Is Yelp Making Us Unadventurous Diners?

Categories: We Sell Out
Flickr user jakrapong
​It's practically a reflex. The moment a friend suggests that we check out a new restaurant, at least one person in the group has already pulled out her smartphone and logged onto Yelp, searching what's nearby and has the most stars. Anything in the red or orange warrants a further look. Those with one or two sad yellow stars? Don't even bother.   

Salon writer Will Doig has penned an interesting piece on this modern-day reality, "How Yelp destroyed the thrill of exploring." He points out the main pitfall of relying so intensely on online reviews--that it's turned us all into boring consumers, hesitant to try anything before pre-screening it like it's a CIA job applicant. 

Doig writes that he himself has fallen captive to the moving walkway of rankings and reviews.  

Usually I'm trying to avoid feeling awkward -- I've ended up at too many bars where I'm the only patron who remembers life before cable . . . But am I dodging uncomfortable situations, or missing out on great ones? 

He adds: 

When you can no longer have a drink at a bar that wasn't first vetted by 83 strangers, spontaneity -- which, in some ways, is one of the best things about life in the city -- is lost.

The online service doesn't just make customers less adventurous, but businesses, too.  

One study showed that an extra star on Yelp can boost a business's revenues by 9 percent. When your cumulative score is worth that much, doing something unorthodox that some people won't like isn't necessarily in your best interest.

I do browse restaurant reviews on Yelp, though I obviously give much more weight to the recommendations of friends, fellow Forkers, and other food critics and bloggers/Tweeters I share similar tastes with. But when's the last time I landed upon a gem discovered merely out of curiosity? I can't even remember, and that's pretty sad.       

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Here's my problem with Yelp. Want to know what spices that cunningly flavored dish contains, or how the menu has changed at your favorite neighborhood restaurant since it opened 23 years ago, or how the octopus carpaccio at a certain Italian restaurant relates to the same dish at the L.A. place where its chef learned his trade in the 90s or the New York restaurant where it first appeared in 1988? Yelp won't help you with any of that. Instead, you get bitchy whines about the service and bland, unhelpful descriptions of the food written by amateurs whose writing instantly betrays their biases and immaturity. IMHO, Yelp is yet another example of a lamentable trend: the deprofessionalization of criticism, an exacting and under-appreciated profession. Restaurant critics spend their entire careers developing institutional knowledge, learning to identify the most subtle of flavors, knowledgeably comparing chefs, entrees, cuisines, philosophies. I appreciate that level of expertise and seek it out. For the most part, I don't see it at Yelp. Being good at this takes extreme dedication, a vast suite of talents, and the time and resources to go to a lot of restaurants. Most Yelpers don't qualify, and for that reason alone (to say nothing of that horrible Pandora's box -- many reviewers' unethical ulterior motives) I never use it as a resource.


"But when's the last time I landed upon a gem discovered merely out of curiosity? I can't even remember, and that's pretty sad."

I try to make it a point to go to a random restaurant with no research a couple times a month. Maybe you have been driving by a place for a while and never tried it. (By the way the wife hates it when I do this with her because she prefers the security of knowing if something is good first)

For example I recently ate at a little Mexican joint not far from the womens prison out here that looked like a total shit hole and had a B grade in the window.  It was really good!   

Another time about a month ago I stopped at a Hawaiian joint in Hawthorne off of Rosecrans and I thought it was shit... But I tried it.  And thats all that matters!      


I agree with you up to a point. But at the end of the day, people like what they like regardless of what a critic says.


But I have been persuaded by critics I trust to try new restaurants, cuisines and dishes, thus expanding my palate.


Just do it Michelle!  I know there is at least one place on your way home from work that you've seen and wondered if it was good! 

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