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August 03, 2010

Easy as ABC

We had ourselves a bit of a dustup here in the Arizona food community yesterday, and I feel compelled to post about it, first because it touches on a range of interesting issues, and second because there’s a discussion that should be had here and Phoenix lacks an LTH-style board where this can really be discussed intelligently and in-depth by anybody who’s interested. <-- Not anymore!

For those who are not in Phoenix, or for those who might have missed it, there was a very public spat on Yelp involving Amy’s Baking Company and a rather prolific and respected local food blogger/poster. I won’t repost the exchange in its entirety because it’s lengthy, but it can all be found at yesterday’s Chow Bella post on the subject. The quick summary is that Joel L., a fellow who writes about food an awful lot, had an awful experience at Amy’s Baking Company both in terms of food and service. After posting an obviously frustrated and angry review on Yelp (a rarity for Joel), Amy herself posted a response that was... colorful. It involved straight name-calling, accusations of working for the competition, overblown defense of the food... it really just needs to be read. Chow Bella picked it up, and what followed was the usual side-picking and grandstanding. But as I say, this whole situation touches on a number of important issues in very interesting ways.

First off, in the interest of full disclosure, I know Joel. He’s a friend. He was one of the food folks who was incredibly kind to welcome me to Phoenix with open arms, he’s always given the impression that he knows his stuff, and he’s an enthusiastic booster of the local restaurant scene and a champion of underappreciated places, which I love. All-around good guy who knows his food, evidenced by the fact that when everything blew up, he issued one final firm but classy response, walked away from the ABC controversy, and attempted to make something positive of the situation by turning the conversation to restaurants that “get” social media. And, you know, I write a food blog. So that’s where I’m coming from.

That said, you didn’t have to be a friend of Joel’s or an amateur food writer to be shocked by Amy’s response. With a couple of exceptions, assessments thereof ranged from amazing to unconscionable to just plain stupid, with even most of the sympathetic ears conceding that it was way out of line. But Amy’s response and the ensuing fracas raised a couple of different issues.

First, there’s the issue of factual inaccuracy in online reviews. Though most of the people following this story aren’t in the position to know Joel as I do, he doesn’t make things up when he writes about restaurants. We all bring our own perceptions to the table, particularly when it comes to relaying contentious situations, but what Joel posted was an attempt to accurately convey a bad restaurant experience. I suspect part of the problem was that Amy took some of his speculation a statements of fact. Now, I speculate a lot. If a dish didn’t work, I’ll take a guess as to what might’ve happened in the kitchen to cause that. And I try to make it clear that this is speculation on my part because I’m not in the kitchen and I don’t know. And while reading Joel’s post, I never thought he was actually suggesting Amy uses store-bought dough for her pizza, but that’s how she read it, and that would explain in some part, I think, the strength of her reaction. I think it telling that Joel’s characterization of the service he received has gone largely unchallenged. Of course, the wise move for any restaurateur when reading a post that misidentifies an ingredient or a preparation method or some such would be to issue a polite correction. After all, regardless of how it was prepared, it doesn’t change the fact that Joel thought the pizza was lousy – the most important part that’s strictly a matter of opinion not subject to factual scrutiny (despite Amy’s insistence that her pizzas are empirically “amazing”). You have to search pretty hard to find somebody who doesn’t think this was a botched response.

More interesting to me, however, is that it has once again raised the issue of the propriety of online criticism, particularly when it comes to negative reviews. www.azvibe.com, via twitter (I don’t know who you actually are... drop me a line and I’ll update!), suggested that Joel shouldn’t have been posting something negative after one visit, and that Michele Laudig shouldn’t have bumped the conflict on Chow Bella, suggesting that they have the power to make or break a business and should be more careful about what and how they write. And while I appreciate the sensitivity and thought in those remarks, I think the issue is a non-starter for the simple reason that it was Amy who chose to elevate this spat in a very intentionally public and vocal way. Without the response, it’s a one-star review on Yelp. Few restaurants don’t have them (you can’t please everybody). And whether you feel Joel’s post was correct and/or appropriate, it was background noise that Amy intentionally elevated to a very public spat. The suggestion that Laudig started a “witch hunt” is, I think, way out of line, and one that would upset me more if the accompanying comments weren’t, as I say, measured and thoughtful. But even if you feel that Amy’s response doesn’t figure into the equation when considering the propriety of the Chow Bella post, I think the notion that Joel should not have posted after one visit and that Laudig shouldn’t have propagated the story is wrong for one simple reason. It’s an old media response to a new media world.

This isn’t a “Rah Rah New Media!” post. I simply wish to make the point that the way people consume criticism has changed, and the rules along with it. Though her response was vastly overblown (paranoid is the operative word here), Amy embodies the fear of countless restaurant owners. And really, that fear must be terrible. People’s livelihoods are on the line, they’re scared that a bad online writeup is going to sink them, they’re angered when they feel that those who are writing are unfair or don’t know what they’re talking about, and I understand and sympathize with that fear and anger. But there are a few critical factors they need to understand:

Negative Reviews From Non-Professionals Are Not A New Phenomenon
Diners did not start talking about restaurants with the advent of the internet. Long before the web existed, people would routinely visit restaurants, have a single meal, and then tell everybody about it. It was called word-of-mouth (quaint, eh?), and it went from person to person without the benefit of transparency or the opportunity for correction. People have always talked about restaurants. It’s just that restaurateurs are now seeing it for the first time. And while it may be jarring or difficult to read, and is sometimes misinformed or mean-spirited, it’s important to remember that this is not new. What’s new is restaurants’ ability to see and react to this criticism, and for a poorly-informed opinion to be refuted by a number of others. This is a good thing, and it leads me to item two:

Online Criticisms Do Not Exist In A Vacuum
Many restaurateurs get bent out of shape by a bad online review. And that’s completely understandable. But unlike word-of-mouth or a traditional media review, a post on Yelp or Chowhound is bracketed by context. LOTS of context. You can’t please everybody. No matter how wonderful your restaurant is, some customers will leave dissatisfied. Everybody makes mistakes, and everybody has a bad night... except for maybe Thomas Keller (that’s a joke). Bad reviews are not just inescapable, they’re normal. What matters is the body of online commentary. If you run a great restaurant and some idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about slams you, it doesn’t matter because 20 other people will be lined up to talk about how that guy is wrong and your restaurant is wonderful. What’s more, what about all of the unwarranted five-star reviews from folks who will proclaim everything yummo provided it looks pretty and doesn’t contain broken glass? It goes both ways. The fact is that when you have the large sample of feedback that the internet provides, these outliers are statistical aberrations. Online reviews aren’t absolute, they’re data points. Some of them deviate from the mean more than others. Which brings us to item three:

The Online Dining Public Understands All Of This
We understand that there will be a range of views. We understand that somebody who posts a bad review might have caught a bad plate or had a bad day or have no idea what he’s talking about. We understand that these posts aren’t perfectly objective, are almost always highly personal and rarely come from a broad base of experience with the restaurant. But while a traditional newspaper or magazine critic would visit two or three or four times to provide that broad base of experience, internet criticism provides that second visit, and the third visit, and the fifth visit, and the 27th visit, and the 131st visit. It’s just that they’re all done by different people. It's 2010 and the "It's on the internet so it must be true!" era is long gone. We’re perfectly capable of examining a body of information, reading critically and parsing that information ourselves.

None of which is to suggest that people who post online -- be it via comment, blog or review site – are in any way excused from the basic tenets of common decency and honesty. It behooves us to be as honest and as accurate as possible in what we write and, perhaps more importantly, how much experience with the restaurant in question informs our opinions. But applying the rules of traditional media restaurant reviews to new media is like trying to operate the NFL by the rules that were in place in the 1930s. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with those rules, it’s just that the game has changed. If a diner goes and has a bad experience, even if it was an isolated event, that bad experience happened. Other posts may provide context or illuminate it as such, but why should that bad experience be negated simply because it wasn’t the norm? If it really is a rarity, then other posts and comments will refute that experience. If it isn’t, others will back it up. And this new world of online criticism affords restaurants the amazing opportunity to see that feedback in real time and address it, both internally and publicly, rather than dying a slow death wondering why nobody comes back.

It also isn’t to suggest that there isn’t still a very important role for traditional restaurant critics, though I think their role is changing. These days, I think they’re less valuable as reviewers. It was always the case that a high-falutin’ restaurant critic wouldn’t necessarily reflect the tastes of the once-a-month dining public. But if Yelp (as much as I dislike Yelp) can provide the average person a better sense of whether he’ll like a particular restaurant, there’s no substitute for the experienced critic as an educator, and that’s where I hope more traditional critics will shift their focus.

But that last is a bit of a tangent. Circling back, what we saw yesterday is one of the uglier examples of growing pains in the internet era. But I think the important thing is that they’re growing pains, and as more restaurateurs come to understand the benefits of online criticism and see that the same system that gives them nightmares can also give them cover, I hope we’ll see fewer situations like the one we saw yesterday. The bottom line is that when every diner could be a reviewer, it’s a scary thing. But all that’s going to happen is that the online discourse will, as the number of reviews grow, capture an increasingly accurate snapshot of what the public really thinks of a restaurant. In this manner, the only restaurants that should fear the internet are bad restaurants. Or perhaps horribly misunderstood restaurants. But that’s all a matter of opinion.


Well-stated, as always, Dom. Bottom line: You're Hired!

FYI, Chow Bella link is busted.

Ack... that's kind of important. Thanks for the heads-up, Scott!

Great post. I was in to the Yelp world at one point, but its such a catty, elitist mess on there that I deleted all of my reviews and now simply use it as a last resort "what is nearby" search.

Always thoughtful writing, sir. Love that you address as many points possible. Approved.

Cripes, there's more, Ty, but at some point I need to shut up and realize I'm writing a book.

I really hope this is a kicking off point rather than a final statement.

Sigh. Whenever I see a response like that restaurant owner's, I want to go back in time and re-write it for them. It would have been so easy to use the same version of events buried in her rant to craft a convincing and respectful defense of her restaurant that would attract new customers. I don't know why pepole prefer self-sabotage.

Hey Dominic, just posting to say i'm your number one fan (in Brazil) and this is my favorite food blog.

I've followed the discussion at Chow Bella and Amy's comments are so ... inappropriate i'd think twice before eating at her restaurant, even if her pizzas are as amazing as she says.

Wow. (Just read the posts and many of the comments, including Amy's second retort.) I find this all really sad. And she's a convicted identity thief on top of everything?!

Moral of the story: Crazy is everywhere.

tl;dr ... .

But there was recently a long chowhound thread on this topic:

"Chowhound not the best way to deal with a bad restaurant meal"

As always Dom, you make some good points. Thank you.

While I will admit that this was not my finest example of "fair and balanced reviewing", considering I went to the restaurant only one time, this had almost everything to do with how they made me feel as a customer, and little to do with the food. I have never felt my blood boil in a restaurant as much as I did when the owner came out to defend what they gave me, and subsequently dismiss me as a customer. It was at this point that I decided I would write about it, knowing they did not value my business. Their online response only validated that feeling, as sad as it was.

Had they just looked a bit deeper in my previous posts, they would have known that I had no personal vendetta against them. Quite the opposite, actually - I had read good things online about their pizza, couldn't find much on Yelp and Chowhound that gave me much detail, and decided to investigate.

This whole situation, while reflecting poorly on ABC, makes me appreciate Phoenix businesses who value their customers and embrace social media in a positive way.

You are a great asset to the Phoenix community.

I'm glad you posted something about this. I'm not the biggest yelper ever but when I am extremely satisfied or dissatisfied with a dining experience, I like to share my story with others.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a negative yelp review about a work lunch where we faced terrible service, a very long wait (15 for the waiter's attention and 45 minutes on burgers and sandwiches) and they got our order wrong. For a place in the middle of downtown where people typically get 45-60 minutes for lunch it was really unreasonable and my post highlighted this. I even left a redeeming comment that most people enjoyed their meals and if the service was better we would have gladly gone back.

A few weeks later, I got a comment from the owner about her restaurant "wasn't McDonald's" and that food service "takes longer than 5 minutes" and that "30 years means we must be doing something right." I was so offended by how sarcastic, rude and unprofessional her response was. We went back and forth a couple of times and finally I just let her know that my comment wasn't the only negative one and she really should focus on trying to work on her restaurant instead of engaging in immature yelp battles.

Interesting. A lot to, er, digest here. First let me talk a little about the food. Joel refernces odering a margherita and notes that it has pesto on it (and the chef references sundried tomatoes). I love pesto pizza, but neither pesto or sundried should be found on a classic margherita. So, strike against ABC. But, also a bit of strike against Joel for not calling them out for tinkering with a classic, and instead making some allegations, whether true or not, that should be withheld without further evidence. "Re-heated", "store-bought", etc. are akin to calling someone a liar and should be used with caution. And, even as a part time smoker myself, and not being clear on what AZ's current smoking laws are, lighting a cig in front of a no smoking sign is kind of a a-hole move. Maybe warranted given the upleasant situation, but save the cig for later, unless you just want the fight. (I understand you're a friend of his, but hopefully you (and he, if he reads this) take these criticisms of his review in the "constructive criticism" spirit intended.)

All that noted, WTF is up with Amy and the owner at the restaurant? Can't take criticism? If you can't take criticism, you shouldn't be in the restaurant business. I'm pretty tight with a few local neighborhood restaurants and they ask my opinion of stuff all the time. Sometimes I give them good feedback, sometimes not. Still haven't been attacked with a cleaver.

Defending the food is ok, and even if the defense of the food itself is a bit over the top, I'm inclined to let a lot of that kind of customer/chef dialogue go as reasonable banter. But, as much as I urge caution for reviewers from using words that impune the intregrity of the cook, the owners should really avoid claiming that the customer is a shill or all the ad hominem attacks. And, on this last score, I think Amy has headed into the land of crazy pants.

But, great summary of the issues, and a lot to think about in reviews. Sad to say, that as a big foodie, I'm very disinclined to believe online reviews unless I know the author (I would include you, since I read the blog regularly, even though we haven't met.) Even on good reviews, I tend to trust professional print writers who do go to a place several times to try differnet things and to measure evenness over time.

Nikki... and there's another issue, which I think is the great disservice the star rating system is to restaurant criticism. Though you later had some back and forth with the restaurant in question, it sounds like your problem was mostly related to being unable to get in and out quickly (and with an accurate order) for the office lunch rush. That's valuable information within a very specific context. And if I'm going for a leisurely dinner, I can easily conclude that your experience probably won't have a whole lot of bearing on mine. And yet your rating gets figured into that master star rating, which an owner obviously wants to protect. What do the stars do other than complicate a message that's very clear in the body of your post?

Not a fan of stars.

I would probably buy that book.

I agree with you on the points you brought up. I think restaurant owners should be mindful of online reviews, but recognize the usefulness of them. If there is a consistent theme in the negative reviews, then that's instant feedback on how to improve the restaurant. And no matter the restaurant, you won't be able to please everyone (a few people even gave 2 stars for the French Laundry). I think Amy overreacted to the review in the worst possible way, and almost confirming the negative experience of the diner. Negative criticism hurts (I was a TA), but you have to see the forest rather than the trees to get a good understanding for how you're doing.

I have found restaurant reviews from both "experts" (Zagat, newspapers, etc.) to "amateurs" (Yelp, etc.) helpful, yet taken with a grain of salt, since they tend to focus on different aspects of the dining experience. As my current budget only always me to eat at pricey high dining places once or twice a year, I like to make my money count. Would my money be better spent at Fleur de Lys, Restaurant Gary Danko or Masa's? Should I even bother with the stellar reviews of the Slanted Door, when I think the best Vietnamese food can be found for $10 in Chinatown?

In some respects, word of mouth from a trusted friend or source is still the most reliable. Whether it's a recommendation for a restaurant or movie, they tend to understand what's important for you to have a good experience.

Quite fascinating. Good conversation as usual here. Dominic, quick question, perhaps and aside. You say "as much as I dislike yelp..." Why do you dislike it? Is it the star rating system or something else. Just curious. Just trying to educate myself about the internet as it applies to food rating...

Oops. Of course that should have been "perhaps an aside," not "perhaps and aside."

@Jh, is tu lan still there? Always liked that place. Never liked Slanted Door, at either location.

It is, but I haven't been there (I'm currently in the East Bay), but according to Yelp, and you, I guess I'll have to check it out :-P

I actually like Yelp.

But the reason I like it is because I don't take it at face value. I'll go to Yelp to get a general gist of a place, compare the reviews with their menu, and take in other considerations (price, location, mood, etc...).

I've eaten at places that were given few stars on Yelp but came away enormously satisfied. I've been disappointed with places that Yelpers love. But usually, my opinions tend to fall somewhere very close to the Yelp consensus. In other words, Yelp only forms part of my decision to go to a place.

When I write my reviews, I'm very careful to categorize each element of the place. I don't just write, "omg yay this place rocks!"

I always note what meal I had, how often I've been there, generally when I ate, what the food was like and what the service was like. I try to recreate my dining experience concisely while pointing out the highlights and lowlights (if any).

Having said all that, I think what freaks out people like Amy and other restaurant owners is that each positive review is expected and subsequently ignored, while each negative review is glaring and is a festering wound, the one review (they believe) likely to be taken most seriously of them all.

They need to remember that Yelp reviews are only part of the reason why people choose to go to that particular restaurant. A single bad review isn't likely to dissuade a person from going to a restaurant. If all the reviews are bad, then there's genuine cause for concern.

If anything, there's an opportunity with bad reviews - what if Amy had written, "Joel, sorry you had such a bad experience. Why don't you come back when I'm around, and I'll make you another pizza, see if I can't change your mind?" And if she made the good pizza she believes in and if Joel liked it, he could have gone back and written an updated review praising the place.

Dom - I actually did try to take the star thing into account and added one back because the food wasn't awful. I do agree with the fact that sometimes slow dining is what you're looking for in a dinner but I want to point out that the place I was referring too is more or less a nice sports bar. My friends and I had gone in to watch a game during our lunch break and the game was over before we got our food so it really did play into the atmosphere of the place as well.

Bart - I totally agree with your last comment about how restaurant owners have a chance to redeem themselves and offer a free meal or even just say "Wow, that was a rough night and I know we under-delivered but it was a one time thing." If I received a message like that, I would probably give a place another shot because I make mistakes sometimes too.

It's funny how the owners don't seem to get that. People can update their reviews and make them positive, but that's not going to happen when you insult them.

Amy was obviously completely out of line as was Joel for smoking in an area with a sign saying NO SMOKING and calling being told not to smoke the final F U. But it does sound like a miserable experience and it amazes me that a restaurant would sell a tapinade without anything to put it on. Would anyone eat tapinade in a bowl with a spoon?

The problem with internet reviews is the great amount of trust you are forced to grant them. Are the good reviews genuine or are they actually from the owners and employees? Are bad reviews genuine or are they from people who own other restaurants? We will go to somewhere in another city based on on-line comments but will leave if we can tell that something's not right (no customers, bad menu, unclean). I am very stingy about giving restaurants a second chance but if I tell the waiter that I didn't like something and they graciously offer to make amends in some way, that goes a long way to making we want to try the place again. Obviously I trust Dom's reviews very much.

While not a prolific diner/blogger like Joel and SD, we dine out a lot and are also friends of Joel, Seth Chadwick, and various other bloggers in Phoenix. My one experience at ABC was for a bunch of to-go pastries (as BAKING is part of their name). The items ranged from OK to dry as sand cupcakes. Nothing I'd return for, that's for sure.
We did have a bad experience on our first trip to Cowboy Ciao during Restaurant Week two years ago. Service was horrible and I posted a write-up on the Restaurant Week thread on Chowhound. Instead of blowing up, their PR person contacted me and we discussed it off the boards. She was very apologetic and asked what happened in more detail. She went back, asked our server her side of the story, and got back to us. They ended up sending us a gift certificate for more than our original meal and asked that we give them another try. We did and it was a much better experience. THAT is how you handle dissatisfied customers and make them want to give your establishment another chance.

Yes, when is the book coming out? Killer commentary, as usual.

Timothy... the star ratings are definitely a part of it.

There are a number of reasons. I'll just list the ones that are at the forefront of my mind.

  1. Though I don't deny that it has meaning, Yelp is more about raw popularity where I really prefer a meritocracy. Let people's words speak for themselves, regardless of how many firsts they have or how many times they've posted.
  2. Between the firsts, the badges, the elite status, etc., it's bordering on narcissistic.
  3. Though its community focus is better than Chowhound (which seems hellbent on destroying any sense of community whatsoever), it's still pretty poor. I think this is partly cultural and partly structural (the fact that "reviews" and discussions are distinct entities, etc.)
  4. It's very output-focused rather than input-focused. Meaning that it's all about what *I'm* going to say in *my* review. I think a good food site needs to be more about learning and discussing than... well... yelping. It's right there in the name of the site.
  5. It's for-profit. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But for-profit sites have needs that I think run contrary to running an optimal site for food and restaurant discussion. I've yet to see a for-profit food site that's even remotely as valuable as the good independent community food sites I've frequented. A good example is that for-profit sites are all about traffic. They want and need more traffic. But a good food discussion site isn't built on more traffic, it's built on better traffic.

To name a few :-)

And as a caveat, I'm not a highly experienced Yelp user. I've dabbled, but I haven't spent big amounts of time there. That said, as I spent more time, I found I was liking it less, not more.

Point 2 is exactly why I stopped using it.

To add to Dom's reasons for not being a huge of Yelp, I personally am wary given the accusations that Yelp "extorts" businesses - basically giving preferential treatment to businesses that pay for advertising. I don't know if it's just businesses misinterpreting how Yelp's review filtering algorithm works, or if there's something there. Who knows.


One of Yelp's responses to the lawsuits was to remove the "favorite review" feature, where a business could pay to have a positive review featured prominently on its page.


It is quite fascinating how people will interact on the internet verses how they will interact in person. I would doubt that Amy would have acted that same way in person. It is a shame that it blew up so badly.

you know, I just meant to wander over here for a minute to catch up on the power rankings, and I lost a couple of hours on this Amy story. that was hysterical. I almost wish I lived in AZ so I could actively avoid her restaurant.

and I'd almost be worried that Amy might show up over here if I didn't know you'd ban her in a red hot second.

Dom, enjoyed your well-reasoned recap of the crazy, as usual. ;)

I had the same experience as Cousin Sam. I expected to get drawn in by the power rankings, and really got sucked in by this whole ABC Bistro fiasco. Talk about a case study in how a business owner should not respond to criticism. I work in a professional environment with a heavy customer service bent, in a field in which we are bound to deal with profoundly unhappy customers. I simply cannot imagine any owner in my field reacting like Amy.

Wow. Great topic - so many different angles.

For starters, agree whole-heartedly with the main points. While Yelp has flaws, and those flaws are huge, it does offer businesses the opportunity to get timely and candid feedback...giving those business the opportunity to turn the loss of a disgruntled customer into the gain of a loyal, gruntled customer as well as the subsequent free PR. Amy's missed a great opportunity, and instead turned lemons into dogshit.

In terms of Yelp itself...it can be a great resource, but you really do have to use it carefully. As has been pointed out, many Yelp responders are catty, overly critical, overly laudatory, and oftentimes just plain idiotic. The star system is incredibly flawed for many reasons, one of which is that it doesn't distinguish between different types of restaurants - a level of product and service that merits 5 stars in a hot dog joint might not merit more than a single star in an upscale bistro...but you have no way of knowing whether raters are using them in a relative or absolute fashion...making even the aggregate ratings highly suspect.

That being said, just because Yelp isn't a useful summary or reporting tool doesn't mean it isn't extremely useful - in addition to being a great resource as a searchable yellow-pages, you can still get invaluable information from the comments themselves - you just have to skim through them manually until you find someone who doesn't sound like a complete idiot.
My methodology, for example, involves instinctively avoiding words like 'hubby' and 'yummy' and the use of multiple exclamation points. Using this standard helps me quickly eliminate the 70-80% of the reviews that are useless to me to hone in on those reviewers I'm probably going to share more common ground with who put out information I'll find more useful and relevant. Someone else might find that doing the exact opposite is what works for them.

On a wholly catty note, according to http://www.findforms.com/pdf_files/azd/20255/86-1.pdf, perhaps Ms. Bouzaglo, the angry respondent and owner of Amy's, will have another opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade. If she *does* end up having to serve out her Federal prison sentence for Fraud (or Theft or Misuse of a Social Security number - I found it a bit unclear), it will give her ample, *ample* opportunity to continue all the networking activities she's been engaging in with Arizona Republicans.

(sorry, I couldn't resist)

I'm not a Yelp registered user nor do I regularly comment on it, but I will say this for it: Its very fast to get reviews up on new places. There was a new place open recently, even before they got their website up and running there were a handful of comments. Reviews were mixed, but relatively correct, although the tone could have been a little less hyperbolic. But, its the Internet. Take everyone's emotions and divide by 25.

As an added note, the restaurant must have accidentally removed their comprehensive response to Joel L's review. I took the initiative and re-posted it. Just trying to help.

Rule #1 from the online bookselling world: never respond (publicly) to bad feedback. Even if you're 100% right and they're 100% wrong, you end up looking bad no matter what you say or how you say it. You can attempt to contact the person privately and try to resolve the issue, and perhaps that person will delete the bad feedback. But any response, no matter how reasonable it sounds to you, makes you look defensive and sketchy.

If you're actually good, the tons of positive reviews you get will drown out the occasional bad review and make the reviewer look like an outlier or grouchy crank. If you're not getting tons of positive reviews, you should probably read that bad review more closely.

Dominic and everyone else: Thanks for responding to my "Why don't you like Yelp?" question. Makes a lot of sense...

i can't believe you used "yummo"

Jennifer... I have to use it to mock it!

(Still hurt to type.)

LOVE this post... mostly because I just encountered a similar business owner telling off a customer on his business Facebook page. This from a high-end restaurant in Newport Beach, California, unbelievable! See my post here: http://bit.ly/9W72Os

So I was curious and went to the ABC web site to take a look. While there I noticed that the background music they were using is Loreena McKennitt.

I also happen to know that Loreena McKennitt is a huge supporter of intellectual property rights, and since I didn't see any notice that the music was used with permission I sent an e-mail to her record company (she owns and runs her own label).

I just got a reply that they did not give ABC permission to use the music and that they would be contacting ABC immediately.

So much for her having reformed after the identity theft issue.

Well, THAT killed about an hour! What I couldn't believe, and it beggars belief, is that she wasn't content just to make a single rude, personal attack on Joel. No, she CONTINUED to take on the commentators long after she had made her original "point." Unbelievable! I'm not a psychiatrist, but she truly sounds like a sociopath. Best to give her a wide berth.

Amy is apparently starting to get very put off by the negative yelp press, and has complained to them about the negative reviews. Yelp is starting to get rid of many of them on the basis that they don't reflect 'first-hand' experience. So apparently, she does care after all.

Well, I'm not sure its fair to give a place a "one star" review just because the owner is a jerk or whatever if you've never actually eaten there. Of course, it is the Internet, and there isn't anything stopping someone from writing something like "I ate the _______ there and I ended up in the hospital" and giving it one star without ever having been there. No real way to verify.

While I'm a little bit late to the party here, that very fact gives me a somewhat unique vantage point. There is one very important (and unfortunate) aspect of social media that I think has been overlooked in your assessment, and that's the "mob mentality" of people online. Case in point, since this whole thing blew up, there have been at least 50 reviews (majority negative) that have been removed due to violations of Yelp's review guidelines. Looking at the remaining reviews, the restaurant had 8 reviews before Joel's, written over the course of about 2.5 years, all of which were 4 or 5 stars. Within a week of Joel's review, there have been 14 additional reviews, most of which make reference to the drama, 10 of which are negative (1 or 2 stars). However, if you look at the filtered results (who knows how they "automatically" filter their reviews), that proportion switches! Out of eleven filtered reviews, ten of them were written since this "event", and half of those are positive reviews supporting Amy and her restaurant.

Sure, this was definitely handled poorly by the owner, but I don't think that justifies this immense backlash she's now receiving. In my opinion, the other users should have just let Joel's review stand on it's own, and not piled on in a fury of negative comments that will just serve to further exacerbate the situation.

Thanks for the article, this is very interesting to me. There is a difference between online reviews and word-of-mouth, though. Back in the day, when one person got a bad pizza, only the people who knew the person heard about the review (do we really believe that my aunt's neighbor's sister's cousin's best friend got a bad pizza?). While now, if the review is posted online, everyone can see it.

That's true, Granny, but the point is that the converse is also true. If one person gets a good pizza, everybody hears about it as well. There's a tendency among online reviewing's detractors to highlight the fact that bad reviews propagate more readily while ignoring the fact that the same applies to the good.

Responding in a very belated time frame, but in marketing classes pre-internet (1977-79) the rule of thumb for word-of-mouth was "Someone who liked your product will tell ten friends. Someone who didn't will tell everyone they know."

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