In response to sam1148 asking about road food and chains vs local, a few responders mentioned finding yelp to be untrustworthy.I'm just curious why.We have used it here and there and not had a problem. Maybe we've just been lucky?
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I have used it too and have also written reviews there. My feeling is that if there are bad reviews the restaurant can and does come back with a wonderful review pretending it came from a customer.
With Yelp, I always try to read between the lines. For example, how many other reviews has the reviewer posted, and what other businesses the reviewer has reviewed, to determine the reviewer's taste level and food sensibility. Here in South Florida, I especially disregard reviews from people on vacation-usually unreliable in my book.
I find that yelp isn't terribly reliable - at least the star ratings aren't. However, it is a handy way of finding places to go in a new town. I typically do a yelp search and then ask friends. For my home town, there are a few people I know personally and what their particular biases are. That way I can trust their reviews. I post a fair number of reviews, but am not really in the yelp target demographic, so I suspect my reviews are also not terribly representative.
On one side you have your shills, owners and managers posting phony reviews, on the other you have an assortment of morons, chronic grouches and those who simply had a less than satisfactory experience despite the establishment's best efforts to appease. Is there a cook or waitress anywhere with more than a week's experience who has managed to completely satisfy everyone who walks through the door?
Are there truthful and useful reviews on Yelp and other such sites? Of course. The problem is in being able to discern which is fact and which is not -- the very definition of "unreliable".
Let's not forget competitors have been known to post negative reviews. And then there's Yelp's alleged history of blackmailing owners with promises to remove bad reviews in exchange for advertising dollars.
And now customers are getting into the act, blackmailing businesses with threats of bad reviews:
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And to continue with ChefOno's point there have been several news stories recently about what amount to virtual internet boiler rooms where people get paid by the review, frequently for places they've never visited. They become kind of easy to spot because their template is always remarkably the same e.g. "this place is awesome, awesome service" etc. Myself I'd like to know something about the person writing the "review". Remember the wisdom of H.L. Mencken, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.