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The Inquisitive Diner's Field Guide to Yelpers

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Yelp is a huge force in the restaurant review world. They've taken a motley assortment of amateur writers and given them legitimacy and a huge platform from which to express their opinions. The site is a huge trove of information, written by normal people who don't see their name splashed across newsprint every week. Some of them contribute so much that they're given the Yelp equivalent of a prefect's badge--the "Elite '11" moniker.

Not all Yelpers are alike, though, and not all are positive contributors. The signal-to-noise ratio can be pretty discouraging, particularly as a given restaurant receives more reviews. For every couple of middle-of-the-road, helpful reviews, there are ten "gotcha" reviews--catalogued below.



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The Would-Be Critic

The Would-Be Critic is on Yelp only for practice, writing lengthy, prosaic review after lengthy, prosaic review in hopes of landing a professional food criticism job. This Yelper can be identified by the use of semicolons and the overuse of adverbs ending in -ly.

"While the steak was competently prepared and rested sufficiently, the potatoes simply didn't work; someone should let the kitchen know that truffle oil is not a proper substitute for black truffles."

The Scenester

It doesn't matter if the food is good, bad or indifferent; the Scenester is drawn to famous names like a moth to flame. Michael Voltaggio or Eric Ripert could, in a fit of pique, create a deliberately awful dish and the Scenester would fawn over it. Identify this Yelper by the repeated use of the chef's name in the review.

"...Ludo Lefebvre's new hot spot. It's pretty much impossible to get a reservation here, unless you have the hookups like me lol, but trust me the crowds are never wrong."

The Special Orders Judge


The S.O.J. customizes each and every dish to his own needs, real or imagined, and then judges the kitchen (generally harshly) based on these one-off dishes. Can be spotted by the unsubtle references to dietary restrictions, food allergies or aversions.

"I had the pesto chicken sandwich, but asked them to hold the chicken since I'm vegetarian, and it was pretty boring, just some bread with a slice of cheese and some herbs."

The Social Butterfly

Writes about the décor, the looks of the staff, the bar, and the atmosphere--but completely fails to mention the food, arguably the most important part of a restaurant review. Can be identified by references to attractive (or unattractive) people and sentences that start with "so".

"So me and Jenna and all her crowd showed up at 9 and flirted in the bar for half an hour, because the restaurant was pretty dead. We ordered some food but it got hopping about 10. Totally full of hot guys."

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The Contrarian

The Contrarian thinks he or she is going to be achieve fame by consistently disagreeing with the popular opinion of nearly every restaurant. He or she appears to thrive on going to highly-rated places and then panning them. Look for references to hype or emperors' clothing, or even just a count of how many positive reviews a given restaurant has gotten.

"A hundred and forty-seven five-star reviews? I don't know why everybody fawns over this place. I ordered the house special pho and it was just plain beef noodle soup. Soooo overhyped. The emperor has no clothes."
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Kimhall1360
Kimhall1360

Wow! That was a fun, entertaining characterization of Yelp reviewers. Talking story is wonderful entertainment flowing over into the internet world. Thank You for the enjoyable read.I am a proclaimed photograph foodie fan, since I believe "the picture is worth a thousand words". Also, all experiences and one's taste will vary depending on any given set of circumstances. Subjective opinions are the spice of life. Ultimately, it is a "Buyer Beware" world. Enjoy! 

Christian Z.
Christian Z.

How did I miss this piece when it came out? Anyway, Yelp is what it is and what it is is a bunch of parts cobbled together, some good, some bad. One thing I didn't like is that the guy who started it said he had to start it because there weren't sites like it already in existence. But there already were but somehow everyone flocked to Yelp as though it really was the only such site. One good thing about them is that they are better than Chowhound.

peaceloveunderstanding
peaceloveunderstanding

Look yelp it what it is. There are no rules... they are truly layman's reviews and their is no right or wrong way to do it. Some people like to be creative on yelp, which I personally enjoy. If you don't like it - don't read it :). What I like about yelp is that with a littl wading you can gain a holistic perspective to places...you get to see it from someone elses eyes. Yeah there are yelp stereotypes and yelp people who take things "too seriously" but whom are they harming? Only the people silly enough to get upset about it :) viva yelp and pier based reviews.

sweetpea
sweetpea

Because of blogs and yelp, food critics are truly difficult to trust. It now makes the outing of food critics, as was done in LA this year, not a bad thing because restaurant owners are now being hit at all directions with any asshole with a keyboard a $5 off coupon.

When Tikiyaki in Orange gets glowing reviews for their food on Yelp, when it is just another glorified sugar filled teriyaki joint, or Sushilicious gets rave reviews... you know things are bs.

Latonya "Keed" Bunn
Latonya "Keed" Bunn

Why the spotlight on yelp -- that's your focus here, but I'm not sure what the point is -- and never anything about clownhound, an equally crappy site (as I've observed for ten years) containing about the same high percentage of useless reviews as yelp with the major difference that the latter is much more popular and isn't run by a bunch of creepy little girls? Believe me, I know those kinds of girls, and they all use a tee-hee chainsaw.

In any case, Arellano-style complaints about country clubs that you didn't join are usually simple prejudice, even when it's physicists criticizing biologists, electrical engineers vs. human-factors engineers, and real newspapers vs. Village Idiot weaklies.

909Jeff
909Jeff

entertaining column Dave! I ofter read yelp and wonder WTF is up with some of these people.

Fran
Fran

I always believe people need to take these reviews with a grain of salt. I'm pretty active on Yelp, but I'm not one of those overly entitled people who thinks my opinion is a pot of gold. In any case, It's missing one: The Yelp Talkers. Those are people who are fair-weather Yelpers but religiously start stupid threads on the Yelp Talk message boards...think: AOL Chatrooms circa 1999. Total weirdos!

MayhemInTheHood
MayhemInTheHood

A large portion of the people that populate Yelp Talk also attend almost every Yelp event, whether it's an Elite event, CMYE or UYE. Not sure I'd call that 'fair weather'. They seem to be more into the site as a whole than anybody else.

digkv
digkv

I love yelp, I tried to write reviews once and I did quite a few but it eventually got boring and tedious. I actually think yelp is an extremely useful site when traveling. I can recall just a few months ago when I was in San Juan and yelp introduced me to some of the best food I had in Puerto Rico, the concierge and locals would always be telling me to eat at really "touristy" restaurants. Yes with a large public site there will always be bad reviews but the key is to read a large portion of the reviews and see what the overall concensus is, not just based off its star value.

Chownoir
Chownoir

My favorite one is sort of a variant on the Xenophobe and they get the one item that's mainstream regardless of whether or not the restaurant is known for it. The number of times I've read a someone saying something like, "I know this place is known for their sushi but I don't eat raw fish and I always get chicken teriyaki. It was meh and I wouldn't come back here again"

MayhemInTheHood
MayhemInTheHood

I hate the Contrarian. I read a one star review from this guy of Slaters 50/50. He did the "i just dont get it, man. Whats with all these 4-5 star reviews?!?". Meanwhile, he didn't mention what he ate there. The same dude also had a negative review of The Wiltern, because he went to a Tracy Chapman concert and the guy behind him was singing along the whole time. So 1 star for the venue. Yep...that's about the sort of insight you can expect from Yelp.

JB
JB

As a pedigreed contrarian in both life and online restaurant publishing, it seems somewhat contra-dictory to dismiss the Yelp Contrarian in the same breath as dismissing the other Yelp personas. Could it be the Contrarians speak the 'real' truth amidst the cacophony of posers? Yes, I know it may seem that 100% of the time they deviate from the masses and relish walking to the beat of a different drummer, but upon close examination, that's really not true.

Remember, I love TK Burger, and Magic Wok, and Baja Fish Tacos, which surely can't diminish my credibility when I rip Old Vine Cafe as the overrated, PR-driven establishment that it really is.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

That means you're not a Contrarian (capital C). If you were a Contrarian, you'd hate TK Burger, Magic Wok, etc. and dismiss all the other people who love those places as "hype addicts" or "sheeple".

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