Local food celebrity Andrew Zimmern has come out recently in, we'll just say firm opposition to the crowd-sourced restaurant review site Yelp. In his weekly podcast Go Fork Yourself
, Zimmern lashed out against the website, saying, "Yelp is on my shit list!"
Yelp is the online/mobile app where users register and leave both reviews and restaurant ratings. No food writing or rating experience is required. Though users flock to the highly rated website, restaurateurs have often had less than glowing things to say about it because of the often untrained writers and what restaurant owners see as unfair and exaggerated criticisms. Here's why Zimmern is ticked off. [jump]
In his post, Zimmern cites an incident with his friends at Big Gay Ice Cream, which sells high-end ice cream in New York City, who Zimmern says were the subject of Yelp extortion, in which an "elite" Yelper tried to gain special treatment and free product in exchange for favorable reviews.
In that incident, Zimmern says, the Yelper had written to the food truck's owners asking them not only to open early but to provide a host of specialty flavors for a cadre of "elite" Yelpers. According to Zimmern, the national website Eater.com quoted the Yelper as saying, after making his requests, "Think of all the good reviews you'll get."
Similar instances have allegedly been going on for quite some time. Yelp does offer a filtration system that tries to protect against fake reviews by giving longstanding users preferential treatment, putting their write-ups highest on a restaurant's profile page. The idea is that longstanding users tend to be more trustworthy. If you're interested, Yelp has video that tries to explain the process.
Zimmern goes on to compare the use of Yelp to allowing his young son to make recommendations on adult-themed films or literature. Zimmern, who in his podcast admitted that he at one time had softened his stance on the crowd-sourced food site, now refers to it as a "tremendous forum for a bunch of uninformed morons," and says, "Yelp has become dangerously unstable, because clearly they have people abusing the system, who are using the Yelp name to go out and graymail and blackmail restaurants."