How Legit are Restaurant Reviews Online?

By: Nicole Kucharski

Cheap Eat$ lovers: we constantly link our readers to Yelp or Metromix through our blog, however, in the past there has been buzz about whether or not these sites have maintained a credible reputation. This week, we take a closer look at the local Chicago scene and find out what people really think about sites like Yelp and Metromix.

In the past couple of years, restaurant review websites such as Yelp and Metromix have blown up. Parallel with the sites’ growing popularity are the restaurant staff’s growing concerns. Restaurant owners, managers, and staff are becoming wary of the threat these sites pose for their business reputation. Although, Yelp and Metromix were created so that every voice is heard, this message has been tarnished with unreliable reviews.

Ryan O’Connor, manager at Vivo , an Italian restaurant, does believe restaurant review websites are “a good outlet in theory.” O’Connor states that, “They are good in theory because they allow for people to voice their opinion, however, in practice they have been taken advantage of by owners of bars and restaurants.” The problem with websites such as Yelp and Metromix is that there is no clear way of validating what is said. “Posts were planted,” adds O’Connor, referring to the ongoing struggle between restaurant owners along with their PR agents and Yelp.

Consumers are also finding it hard to decide when reviews are real and when they are scripted. In the past, claims have been made that PR agents pay Yelp to paint a pretty picture of their venue, even if that means the removal of negative reviews. Yelp has never admitted to taking money in exchange for providing a more positive review of the given venue so these claims cannot be verified, however, workers of some restaurants may feel that customer reviews are not always legitimate.

“One customer gave a bad review of Vivo’s  ‘house wine’, even though Vivo has never carried a house wine,” states Mike Zorbes, waiter and bartender at Vivo restaurant. Many restaurants have single-star reviews, although the people reviewing have never stepped foot in the restaurant. One restaurant, Schwa, has had this reoccurring problem. Since Schwa is extremely high-end, it has been difficult for many to get dinner reservations. Consumers that have never dined at Schwa are posting negative reviews simply because of the fact that they have not been able to experience it.

Another food place, Grahamwich, has apparently experienced the negative effects of Yelp as well. “Grahamwich sandwich shop’s owner is notorious for responding to negative Yelp reviews. For instance, when one person left a one star review because it [Grahamwich] was closed, the owner responded,” says O’Connor. Cheap Eat$ was unable to look at Grahamwich’s Yelp page (interestingly enough, their Yelp page does not load).

Since Yelp and Metromix don’t have clear guidelines as to what constitutes a reliable review, people can simply go on raging tangents and bash a certain venue because they “feel like it.” “It’s hard to sometimes trust all of the reviews I see on Yelp and Metromix because people have such different standards. Some people think Ruth’s Chris Stake House is heaven, and some are okay with McDonalds,” says Angelica Kowal, a UIC student living in downtown Chicago.

Restaurant review websites may find it helpful to follow a system of ratings. One way of doing this is by ensuring each person has to comment on three factors: venue cleanliness, staff service, food quality, and leave additional comments if necessary. Many sites offer suggestions on how restaurant owners can deal with positive and negative restaurant reviews.

The problem with restaurant review sites such as these is similar to the issue hotels are experiencing at the current moment. While bad restaurant reviews seem to the the biggest issue with these websites, good reviews that cannot be posted give just as much worry to owners of small businesses. Also, restaurants that have never been reviewed are sometimes listed as 1 star-rated restaurants on Metromix. Owners and staff of hotels and restaurants are worried about one thing: reputation, and if they find that their reputation has been tampered with then that sets off a series of alarms.

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