SmartMoney Blogs

Pay Dirt
A daily look at what we buy, how we spend, and the companies that do right - and wrong - by their customers.

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 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” 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?


We welcome thoughtful comments from readers. Please comply with our guidelines. Our blogs do not require the use of your real name.

Comments (0)

    • Be the first to leave a comment on this blog.

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 or tweet @SMPayDirt.