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Is Yelp Making Us Unadventurous Diners?

Categories: We Sell Out
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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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