How much do reviews on websites like Yelp and tripadvisor influence your decision about where to eat

My husband and his brother own and operate an independent (non-chain) full-service restaurant in a small town with some considerable tourist traffic. Several years ago I nudged them into the 21st century by creating a Facebook page and encouraging them to revamp our stale homemade website. Then we began monitoring our ratings on sites like Urbanspoon, Yelp, and Tripadvisor.

Not all reviews are good, and we’re fine with that because we recognize that there is ALWAYS room for improvement. Sometimes though people have been downright mean. We got a review once by a woman who had complained about everything then walked out without paying. Her review was so scathing that if our servers hadn’t actually remembered her, we would’ve sworn she was reviewing the wrong restaurant!

So my husband and I were talking this morning about how social media and the internet have altered the restaurant marketing landscape and how we are in direct competition with national chains. I got to thinking about the average restaurant guest and how much weight is placed on the reviews posted on the aforementioned sites and others like them.

If I’m in a new place or city I’m unfamiliar with, Yelp and TripAdvisor 100% dictate where I eat. Well, that’s not true- a tiny percentage of the time, we’ll roll into some place we’re driving by, but I’d say literally 99% of the time, it’s from Yelp.

While bad reviews do influence my opinion, I also take into consideration if the owner responds politely, apologizes, and says they promise it’ll never happen again/ are working to fix that/ etc. (which I believe both of those sites allow)-- so, that might be something to consider.

What I like most about Yelp is the iPhone app- I can point it down a street and it’ll rank all the restaurants for me. It’s great.

I use them to get a general idea of what to expect. I skip right over the gushing 5-star reviews and start at the bottom with the worst ones. Some of them can be ignored because the person writing the review is obviously a tool ("[shitty dive bar] didn’t even have a wine list!":rolleyes:) but I find most of them to be fairly honest and accurate.

I’ve never NOT gone to a place I was planning on going to because of any reviews I read on one of those sites, but it’s definitely useful if I’m trying to choose between a couple of different places.

I use it quite often in my own hometown (it’s impossible to know *every *restaurant in Chicago, although I bet our own **MikeG **comes close!) and almost always when I travel.

I keep a few things in mind regarding bad reviews. First, the age of the review. If the bad review is from 3 years ago, I pretty much ignore it. So much can change in a restaurant, from the menu to the cooks to the servers to the management, that outdated info is no info.

Second, the percentage of negative reviews. Most people who review a place have strong feelings either way. If you’ve got 3 bad reviews and 12 good reviews, I’m willing to give you a shot. 3 bad reviews and 2 *outstanding *reviews, and I’ll assume the outstanding reviews are shills.

Third, and I know this will make people howl: the tone, grammar and general coherency of the review. I’m not saying it has to be super perfect, but if your review is “OMG< this plac totaly SUX heehee!” of course I’m not going to give your opinion much weight. If you ramble on and on about every “mean and rude” thing a waiter did for six paragraphs, I’m going to think you’re far more high maintenance than I and, as a nice person, I’ll probably have a better experience.

Where I start to seriously reconsider my plans (and I’ve even moved dinner parties to another restaurant) is when there are *consistently *lukewarm or bad reviews and they’re saying the same thing over an extended period of time. That tells me it likely is a genuine problem, and I’m not willing to risk it when you’ve got 32 competitors in a 1 mile radius.

I’m so glad to read these responses. As someone “on the inside” I don’t get to enjoy the other perspective. Ever.

My SO and I are kind of risk averse when it comes to trying out new restaurants so we rely on restaurant critics, yelp, and Chowhound to pick out our dinner destinations. We’re trying to save more money so we don’t go out to eat as often and when we do, we hate to “waste” one of our meals out on something that could be subpar.

I do read reviews with a critical eye though, like everyone else. It takes really bad service to faze me as long as the food is good and I tend to be a little more value sensitive than the average restaurant go-er so reviews that bash a place for slow service or atmosphere would get ignored and ones that talk up a $50 plate of chickens would probably have me hitting the backspace button. Everyone has a different criteria for what makes a good restaurant. Like WhyNot says, consistency in reviews is key. If there’s 40 good reviews and 5 bad ones, I’ll assume the kitchen may have had a bad day or so, which is normal. However, if you have a consistent 3 star rating, I’m probably going to skip over to the restaurant that’s rated 4 stars consistently with maybe one or two detractors.

I mostly use Yelp to locate places, not to judge them. The only time I read reviews for anything was when I needed to find a new hairstylist.

But I don’t really have high standards when it comes to restaurants, and I would rather carry-out than eat-in. I don’t care if the service is shitty as long as I don’t get food poisoning. I would be disinclined to return if the food tasted bad, of course, but I don’t rely on others’ tastes on Yelp to match my own.

An authentic Mexican place I really like in the Chicago area (Los Comales) actually has kinda shitty reviews on Yelp, but I know they’re awesome.

I tend to use reviews more for hotels than restaurants but I will use them for dining occasionally and I think the same principles apply.

Reviews influence me but I do read them skeptically. Even the best places screw up occasionally so the presence of bad reviews isn’t a deal breaker - also I suspect people tend to write reviews for negative things that make them angry more than positive things, although that may be balanced against less than objective reviews from friends of the business. And I’m pretty sure there exist people who cannot be pleased and write negative reviews as a hobby!

If a place has few reviews I’ll attach far less significance to them than I would otherwise, if a place has hundreds of reviews I’ll see if I notice patterns (if 100 out of 150 reviews indicate that a place is dirty there is a pretty good chance the place is in fact dirty, as opposed just a once off accident). This is an informal scientific approach - it isn’t like I’m calculating standard deviations or anything but the more samples I have the more I trust the overall average “feel” from the reviews.

Apart from that, a few things can stand out: I know TripAdvisor allows the business owner to post responses to reviews, and if they do that a lot in a non-defensive sort of way that is a plus. A restaurant that takes the time to follow up on legitimate complaints with an apology and a plan to fix the issue shows a commitment to customer service that is endearing and connects in my brain to taking care to provide a pleasant experience.

We always check Yelp before we travel. I review every place we eat, and the reviews of others have steered us to some great places.

I’ve been frustrated with some of these sites when I’ve tried to register my brother-in-law as owner so that we can interact with the reviewers. While I respect the need for this process to be a bit complicated, several months and many emails later I am STILL unable to “claim” the business.

Judging from several responses, owner comments are important. I’ll keep badgering them.

I don’t use it for restaurants but do for hotels when we’re trying to find something in a good neighborhood and want to keep an eye out for bedbugs.

For restaurants, I don’t because IMHO, a significant number of the reviews are by idiots who don’t know food. I’m no foodie, not by a long shot, but I’m not stupid. I suspect a lot are written by young people who haven’t actually explored much beyond basic meat-and-potato fare. Tripadvisor isn’t so bad, but Yelp produces really lowest-common-denominator reviews sometimes. For example, someone who ordered tuna tartare saying it was “undercooked and gross”, someone else was confused by a “dirty martini” etc.

For restaurants, I rely on the reviews I find in local magazines and newspapers where I can assume the reviewer has a credible palate. We look up “best of” lists in the online archives of newspapers when we travel.

Responding is a good idea, but don’t apologize if the allegations aren’t true. I have seen a bad review totally backfire on a nasty woman who made false/exaggerated claims. For example, she said no one was at the front desk and she had to wait in the lobby for a half-hour. The manager responded that their security camera footage shows she waited just over 5 minutes while the desk clerked help another guest with their luggage, and apologized that they weren’t at the front desk the exact moment she came through the door. She also ranted about how her room was next to a noisy street, which wasn’t true, but if it had been she could have called the front desk and they would have moved her to a different suite. She complained that the heaters in the room sucked and had no temperature setting, just “ON” (too hot) or “OFF” (too cold). Again, the manager responded that actually you can set the heaters to any temperature you like, the instructions are glued inside the panel to the controls, and if she was having difficulty she could have called the front desk for assistance. But she didn’t.

I think that’s often the case actually. People having a tough time could save themselves a crappy experience if they just let someone know there’s a problem early on.

I use Yelp a lot when I’m traveling. In fact, my husband and I are in Miami Beach this week, and have used it to find some great restaurants.

I try to see how many people have posted reviews, so I’ll give more credence to an overall impression if a lot of people agree. I’ll skim reviews to see if things are much better/worse now than a while ago, and if people have a clue about what they’re talking about. I feel more confident in going with heavily-reviewed places but know that hey, undiscovered gems deserve attention too. In fact, we decided to check out a place with only one Yelp review due to how new it is and had a delightful time.

Should have checked it for our breakfast spot today, but sadly we delayed getting food long enough that we were in “how bad can this be” mode and didn’t check. Sadly, we apparently found one (judging by the overheard conversation between a waiter and the maitre d’) where there was a lot of confusion in the kitchen and orders hadn’t been tagged/“triaged” right, and our food was delayed and my french toast was cold. I checked the Yelp reviews later and … yeah, we would have skipped this place.

I use it a lot for hotels, less for restaurants (for restaurants I peruse Chow, sometimes yelp.). Like other have said I tend to discount complaints made by people who obviously have an axe to grind. There’s no pleasing some people, really.

However, if almost everyone comments on something negative in an otherwise evenhanded review, I’ll assume it’s probably true.

I use 'em when I go out of town, rarely for local joints as I feel like I’ve eaten everywhere already. However, for out of town joints, I look at a couple factors and considerations when it comes to the reviews.

  1. The spelling and grammar don’t have to perfect, but if it borders on alliteracy then I cancel it out.

  2. The details about the food. The more specific details of the review, the more apt I’ll be interested in its info. For example “the hints of saffron and cinnamon in the rice made my chicken soar into the atmosphere leaving my taste buds lingering and drenched in drool in this little 16 seat restaurant”. As opposed to “service sucked, food was alright”.

  3. The details about themselves. “My kids liked this restaurant because of the plethora of fried items, including the salt and pepper” and I’ll just pass on the restaurant unless I’m in the mood for comfort food. Or a coronary.

  4. If it’s a service oriented complaint, I’ll ignore it. I’m one of those rare people that don’t dine out for “an experience”. I’m in it for the food. In fact, I like a curt waiter, I don’t like the Applebee’s lemme-squat-next-to-your-table-and-smile or the obvious touch on the shoulder for the extra tip money. There’s one great local waffle joint I used to go to with my ex and the waitress there hated him for some reason. She took great pleasure in cutting him off with an “I know”. And secretly I took amusement in it too.

  5. The vendetta reviews. There are reviews out there where it’s just nothing but hyperbole. They probably had a bad experience but if it’s “the worst experience dining ever” and no one in there party was killed by the chef, then no. It wasn’t. Some folks probably had a shitty waiter with lukewarm soup and for them, the world has stopped.


Aliteracy (sometimes spelled alliteracy) is the state of being able to read but being uninterested in doing so. This phenomenon has been reported on as a problem occurring separately from illiteracy, which is more common in the developing world, while aliteracy is primarily a problem in the developed world.[1]