Why Momofuku’s David Chang thinks Yelp reviews are dumb
David Chang knows his fast food, so it makes sense that he’s signed on as the official Northeastern U.S. “burrito scout” for ESPN blog FiveThirtyEight, which is currently conducting a rigorous, March Madness–style search for the country’s top burrito (and, in the process, examining the relative reliability of crowdsourced recommendations versus other sources of data). Chang recently spoke with the site about his personal views on user-generated restaurant reviews, particularly those on Yelp. To put it concisely, he’s not a fan. Here’s what he had to say:
I’m just going to come out and say: Most of the Yelp reviews are wrong. They just are. Yelp is great for finding information if you forgot the address of a place. […] But for the most part, no chef is going to take a Yelper’s review seriously, even though they might read them.
The problem with Yelpers, according to Chang? They take everything way too personally, and usually don’t know what they’re talking about.
The best analogy I can give is fantasy sports or lawn-chair stockbrokers. For the most part, unless you’re really studying the stats and you’re a former football player or baseball player and know the industry inside and out, it’s most likely that your insights aren’t that great.
Chang’s 12 restaurants across North America have pretty solid reviews on Yelp—but that’s nothing a few hundred outraged, vindictive Yelpers can’t change. You can read the full interview here.
21 thoughts on “Why Momofuku’s David Chang thinks Yelp reviews are dumb”
He does have a point. I’ve read Urbanspoon reviews that trash a restaurant because the customer was an inconsiderate jerk. How dare they ask me to move to the lounge! I want to camp out at this table all night sipping tea! Or the 14 person party that wants separate checks and they all have some sort of dietary restriction.
While some Yelp reviews can be overly emotional or vindictive if the experience has been negative, I believe the type of ill-informed reviews Chang is talking about come predominantly from fellow chefs and self-proclaimed “foodies” such as himself who fancy themselves “experts” on all cuisine. The average Yelp review comes from the average patron that restauranteurs should be catering to, and frankly you don’t need to have a degree in culinary arts or be a food critic to comment on whether a meal was delicious or whether the service was welcoming and professional. Food is an emotional and personal experience, everyone is qualified to give an opinion!
Helen – you’re exactly right. Reviews on Yelp are generally a personal representation – so how do I know that what you consider 4 stars is the same as what I consider 4 stars? You might rate ambience more important, where quality of food may be my top attribute. Stars are arbitrary and personal – it doesn’t scale or represent an overall “standard” representation. That’s the issue.
Perhaps I’m overly fair-minded in my reviews of eating establishments, or maybe the places I review tend to attract the overly fair-minded, but the Yelp reviews I’ve read of different establishments are fairly clear. There’s just only so much that basic issues–what is available, what’s the service like, and so on–can be spun without the spinning becoming transparent.
The star ratings don’t come alone, though. They come with text, sometimes extensive amounts of text, explaining what worked and what didn’t. The below link to a Prince Edward Island restaurant reviewed on Yelp should give an idea as to this system’s workings.
Clearly Mr Chang is afraid of the reviews to make such a blanket statement. I have personally visited restaurants based on reviews posted on Yelp, and I know dozens of other people who have done the same. So if that isn’t effective I don’t know what is. It is very obvious when someone is just lashing out and while it is clearly a personal over reaction it still impacts. I like yelp and reference it many times a week to make a choice. That sounds like it works to me.
True Randy, but my point still remains. Your review is well written (as are some of the others), but the content is your opinion – and since I don’t know you, how do I know I’ll agree with your assessment? The point is, there really isn’t a “basis” level that Yelp can create that makes all scores and reviews relevant to the next person. All they really can do is reflect the “wisdom of the crowd” if there are enough reviews of an establishment.
Bottom line – I’m not saying the reviews are without merit, just without context.
That’s why multiple reviews matter. Is the one-star review given by one person who just had a bad day, or who hit the place on a bad day, or who just doesn’t like lobster buffers (say)? Or is it part of a series of bad reviews which make consistent points about a place? That provides the context.
yup – “wisdom of the crowd” is the value here. without the crowd, there is no value. Even with the crowd, you’re still making a decision based on info from people you don’t know and may not be qualified to critique (or at least may not share your sensibilities of what makes a good place to visit/eat).
By that standards, it would be impossible to draw on the expertise of anyone one doesn’t know personally.
That you can tell that these Urbanspoon reviews are written from places of ignorance is indicative of not only your skills as a reader, but those of others who use these sites.
Not impossible, just not reliable. I think that is correct.
I can tell because I actually worked in the industry.
You’re absolutely correct, and it seems your challengers don’t fully grasp the concept. The hinderweb is open to the world and his wife; we have long been told the shared characteristic of opinions, and the web lets us smell them. There is a type of individual who is convinced he is just as qualified, she knows just as much, and could do better what others do professionally…if only they had the chance. The hinderweb serves a segment of these, and Yelp is a fine example of the result.
There’s a reason some opinions are hired and others aren’t. Last time I looked, the hinderweb didn’t have an editorial staff.
That’s good. I haven’t worked in the industry, but I think I can discern an isolated bad review from a series of bad reviews.
Any more reliable than any other reviewer?
“There is a type of individual who is convinced he is just as qualified,
she knows just as much, and could do better what others do
professionally…if only they had the chance.”
I’m sure there is. The thing is, I don’t think that most of the people on Yelp actually think that, or write that way. People on Yelp are often specific.
A minority of people _do_ do that, but their reviews are readily identifiable. Going to the link I”ll mention you’ll note that the reviews that got hidden were just those kinds of reviews.
Chang in the linked interview seems to be making a basic mistake:
“The problem with Yelp is it’s so personal; reviewers only think about
themselves: “I don’t think anyone should go to this restaurant. It’s the
worst.” There’s just not enough empathy to think about how other people
might experience it.”
Taking a minority and having it stand for the whole is a fallacy.
He does have a point. It’s under his hat
I have a restaurant and we received two mean reviews the day we opened on yelp. From the same person I gather because both are worded the same. 7 positive 5 star reviews were removed and only the negative reviews remain.
Yelp is bias and its a scam. We have 5 stars everywhere else online except for yelp. Because you have to pay yelp for good reviews. Im so glad were successful anyway and im sure we lost some people who go by reviews, but just personal experience; when people eat at our place, they ALL come to the counter and say we have the best burger!
Yelp gives us 1 star lol. Oh well! If youre gonna be depending on yuppy reviews to decide on whats best and follow yelp; youre gonna miss it.
Totally agree. Every review that was good is “not recommended” and there is no verification that the negative reviews were even written by customers and not someone who is vindictive or a competitor. Why does Yelp get away with posting slander on its web site that it claims are ‘legitimate reviews’? The software has absolutely no way of verifying anything about a review. Business is hard enough without this mafia-like corporation.
I too had a slew of phone calls shortly after the business name was posted on Yelp. Finally I appealed to one of the salespeople that its too small a business to afford advertising. Suddenly, all the positive reviews were re-allocated to “not recommended” status. Then two other reviews showed up slandering the business. When I contacted Yelp about the reviews, I got the spiel about the ‘software’ controls the reviews. Well, what happens if someone claims to be customer, got disgruntled and then lies through their teeth to get even? I don’t mind someone expressing an opinion, but lying about things in the review just to get even? Why is Yelp even publishing reviews that go into the realm of slander? I have customer reviews on Yelp that have never purchased anything. That in fact, have never been customers. That have no proof that they have ever been customers and yet Yelp keeps those reviews on my business. Is anyone in Canada fed up with this scam? If Yelp is not verifying the reviewers, then why are they publishing their trash?
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