Earlier this month we heard about Yelp's alleged extortion tactics, supposedly the work of a vicious "rogue salesman." And we've heard the tales from the other side; let's remember there are rogue Yelpers out there making restaurant owners angry, too.
In our Eater Inbox today landed a tale from Janine Levinson of Dino's Pizza in Burbank, who calls herself a "Yelp victim." Levinson wrote Yelp to complain about a false review and was shocked when she not only received several canned responses saying the review would remain intact, she was also notified that Yelp would be removing a review they felt was written by her:
At first I couldn't figure out what they had removed, but a quick comparison of the current page to an older version of the page that I found on the archive.org wayback machine showed that they had removed multiple reviews –all positive- including one five-star review written by a larger-than-life local hot-dog reviewer who is quite legitimate and gets quoted in the LA Times no less. Not exactly a shill.
Then with a little reading I learned that I am not the only one that this is happening to. It's a pattern: complain, and Yelp removes positive reviews.
But issues of opinion, fact, and defamation aside, the issue of extortion keeps popping up. You already know what I am talking about, I think, but I have to mention it. I receive lots of calls from Yelp asking for money. I always say no. We have a "no advertising" policy and I have zero budgeted for advertising with the exception of the cost of printing menus.
But strangely, a bad review seems to appear shortly after each phone call from a Yelp sales rep. The review that I wrote to Yelp to complain about appeared shortly after my last decline to pay. While I can't know for sure the source of any review, I find it coincidental and ugly.
Just today, three days after my last Yelp contact, I find two bad reviews have popped up on our review page. In one review the person claims to have had a really bad pastrami sandwich at my place in 1999-2000. As the owner I can state (and prove via old menu versions) that we didn't even serve pastrami back then. We started serving pastrami in 2004. And why are they popping up to pan us about a sandwich that they theoretically ate 9 years ago? Nah, this isn't a wholesome voice-of-the-people review. But what can I do about it? Yelp stands proudly behind its reviewers, ethical or not, and in the words of Jeremy Stoppelman, puts the "community first, the consumer second and businesses third."
I'm lucky. My business does very well in spite of Yelp. But I sure feel bad for people who run businesses that rely on their internet presence. They're fucked.
And you know, it's interesting. When I look at our reviews chronologically, they look pretty darn good until the time we started complaining and turning down Yelp's repeated extortion attempts. Either that, or July 2008 just makes a good place turn bad.