There was an interesting article today in the Boston Globe on restaurant review sites like Yelp and City Search and their impact on the actual restaurants. The thesis is that in the age of social media technology, restaurants are having to pay more attention to the opinions voiced online by anonymous customers. Journalist Ike DeLorenzo writes,
“In the same way that travelers use various websites to find evaluations of hotels, diners are now turning to online food sites for advice on where to eat. As staggeringly fast as participation in food and restaurant websites has grown, so has the attention being paid amateur critics. Comments and ratings from any one diner may, of course, be biased or even false. Many Internet pundits believe in something called “the wisdom of the crowd.’’ The theory is that with many people commenting, you eventually get to the truth about a restaurant. As the public posts about the food, the service, the ambiance, the bearnaise, the baguettes, a fuller and more accurate picture is supposed to evolve. The amateurs are not going away, which restaurateurs once might have hoped, and they are making chefs nervous.”
The article goes on to describe the sketchy business practices of Yelp and the impact of commenters. It’s a good read but I don’t think it goes far enough in examining the issue.The explosion of food blogging and web forums on the internet has given a voice to those who use to be silent. For better or for worse, anyone with a computer can share their opinions. But just because anyone can post a review or critique online, doesn’t mean they’re a good writer and doesn’t mean their opinion holds more value than the next person. There’s a difference between the New York Times and City Search.
I’ve never posted on a site like Yelp, but obviously, I try to “review” food and restaurants. I’d hardly call myself an authority, but I think I have a unique perspective and the appropriate culinary knowledge to delivery an informed opinion. I just don’t think commenters on sites are credible enough to put stock in. In all my experience on these sites, ninety percent of the people only write a review if they’ve had a bad experience and want to vent their frustrations to other like-minded passive aggressive pessimists.
One review should not swing the masses. Online opinions should be taken with a grain of salt. If there truly was a problem with your service or food, it should be addressed at the restaurant, not in a 500 word rant after the fact. If a restaurant has issues, they should be smart enough to recognize the problem in-house and not rely on websites for guidance. If users are serious about food and reviews, then they should have their own site/blog and stop trolling for attention on search-review driven sites. Peter Rait, owner of Beacon Hill Bistro sums up what I believe to be the best attitude, “We take care of each customer who comes in. We want to concentrate on quality while the diner is here, not somehow creating the perception of quality afterward.”
The impact of the Internet on consumers in undeniable. People are easily influenced. The power of the information age is also sometimes it’s downfall. Now it feels like we have too many opinions and so much information that it’s hard to sift through the bullshit. “The wisdom of the crowd” may be something for restaurants to pay attention to, but remember that the crowd isn’t made of Tom Colichios and Gael Greenes.