As a former Yelper, I can honestly say, I'm scratching my head over why certain restaurateurs put so many eggs in the Yelp basket.

The appeal of this mostly-popular-among-Gen Y-user-generated-content site is two-fold, catering to innocent restaurant-goers seeking a quick online review of a certain eatery as well as those who want to open an account, jump in and become a part of the clicquish—often snarky, sometimes vulgar—culture that gives Yelp its intimidating reputation.

The influence of sites like Yelp are often underestimated, even by the likes of travel publishing mogul Arthur Frommer, who shamelessly criticized the site for its amateur writing and unnecessary venting. Of course, he was challenged by quite a few Yelpers, including one who cowardly went by the psuedonym Muffin Top or something like that, calling Mr. Frommer the most offensive of names while defending the "credibility" (my choice of words) of the reviewers.

In the realm of journalistic review, this past week, the San Francisco Business Times featured an article called "Restaurants Learn to Yelp," which talks about restaurateurs who respond to negative Yelp reviews through ass-kissing of its members and inviting dissatisfied patrons back for a new and improved visit.

"Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake fame tried to stave off negative reviews of her new restaurant Orson by inviting in top Yelpers, those who post the greatest number of reviews, for a private pre-opening party," the article states. And Faulker says she had a party for Yelpers and "they wrote a lot of cool things."

Hmm. Oh nothing. Just, hmm.

In my experience on Yelp, I discovered a lot of folks who bashed on professional food writers for their lack of integrity. Saying they provide the honesty because no one is handing them a free meal to write the review. But based on the article above, apparently this might not be so true anymore. Having worked on that side of the media desk, I can say, yes food writers can sometimes get preferential treatment. And yes, this might lead to embellishing the experience and cloud an honest review.

What's most interesting though, is how food bloggers, Yelpers and whoever else might be reviewing restaurants online are gaining recognition for their impact on consumer buying behavior, and therefore receiving this preferential treatment by restaurateurs and PR folks they were so quick to bash before.

In the same article referenced above, one eatery mentioned they had given free meals to anyone who posted a negative review, until word got around that Yelpers just need to bash the place to get a free meal ticket.

In a blog I posted earlier this year on the restaurant social networking site FohBoh, I talked about a former fellow Yelper who generated a buzz of a certain restaurant in Orange County. After it started becoming popular on Yelp, to the point of a group of them visiting the place for a couple of meals, the restaurant still shut down. In other words: Yelp was no help.

My guess is, and it's only a guess, is restaurateurs who give Yelp credence are doing so because if you Google any restaurant, and it's been reviewed on Yelp, no doubt this review will appear on page one of Google, and perhaps be No. 1. This is how I found out about Yelp. Of course, after clicking on the review, one is easily sucked into the numerous reviews, the humor, the caddiness and eventually the appeal that anyone—and I mean anyone—can be a food critic.

But if there's no review on Yelp, then there's no presence of Yelp on page one of Google, and more than likely not on page two or three for that matter. But other review sites might appear on page one, making Yelp not just the only game in town. Besides, think about what you look for in a review when you Google the restaurant. Chances are honesty, the date (how recent it is), price range and the summation of an experience are the key things. If so, any of the sites below can give you the same thing, although some without the large quantities of reviews but enough to give you an idea of the quality of food and service:

Chowhound

Trip Advisor

City Search

Urban Review

Boo Rah

Menu Network

Foodie View

Yahoo Travel

This is an original article previously posted on judythefoodie.com. References to this article are welcome with proper attribution.

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Tags: arthur, business, chowhound, content, francisco, frommer, generated, restaurant, reviews, san, More…times, travel, user, yelp

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