Remember when you were told that if someone makes fun of you it's because they like you? Regardless of whether they like you or not, what counts is that you have got them talking. Good or bad, being the hot topic of discussion gives you more cards in your hand than you would think. Restaurant reviews operate in much the same way. Yelp.com, a popular review site critiquing businesses in 24 U.S. cities, offers an outlet for impressed or distressed customers to voice their opinions about the places they eat. While many small businesses may feel voiceless against the poor reviews they receive, Pizzeria Delfina, a Mission District institution in San Francisco, boldly advertises these critiques on staff T-shirts in an attempt to lessen the seriousness of the site.
Started in San Francisco, Yelp has grown into an online epidemic that has many restaurant owners feeling attacked by less-than-thrilled customers. However, like much of what is posted on the Internet, viewers should read these comments with a critical eye. Similar to a blogging site, Yelp is a resource available for people to express the opinions they have about their personal experiences. With personal being the operative word, opinions are formulated subjectively. The enjoyment of a customer depends on a variety of factors, some of which may not even concern the restaurant. In such cases, said person who is particularly impatient would have a completely different experience than someone happy-go-lucky who is just thankful that someone else is cooking. With this in mind, Yelp's credibility is questionable. While potential diners may benefit from reading the experiences of unhappy customers, small businesses are kept out of the loop as to how their reviews are ranked and whether every one submitted is posted. Furthermore, Yelp lacks control over who sends in evaluations. For all the owners know, competing restaurants could be targeting them in an attempt to promote their own business.
Pizzeria Delfina, owned by Craig and Anne Stoll, holds an esteemed four out of five star rank with Yelp users. However, sifting through some 623 comments, bitter remarks do come up. "This place sucks," and, "The pizza was soooo greasy. I am assuming this was in part due to the pig fat," are two Yelps that have been proudly reprinted on staff members T-shirts for all to see. The motive behind this publicity stunt was not to advertise their restaurant in a bad light, but to turn the negative reviews they receive into jokes. As a result, some believe that users may consider this a challenge to write the funniest or worst remarks in an attempt to get them on a T-shirt.
"That's kind of the point," Anne Stoll told the New York Times Bits Blog. "Are they doing it to get on a T-shirt or did they have a bad experience? They can't trust it-- it takes away Yelp's power."
In addition to providing a voice to small businesses as they struggle with Yelp, creatively advertising harsh comments has proved to be a masterful marketing tactic. Creating a trend among fellow restaurants, Pizzeria Delfina's hate-shirts have amplified their popularity. Not only do they catch the attention of potential customers and remind current ones to return, they spark curiosity as to why any business would do such a thing. Naturally, the only way to find out is to go to the restaurant yourself, instead of relying on Yelp for an answer. All things considered, it seems Yelp's bark is worse than its bite.