Yelp: (No) thanks for sharing.

In celebration of our most patriotic holiday, I am declaring my own independence from what I consider one of the most irritating sites on the internet– Even the name causes me to chafe.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “yelp” means:

1. Noun: a sharp shrill bark or cry (as of a dog or turkey); (see) also squeal.

2. Intransitive verb: To utter a sharp quick shrill cry.

At least. they’ve given themselves an accurate name.

Perhaps it is my own, personal distaste for democracy, especially in terms of voting for, say, restaurants (think Zagat), pop singers (think American Idol), or even presidents (think about whomever you wish) that makes me dislike sites such as Yelp. Before your underwear gets anymore bunched in places, I am hardly un-American. I am a firm believer in our particular form of government, which happens to be republican, rather than democratic. And before your y-fronts become irretrievably lodged, I am referring to systems of government, not political parties. For the sake of argument today, I shall limit my discussion to restaurant commentary.

It seems that anyone with access to a computer today can write a restaurant review, myself included. But is everyone’s opinion worth reading, let alone writing? That is certainly debatable. I for one, don’t think so.

Call me a snob. Call me an elitist pig. I’ve been called much worse.

Of course, I believe that everyone is certainly entitled to his or her opinion, but many opinions expressed on sites like Yelp are neither well-informed nor, as is more often the case, well-written.

For example, I’ve chosen three reviews of Brenda’s French Soul Food on Polk Street, which has, as of this posting, 338 Yelp reviews. This is from a four yelp star rated piece:

I enjoyed this place a lot . We found parking right on Vaness. Our wait was about 20 minutes. We arrived at 11am I think. It will seat about 20 people-30people. I did not see Brenda though.

My first time eating beignets – I did not know it came in threes, I should of ordered one of each. We got three apple ones. It was gooood and fattening.

I ordered the bowl of gumbo (dark gumbo). I am use to the tomatoey colored gumbo but it was pretty good.

Also got an entree of the Harrytown special which includes oysters, grits and biscuits.

I loved the biscuits.

Cute little place to revisit or bring out of towners.

Harrytown Special? I can only assume she meant Hangtown Fry. With testimonials like this, it’s not surprising the restaurant sustains such long lines out the door. Are reviews such as these typed on a texting keypad, rather than at a keyboard? That would be a charitable explanation of such short sentences. It’s like some unevocative, bastard form of haiku. It horrifies, but that’s just fine, since I tend to savor crappiness. The only point it serves, in my book, is as the object of mockery.

Now here is an excerpt from a not-so-good (two yelp star) review:

Just before we passed out from hunger, they brought over our beignet flight which was good, our favorite beignet was the crawfish. The only other compliment I have is for the coffee. The breakfast plates were mediocre. My friend, who was starving, took 5 bites of her omelette and left the rest.

She certainly has a flair for the dramatic. If one decides to set out and review a restaurant, whether one has enjoyed the experience or not, one should, to the best of one’s ability, explain why. What made these crawfish beignets good? What could possibly compel a starving woman to take only five bites of an omelette? These are things I want answered. If a reviewer cannot accurately describe her experience– the food she ate, the service she received, or her surroundings– she has no business wasting anyone’s time with her fourth-grade writing skills. Make that third grade– I know a couple of nine year-olds who write much more vividly.

And, finally, here’s a rather terrible (one yelp star) piece:

I am as honest as a heartbeat, so believe me when I say that this spot is highly overrated. I just have no desire to come again- wait or no wait.

I had a bit of all four of our plates and the sampler benettes, so here goes my opinion…

My dish- The Shrimp and Goat Cheese Omelet Grits and Cream Biscuit- The shrimp was not devianed and thus flavorless. I opted not to have the bacon relish on top so I will be fair and refrain from further commenting about it. I like my gritts creamier than it was but it was tastey and the buiscutt was pretty good.

Watermelon Sweet Tea- Free refills, but they don’t really tell you that. liked it because it was not sweet, and I like water. It was also luke-warm.

The Chalkboard Special, Shrimp Pot Pie- The shrimp was overcooked and rubbery, and the veggies were overcooked and mushy. Boo Hoo!

Honest as a heartbeat. Perhaps she should have her cardiologist examine her for arrythmia. I don’t trust anyone starts off by telling me how honest she is. It was a bad review on a number of levels, star ratings aside. I do, however, admire her creative spelling, the fact that she feels shrimp proto-intestines are where all the flavor is, and that she can’t tell the difference between a mirror and a chalkboard. I read the bit about why she likes the Watermelon Sweet Tea about ten times.

If you’re interested in reading about her bikini waxing at the Pink Cheeks Skin Salon in Sherman Oaks, I will happily email you her yelp profile.

I had hoped the members of Yelp Elite might be a little more helpful or, at least, better writers, since the elite page states:

…Yelp members who get in are known for having reviews that are insightful, irreverent and personal (aka useful, funny and cool!).

Of course, it also requests that Elite members have:

Personal pizazz! Even after all this, we look for a certain je ne sais quoi—we call it Yelpitude. To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice James Stewart when defining pornography in a case about obscenity, “Yelp Elite is hard to define, but we ‘know it when we see it.‘”

Perhaps I should have sensed trouble when I realized the Yelp Elite squad (or, at least, the person responsible for writing the copy) had mistaken a much-beloved Campbell’s Soup-hawking actor for Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart.

The first elite reviewer I read was a young lady named Beverly. She went on and on about her experience with a DAT date to Frisée Restaurant in the Castro. I hopethat by DAT she meant “Dine About Town”. Please read:

Sidenote: It was cramped as s**t. We sat upstairs and the ceiling was like 6 feet high and we sat at a tiny itty bitty table next to a tiny itty bitty walk way. Oh and the service. SLOW AS S**T. I want to minus stars for the service but the food was so good I just can’t bring myself to do it.

What is it about her personal writing style that led her to become part of the Yelp Elite? Was it her penchant for using fecal terms when describing her experience? Perhaps it was her photos (which are required of all Elite members). Maybe her two lip rings at the right-hand corner of her mouth catch enough food so that she might savor it more thoughtfully upon her return home from dining, quill pen in hand and that deep-in-thought dreamy look that only fake, blue-tinted contact lenses can properly convey. Does she have “that certain je ne sais quoi“? I’m thinking it’s more like elle ne sait rien.

Well, I’ve had my fun at Yelp’s expense today, but to be fair(ish), I must say that, in browsing the site for several hours this week, I have come across some people who do offer thoughtful– and fairly well-written– reviews. Case in point: Kerry “Tempura Assassin” K in describing her experience at Burritoville in San Anselmo:

[My husband] was a little more offended at the sight of iceberg lettuce on his carne asada taco ($2.95) than I was. Granted, yes, iceberg lettuce in a Mexican restaurant is an insult to my intelligence, I was able to forgive. This was largely due to the chips, which were thick, crisp, and toasty as well as a lovely salsa bar, friendly and welcoming service, a clean environment, and a buy 9 get 1 free taco card.

Caveat lector: on the back of the frequent buyer card, it spells out the number of tacos in spanish, “uno, dos, etc.” After the 9th one it says “bingo gringo”. Gringo eh? That must mean that either Latinos and Chicanos don’t eat here or the food isn’t real Mexican. So perhaps my taste can’t be trusted with this review. If you keep reading, read on with that in mind.

Finally, someone who notices and describes those little details that make a review worth reading. That, and the fact that she used the term caveat lector correctly (or at all). A bright, shining tablet of antacid to save me from so much Yelping bile. I’d really like to hug her. If elite membership could be limited to the likes of Kerry, I think I might have a little more faith in the website. Otherwise, what is the point of creating an elite class, if it is open to, well, everyone?

If you accused me of elitism, you’d be absolutely correct in doing so. Why should I waste my time reading the average person’s average review? I don’t want an average guy running my country, building my home, or giving me a colonoscopy. I want experts. I want smart people. Same goes for my restaurant reviewers. If all you can give me in describing a gumbo is “OMGITSAWESUM!!!”, perhaps you should just keep it to yourself. The world beyond your Myspace friends list is not ready for you.

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About Michael Procopio

I write about food and am very fond of Edward Gorey. And gin.
This entry was posted in Rants and Stories and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Yelp: (No) thanks for sharing.

  1. myway says:

    You hit the nail on the head. Brilliantly written.

  2. Tana says:

    OMG, that is funnier than s**t!

    Can you please e-mail me the profile in question?

    And for the record, I have Yelped, and I think you would approve: my one-star rating of Peppers Mexicali Cafe in Pacific Grove is the “selected review” of a place that routinely gets four and five stars. I totally scathed, dude.

    Oh, amd Michael? I love your writing.

  3. Tana says:

    I can spell “and,” but I need new contact lenses.

  4. CS says:

    Brilliantly done. Many thanks for the laughs.

  5. missginsu says:

    You’re going to be the best grumpy old man ever.

  6. kimberley d. says:

    i’m a ‘yelp elite’ person who got pointed to this post by (of course) a discussion thread on yelp about it.

    any site used by the general public will have some people who are intelligent, witty, and decent writers and some who couldn’t string an intelligible sentence together if you stood in front of them with needle and thread and a word collection. in an ideal world, we’re all the former… but i’ve not a clue where that ideal world exists either online or off. (well, apart from perhaps metafilter.)

    i consider it good practice to constantly evaluate information you receive from any source to determine its validity, how the background of the speaker influenced the content, et al. if the presence of sites like yelp reminds us to take what we read with a grain of salt, i still consider that time well spent 😉

    it is unfortunate, though, that yelp won’t let us judge reviews as being low quality. many sites which allow reviews ( springs to mind) let readers note that a particular review contained no useful information, was poorly written, etc. on yelp, members can note that a review was useful or entertaining. there’s also a sorting tool that will let you sort reviews by ones that people deemed useful. but there’s no way to decry a particular review as being unusually unintelligent/worthless. yelp has a scale which will show you what percentage of the time a particular reviewer rates places as being 5 stars, 4 stars, etc. it’d be significantly more useful to see a scale which showed you what percentage of their reviews were considered helpful vs. pointless.

    as for whether reviews are regularly typed on a texting keypad… i can only speak for myself, but i definitely do write quite a few reviews from my phone.

    granted, i’m in my twenties… but i don’t find it all that noteworthy for a person living in a city to have facial piercings, use profanity, or get a bikini wax. i realize that you pointed those things out for the sake of humor, but i wouldn’t critique your writing ability via your hairstyle.

    anyway, if you’re certain your own writing is superior to the general yelp masses, you could easily get more blog readership by posting your own reviews. most people get around to checking out the blogs/websites of reviewers whose style/content they respect. of course, that’d also mean that you might get someone writing a blog post about how they think yelp as a whole sucks because you happen to be using it 😉

  7. Roger says:

    I wrote a comment to an elite yelper who was yelping about the restaurant she worked at. I had issues with the very things she said were great about her restaurant. She replied back to me, “I just work there, a**hole!”

  8. One of the great joys of being terribly nearsighted and usually mildly distracted is that I have a high number of entertaining misreads. Forex, I saw this gem: The shrimp was not devianed and thus flavorless

    as The shrimp was not deviant and thus flavorless

    Alarmingly, my error made more sense than the rest of the quoted review.

    Thanks for the laugh, and the reassurance that I am not the only person who gets his knickers into an indignant twist for the sake of entertainment and is then taken way, way too seriously by commenters.

  9. Today, after 3 years of Yelp Elite status, something which came to mean less and less as Yelp grew in popularity, I finally closed my Yelp account.

    After reading all the vile, crass, and lowbrow commentary in Yelp Talk threads, particularly LA, I asked myself, what the hell am I doing here?

    Quality content and fun chatty exchanges from Yelp’s better days gave way to discussions with titles such as “L*cking V*g”. It’s an embarrassment that I don’t want to be a part of anymore.

    Since the site depends largely on user-generated content to solicit funding through advertising, I deleted my entire account with over 20,000 page views, 168 reviews, and over 5,000 comments on Talk. Knowing that I was no longer a part of the site and what it has become was a sweet relief.

    Now I’m trying to decide where to go next; Chowhound, Citysearch, or Zagat.

    At any rate, I found this piece of editorial amusing and spot-on. However, there are some extremely intelligent, articulate, and witty people on Yelp; a few of whom have become my nearest and dearest friends over the years. They tend to lay low so they’re hard to find. As time goes on, some of those users gradually close their accounts and move on. Something I never understood until today.


  10. Catherine "norcalbosoxgal" W. says:

    Kerry – sad to see you go! You’ll be missed.

  11. Guri S says:

    I joined Yelp in 2006 and quickly realized that it was something that I needed at that time of my life. I wrote reviews, met amazing people and some are and will be friends (post yelp).

    I realized one day that I was not really a good writer, all my reviews were basically anecdotes of past experiences, ones that reminded me of some other place, time and person.

    I think the best thing to happen to me was the fact that I met some amazing people and some will be part of my journey going forward.

    I closed my account after 3 years with Yelp. Just like any relationship, it had it’s ups and downs. It was time to end it.

    I wish the Yelp team the best.

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