Real San Diego Business Yelp Review: “This place is a zoo! Arrived at my appointment time, so you would think they would be ready to roll my car in and get to work. Can you say “several” angry dissatisfied customers? Phones ringing off the hook, line was out the door. Poor Brent (?) did his best to handle angry customers. He’s the reason for the one star. A few customers took their car without getting the work done.”
“Yelp is a necessary evil, but I’m not afraid of them,” said restaurateur Matt Spencer. “Their tactics are bullying and their whole business plan seems very mafia-esque.”
Spencer and Tyler Charman are co-owners of San Diego eateries Vin De Syrah, Firehouse American Eatery + Lounge, Kettner Exchange, and the nightclub Aubergine. “They’ve called me plenty of times to tell me if I pay a monthly fee they will clean up my page,” he said. “I’m not paying them a damn thing, and of course when I tell them that my good reviews miraculously get buried and the bad ones come out on top.”
A big company such as Yelp is not without their own business woes. Bullying accusations dog the San Francisco–based review conglomerate’s whose stock fell from $68.25 to $21.14 over the 12 months ending September 29, 2015. Yelp took a hit when the Minnesota dentist who allegedly hunted and killed a lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe had Yelpers spamming his page while Yelp deleted them as fast as they could. But even with their stocks in a freefall, Yelp is a force to be reckoned with.
Billion Dollar Bully
I had no idea that Yelp was such a controversial site until a friend of mine lamented about her horrible reviews. I took a peek at her page and was amazed at the personal attacks on her and her restaurant, which has been in operation for more than 30 years. (She would not go on record out of concern that Yelp would retaliate. I called 25 businesses and only the few I have quoted would speak to me, all because of fear of retaliation.)
My friend told me that she called Yelp and complained and was told there was nothing she could do about her online Yelp reputation. She refused to pay them for advertising when they called her. She hired a company to help her fight the reviews instead. That didn’t work, so she hired another company to help. So far, that’s not working either. She is so consumed with taking Yelp down that she contributed to a team of producers making a documentary about Yelp’s practices called Billion Dollar Bully.
Billion Dollar Bully trailer
Kaylie Milliken, the San Francisco–based producer of Billion Dollar Bully, traveled to San Diego in May and found only one business owner willing to speak with her for her film.
“San Diego is a hotbed for the Yelping community,” she said. “San Diego makes a lot of money off of tourist dollars. If a business — a restaurant, in particular — has negative Yelp reviews, they are going to lose a lot of money because many tourists look up restaurants on Yelp when determining where they want to eat. They are in an unknown area and want to ensure they will be getting a great experience. Some restaurants in San Diego have implemented the “One Bad Review, You’re Fired” rule. That is to say, if a server gets one negative review on Yelp, they are fired. How sad to know that your job is in jeopardy because you didn’t pour water quickly enough for one angry customer.”
Milliken said that her idea for the film came to her when her husband, a lawyer, complained about aggressive Yelp salespeople and how hard it was to get off the phone with them without being rude. She said she didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to his complaints because she frequently used Yelp to find businesses.
“I was at my physician’s and we began discussing Yelp. She told me her experiences, and I was shocked by what she had to say. Shocked, and in disbelief. I really didn’t want to believe it, as I realized that if what she was saying was true, then Yelp was certainly not a service that I could use, as I realized it wasn’t reliable at all,” Milliken said. “So I went home and began researching it, and I couldn’t believe the outcry by business owners who have had the exact same experiences. I looked at Yelp’s replies to all these concerns and found gaping holes within each one of their defenses. I realized this would be a very compelling documentary, as many people use Yelp daily without realizing what’s going on behind the scenes. Yelp claims to be focused on the consumer experience, but they are doing consumers a huge disservice when they penalize businesses for petty reasons.”
My Good Reviews Disappeared
There have been multiple lawsuits in which a company’s owners made claims that Yelp put them out of business, but so far, none have stuck. Clearly Walter Palmer, the Minnesota hunter/dentist has lost his business due to Yelp posts. One read, “You kill a protected lion, we kill your shitty business. :)”
When headlines announced that Memories Pizza in Indiana was refusing to cater gay weddings, its Yelp page was flooded with negative comments, forcing them to raise money online to stay afloat.
Locally, Dante Jones of Encinitas said that multiple Yelp reviews were partially to blame for the closure of his Los Angeles–based restaurant, Dante’s Chicken & Ribs, in 2007.
“We got some really great reviews from different magazines in L.A, but the reviews on Yelp were nasty. They ripped me apart,” said Jones, who has worked in the San Diego restaurant community for almost 30 years. “I knew what I was doing, because I’ve worked under some great chefs. My ribs fell off the bone. They [Yelp] asked me for advertising dollars but I couldn’t afford it. It seemed to me after I told them ‘no’ my good reviews disappeared and the nasty ones were front and center. It was so scary. It really did help put me out of business.”