistakes, and bad behavior. We're staffed with humans doing imperfect work and, no matter how well-trained our staffs are, the human factor always peers through. So my sympathy for the customer is great.

Recently, something changed. Not my sympathy for the customer but for the reviewer. Perhaps it's the Yelper I sent a private message asking if she's actually been to my bar. By all indications they'd placed the wrong review on the wrong site. Seems innocent enough, but what if that's how a potential customer makes their decision of whether or not to go to your restaurant or bar?

People are not acquainted with the real costs of things. As famed chef Thomas Keller once said, "Didn't your mother ever tell you—you get what you pay for?"

There's also occasional incidents of Yelp terrorism. Much like a terrorist, bomb strapped to chest, this is when customers threaten to unleash their criticism online when demands are not met, regardless of the veracity of their claim. But the final straw really happened when I turned to Yelp reviews of well-regarded places that I've been. While looking through those reviews, I noticed a flock of reviews lacking rigor, ethics, and discretion. They completely missed the mark. Are these reviews what people are basing their dining decisions on?

Before one gets the wrong idea, I like Yelp and appreciate the concept. What's fair is fair. I don't mean to suggest that criticism should be brushed off. It's good for a business to listen to their customers' criticisms, but what I'm talking about is asinine comments from thoughtless people—chatter that is better left unheard.

Nevertheless, we all hear it. Sometimes it even seems vaguely believable. That's the downside of a popular, democratic media. Therefore, I've decided to add my commentary to some of the more ridiculous chatter. I've kept it anonymous to be fair, but these are real statements taken from reviews of restaurants that have otherwise been well-regarded by professional reviewers. Hopefully, this will be instructive to readers and novice posters alike.

1. The Ubermensch

The thing I loathe and despise most about DC is the "HERD MENTALITY!" Nobody can choose, decide or set their own trends. [from a 1-star review]

Firstly, the thing I loathe and despise about this review is the indiscriminate use of caps. Seriously, quotes, caps, and an exclamation point? The only thing that justifies this kind of punctuation is having a seizure. Secondly, I despise a reference to Nietzsche from someone writing for a site such as Yelp. This brief wind-up is meant to establish the reviewer's stand-alone ethics when in reality it's merely a reverse ad populum attack. It gets right at the heart of why it's so difficult to tease out Yelp's real worth, and why this reviewer is so full of it: who cares whether or not the masses love or hate a restaurant unless you actually do subscribe to a herd mentality? I'd rather hear about the experience itself.

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Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He sits on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail. More

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He travels throughout the country and around the world in search of great drinks, and the stories behind them. Derek's methodical approach to cocktails was profiled in the Wall Street Journal's "A Master of Mixological Science" and his martini lauded as the best in America by GQ. He's been in numerous media outlets featuring his approach to better drinking, including CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX. Derek is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartender's Guild and on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.

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