What's This Yipping About Yelp For?

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Christopher Borrelli had a piece about those awful Yelpers in the Tribune last week that had us scratching our head all weekend— why this piece, why now? The subject was how restaurant owners feel about Yelp reviews, which unsurprisingly is that they mostly feel sensitive about getting bashed in public. But the examples chosen were curious to say the least, when they existed at all (one piece of evidence cited is a parody video mocking Yelpers). We're still not sure what the point of this mostly industry-sided piece was.

The most substantive account of an actual interchange between Yelper and restaurant owner has to do with a place called Jo's in New York City, and a Yelper— of a sort; only two reviews, written the same day— named Julia M. (Why this one interaction, out of all the thousands of possibilities, some presumably in the same city as the Chicago Tribune?) Plainly, Julia was an unhappy camper at Jo's:

We were served a completely raw burger that was charred black on the outside and tasted distinctly of propane. When we politely mentioned it to the server we were rudely "corrected" by a manager who indicated that that the burnt flavor was actually the smoked onions, which was noted on the menu. I'm pretty sure propane and smoked onions are very different flavors. Don't be drawn in by the cute decor - the wine list is overpriced and there is a reason why the food is cheap. Because it is utterly foul and the service is just as bad.

In Borrelli's account, owner Johnny Santiago is a sorrowful aggrieved party:

I remember your table, after you and your girlfriend shared a burger and ate the whole thing … you then choose to complain about the burger. … I even took the burger off your check. … There is an Applebee’s in Times Square, I think you would feel more comfortable there. … Welcome to NY, now please go back to where you came from.

As the multiple ellipses hint, this has somewhat toned down Santiago's full response, which began with the words:

It has been said, "An educated consumer is our best customer", clearly you do not fall into this category. You are an idiot.

The lesson we draw from this interchange is less "poor restaurateurs" than "don't post angry"; it was easier to dismiss Julia M. before Santiago (who is apparently named "Jim C." on Yelp) responded so touchily, raising the suspicion that she'd accurately struck a nerve.

But whether there was justice in her complaints or she was just a schnorrer, we'll never know, because we only get Santiago's side of the exchange. Did Borrelli try to contact her? We did via Yelp (which is why we waited till now to run something on this), and we got no response, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the same thing happened to him. But all that suggests is that it would have been nice to have a full account from both sides of some exchange; there would have been plenty of others to pick from that might have been enlightening in some way.

Or, heck, Borrelli could have tried the hamburger himself and let us know what he thought of it. Some kind of perspective from the customer side is lacking in this piece, which seems to think it's, if not a crime, at least a darned shame that the people who pay the bills are now having a voice and making waves against the occasional carelessness and lousiness that afflicts the industry. We can understand why the industry should want to think that way; it's human nature. Why the Tribune should want to devote so much sympathetic space to it is another question.