How to Yelp Like a Human with Empathy


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. It’s only from their lens. Also, Yelpers don’t have any professional protocol. They sit down and say, “If you don’t do this, we’re going to give you a bad Yelp score.” We’re like, what the fuck?

David Chang, Momofuku Chef/mastermind and lover of burritos.

Sure, there are some valid, non-hateful reasons to look at a restaurant’s Yelp page. Paraphrasing Chang: it is great for finding an address, but any chef worth his kosher salt wouldn’t give a Yelper’s dramatic recounting of his or her tragic date night a second thought. My professional opinion as a server is that Comments are the worst part of the Internet, and Yelp is all Comments, all the time. And I have almost-successfully trained myself not to read the comments, on YouTube, on the NYTimes site, and in life.

The problem is, however, that review sites are likely the first or second search result that appear when you search for a restaurant or type of food in your area. Which means restaurant owners and managers read these comments like it’s their job. ‘Cause it is.

Can you think of anything less comfortable than having the FIRST AVAILABLE information about your business provided by a horde of Yelpers who think they know how to do your job better than you?

I love me some hospitality industry. I get to spread my enthusiasm for food and drinks and engage with new people all the time. I’m good at it. I went through competitive training to get the job, and my in-house comment cards say things like “gracious”, “helpful,” “friendly,” and “amazeballs.”

Which was why I was flabbergasted when some charming person named Stephen* called me out BY NAME on a review site for not attending to his needs closely enough during an early lunch.

It was a frustrating lunch. We were understaffed in the kitchen and on the floor and doing our best. This is not the customers’ problem, I know, but come on, people.

[BORING DETAILS: Steve admitted I was “polite,” but really, things just took too long. He made some un-doable off-menu requests, which I sympathetically checked on and then declined. We can only make what we have the ingredients for, folks.]

When I read the review, I was mortified. I’d had no idea Steve and his two employees had such an awful time that he needed to call me out, personally, in the most public forum possible. They’d said nothing to me about being dissatisfied, nor to the manager who was hanging around the place. At a lesser establishment, I would have been fired. This is a real thing. A thing we need to think about before we go talking shit about people on the Internet because we are in bad moods. People in the service industry do, in fact, lose their jobs over Yelp reviews.

Which leads me to the constructive portion of all this. How neglected do you feel from this most frivolous experience of going out to eat? Bad enough to get someone fired? If you had an off day at your job–maybe you had to pick up a sick co-worker’s workload, maybe you were kind of gassy, you just weren’t your 100% best–how likely would it be that you would lose your job over it?

Perhaps, if you are a professional troll, the idea that you could go on an anonymous website and report that the woman serving you wasn’t paying you enough attention (LIKE ALL WOMEN, WHATISWRONGWITHTHEM??), or that you asked the dang bartender for water during a hectic happy hour and he had the audacity to FORGET (and after the DAY you’ve HAD!), and that this report could get someone tossed out of his/her job without a solid reference to fall back on, perhaps this is the kind of thing that really makes you feel all almond-toasty inside. But if you are a human with empathy, here are some ways you can review for good, instead of for the gods of nethate.

If you have been to an establishment a few times and feel you have a reasonable grasp on how they operate, here is how taking to the Internet about it can be a constructive experience for all involved.

1. Try to deal with it IRL
You may not have the I’d like to speak to your manager haircut, but perhaps talking to a human being with some authority is more responsible and, er, human than venting anonymously to the wide world. Managers are supposed to be meditators. They are also likely to know which servers’ pets have just started chemo, and which ones are getting divorced, and can likely judge the situation better than a blindsided owner reading reviews of his/her restaurant-baby on the nets

2. Don’t go online angry
So you think you were shortchanged in the service department. The table next to you (who sat down AFTER YOU) received their food first. You think someone had a tone with you or was flirting with your date. Spew your offended tirades to your friends, talk to the management afterward, even. But give it 24 hours or a second visit before you write that review. Make sure it’s not just hormones or Mercury in retrograde or whatever before you ruin some stranger’s life.

3. Consider the target audience.
This place wasn’t for you. Was it supposed to be? Are you a vegan at Sizzler or a childless 29-year-old at Chuck-E-Cheeze? So many reviews are written like bad workshop critiques: here are the things I would’ve done differently if this was MY place. It’s not your place. What you want to ask yourself is: How well does this business accomplish what it likely set out to do (which may or may not be catering to you, personally)? Don’t feel like thinking about it that hard? Then DON’T F-ING REVIEW IT.

3. Give Praise where praise is due
Ever wonder why that great little place in your neighborhood where you go for brunch every week and just have the best time and know everyone by name and love, love, love has nothing but awful, trollish reviews? It’s cause YOU haven’t written one. Call out your favorite servers by name! Talk about the food you like! Let the chorus of your positivity drown out the cacophony of half-cocked trolls! The reason the Internet is overrun with hate is because we keep our love to ourselves.

4. Hyperbole? Really?
Sure, exaggerating the depravity of an experience is fun in front of your friends. I’m definitely in favor of not-ruining your partner’s funny story with your obsessive need for truthiness. Oh man, the story of the bartender forgetting your order is so much funnier as the tale of a week-long trek in the desert on a horse with no name and a bartender that punched you in the face with rudeness and then forgot the straw. But if you’re going to go over the top with your complaints, remember that everyone in the restaurant’s boss reads the online reviews. And most of them have families and rent to pay.

5. If you’re going to be a jerk, do it with poor grammar
Proofreading is for lame humans with empathy. Capitalization and punctuation are for level-headed wimpfaces. Your sawed-off rants need to be taken seriously like the United States needs privatized healthcare, that is: LALALALALALALALA cursewords.

So Steve, where ever you are, I sincerely hope you come back to my workplace someday. I hope you come on a day when we are fully-staffed and rocking the world like we usually do. I hope you have an amazing dining and drinking experience. Because you, and my coworkers, and all of us deserve better. But I do not want to wait on you. Because you are dead to me, Stephen. I hate you, and I always will.

This is what Yelp does for us.

*No, that is not really his name. Just relax. It’s over.


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