The Yelp on Yelp

Eric Renderking Fisk explores what's wrong with sites that host reviews of your 'favorite' resturants and why they're a huge part of why horrible establishments with a lot of dough are able to cary on for decades when they should have been closed soon after they opened.

Let me revisit something I wrote about in an earlier rant in this food and drink section, especially in part three of “Food Poisoning.” It’s the concept of Public Trust. When you go to a restaurant, there’s an unspoken contract – you serve me great food and drink that won’t kill me or the people I’m with, and I’ll pay you for the pleasure for doing so.

Sounds easy, right?

If you haven’t figured out by now, there are two types of restaurant owners. There’s the type that moves heaven and earth to make sure the public trust isn’t violated and then there are those who don’t give a flying fig about you and will cut costs to maximize profits.

As for the former – the restaurant owners who take the public trust seriously; They would rather die than violate that trust. They would rather burn their establishment down around their heads before hurting a customer. It’s a religion for them, they are the fanatical clerics and priests of this prestigious order and they expect all the people who work with them in their establishment to become fanatical converts.

But we don’t talk about those in the restaurant industry who take the public trust seriously enough because it’s not sensational nor controversial.

Then there are the restaurant owners that are in the same category as scam artists, white collar criminals, industrial polluters, and pathological liars.

Well, they’re in the same category because they are all those things, and more. These are the restaurant owners who honestly believe that “The Public Trust” is a joke. These are the low-level criminals will do absolutely anything to cut corners to maximize profits and if you get sick, that’s your fault.

They’ll also cut other corners by cutting staff, cutting food costs, cutting services like towels and linen… they’ll cut just about everything just so they can maintain their lavish lifestyles.

There’s the restaurant owner who knows there are these other rules, called “The Health Code.” But I’ve written about that enough in rants such as “Food Poisoning.” They look at the health code, not as law or as rules to follow, or merely guidelines. They view the health code as a hindrance. Were it not for that and labor laws, the minimum wage… they could make some serious money.

There are some of you folks out there who are yelling at your devices; “Eric! How can this be! How are there are these restaurants able to stay in business?”

It’s so easy, troops. These criminal restauranteurs use websites like “Yelp” to confound, confuse, and outright lie to the clientele. These restauranteurs pay "The Yelp Vig." And what’s the vig, some of you ask? According to the urban dictionary, it’s “payment of a service rendered to a benefactor from the beneficiary of said service.”

There are plenty of news organizations who have performed sting operations and proved without a shadow of a doubt that “Yelp” has offered ‘pay to play’ deals with restauranteurs, with the understanding that for a nominal fee they’ll remove bad reviews and highlight good ones. Then there are the countless people who have posted on social media about how they were shaken down or shared their experiences when they stopped paying the vig.

To say that “Yelp” doesn’t do this is bullshit.

Then there are the criminal restauranteurs who actually hire people to post reviews for them. You can spot these people a mile away – when you see the locals give an establishment a mere one, two or the very rare three stars but people who live in far away who happen to ‘travel’ and give these reviews glowing four or five stars with glowing reviews with all the buzzwords, you know those reviews are fake.

These are reviewers that are guns for hire, people who consider themselves “professional writers” who are paid good money to punch up reviews using all kinds of flowery words and phrases that make restauranteurs tumescent. These writers also cater (if you pardon the pun) to the criminal restauranteur to get his story across and publish his excuses of why the resturant sucks.

Case in point; I just checked out the Yelp page for “The Valdez Fields” and found that there were some “hired gun” scribes who all mention the same thing in regards to what’s wrong with the restaurant – it’s the service. It’s the service that’s the real problem, not the owner himself. Billy Presley Hazelwood can’t possibly be blamed for the overpriced food, the rotten and moldy carpet that was at least 20 years old when I worked there more than 20 years ago, the filthy bathrooms, the swamp gas smell coming from the bar!

No, it’s all his employees! And all these anonymous Yelp reviewers back him up! You bet ‘cha!

Do you really think that someone from San Antonio Texas really traveled to upstate New York and sampled all the items in the appetizer column on the menu and tried all the tasty beers on tap? And the only problem with his experience was the wait staff? If you believe that tripe, it’s also easy to assume you believe the Earth is flat, too.

Allegedly, Yelp has a policy of not allowing employees or former employees to post reviews even if those reviews are to warn the public about something horrible about this restaurant. If a former dishwasher wants to post on how the owner of the restaurant stores dried goods and other edibles right next to the open sewage tank, or that dishwasher and salad chef had to clean out the clogs in that sewage tank that was overflowing upon the food, he’s barred from doing so.

If you want to warn the public about a horrible business practice that your employer does that could make people sick or kill them, you could get sued. Yelp allegedly helps those who pay the vig sue, such whistleblowers.

If you can’t trust Yelp, who can you trust? Can you trust Google or TripAdvisor?

While the posts on TripAdvisor would lead you to believe that organization is just as horrible and corrupt as Yelp, they’re not. They made it very clear that they work extra hard to make sure that they have never or would never extort restauranteurs. They have “zero tolerance” for nonsense.

That doesn’t stop restaurant owners like Billy Presley Hazelwood to hire teams of “TripAdvisor Consultants” to post positive reviews. As a result, the problem of phony reviews on that site is worse since the money that would have gone to pay the vig on “Yelp” to cull the bad reviews is going towards amateur fiction writers to post positive ones.

What’s worse, there’s nothing keeping Billy Presley Hazelwood from asking customers while they’re there in his “fine establishment” to give “The Valdez Fields” four or five stars and he’ll compliment you with drinks or dessert. There’s nothing to say that he won’t go to a table and ask folks; “Hey, if you help me out with a review I’ll take care of you…”

The real crime is committed by these people who write these reviews. These amateur writers are a huge part of the problem and contribute to the delinquency of these criminal restauranteurs. They right up there with holocaust deniers, flat-earthers, racists, pedophiles and the occasional serial killer. These are the people who will sell out their own people to have their hands crossed with pieces of silver or sell a portion of their soul to pretend they’re high rollers while shooting Jagermeister and Goldschlager with the restaurant’s owner or eat one of those desserts for free when it’s been one of those that have been on display on the tray for the past two or three nights.

These reviewers, the would-be culinary journalists with the spines and integrity of a jellyfish are the reasons why so many of horrible restaurants are allowed to remain open. They’re indirectly responsible for countless bouts of indigestion, food poisoning, and the occasional intestinal parasite.

They ought to be ashamed.