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Why Positive Yelp Reviews Do More Than Nasty Ones

The Russian Tea Room: Reviewers on Yelp even post their feedback from the restaurant.

You – yes, you – have the power. Food lovers may have good cause to pay attention to public reviews on Yelp.com even when they are positive, according to new research. The power of the “troll,” those anonymous reviewers who leave nasty reviews, may be waning.

Nice-as-pie reviewers on Yelp may be more reliable than you think, according to a new study conducted by Harvard Business School. They are actually more likely to leave thoughtful, positive reviews on Yelp, says Michael Luca, author of “Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of Yelp.com.” Luca combined reviews from Yelp and restaurant data from the Washington State Department of Revenue: A one-star increase on Yelp’s five-star review system can boost restaurant sales by 5%-9%, Luca says. He says Yelp has successfully created a social network where people are encouraged to identify themselves and post descriptive reviews rather than vent. “You can get some fake reviewers,” he says, “but at least you can say, ‘This other guy thought this particular dish was good.’”

Restaurants may have reason to worry from the quality and quantity of Yelp’s reviews. He says 70% of restaurants in many urban areas are covered by Yelp. “You simply could not pay an expert critic to write that number of reviews,” he says. Ken Biberaj, vice-president of The Russian Tea Room in New York, says people “yelp” as soon as their food arrives: “We take our Yelp reviews very seriously and are quite aware that people trust those they believe to be their peers much more than one person who is branded as an expert.” (Yelp declined to comment.)  The National Restaurant Association says its research shows that 25% of American adults are likely to use consumer-driven sites, while nine out of ten people rely on recommendations from families and friends.

Still, Luca’s study contradicts those who allege that restaurateurs influence reviews of their own restaurants. A case in point: “The Mystery of the Cupcake Batter Mix.” As Pay Dirt recently reported, a reviewer on Yelp gave a cupcake shop two thumbs up – then unceremoniously changed his tune and gave the same shop two thumbs down. Was the batter homemade or readymade? Was the reviewer a friend or enemy of the owner? Should we eat there? We may never know. But Luca says these are the exception rather than the rule. “One nasty review kind of gets swamped,” he says.

Have you ever gone to Yelp for help?


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    • Our family has been in the construction industry since the mid 70′s. We have a strong client base, and a A+ BBB rating. If it wasn’t for one customer trying to blackmail us into giving their money back we would have never had a single negative comment on this site, but the problem really begins when YELP filters out stuff that they don’t like. It appears they don’t make money on good news so they remove the good stuff and leave one bad comment for the world to see.
      When we complained, they said it is a free country and they can pick and choose the comments that promotes more traffic to their site. We cannot speak with them on the phone, and we continuously get auto form letter replies, which state that they can “at will” slander anyone that they want without reprisal.
      We don’t like bottom feeders who make money off slandering other businesses. If you are feed up with this company email us at yelp_filter@yahoo.com. I we start a chain letter, to all the companies that yelp has slandered and then we can stop this company from making money off of us. All that we ask is that each owner contact 5 other disgruntled yelp owners, and those people contact five owners… et cetera. It will build to a formable group.

    • We have something like that in Hong Kong– Open Rice, meaning “time to eat”. It’s rapidly spreading to Mainland China. includes directions to get to the place, spending per head, photos. Also cooking tips and recipes sharing.

About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.