Yelp shakedown

Hey look, people are finally noticing that Yelp sells review placement.

They called us a few months back with the usual shakedown request. Apparently you get a call once you have more than N hits. If you pay them a monthly fee, you get to put your "favorite" review at the top, get better search result listings, and (I'm pretty sure they told us) get to delete "unfair" reviews about your business.

I can't stand Yelp. Mostly because it's always the top hit when I search for a restaurant instead of that restaurant's own web site, which is useless, but also because I wouldn't trust any of its reviews for a second. Not just because I know that they sell them, but also because, having read the reviews people leave of my business, I know exactly how reality-based they aren't. The reviews of DNA Lounge there fall into roughly three categories:

  • "I've never been to a club before. They wouldn't let me bring in my own beverages. Also it was loud and nobody would talk to me."
  • "I wanted asian hiphop and instead there were drag queens. This place sucks."
  • "I hate dance clubs. They charged a cover! My corner sports bar doesn't charge a cover."

My favorite review was the one that went something like, "I could have bought liquor at the grocery store and gotten drunk at home for way cheaper." Yeah, you get down with your bad self.

So I tend to assume that reviews of everything else on that site hover around that level of reliability.


Update: More: Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0: "During interviews with dozens of business owners over a span of several months, six people told this newspaper that Yelp sales representatives promised to move or remove negative reviews if their business would advertise. In another six instances, positive reviews disappeared - or negative ones appeared - after owners declined to advertise." Yelp's PR people are in a panic over this, obviously.

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101 Responses:

  1. 0ntological says:

    yelp= POO!

    Also, there are a lot of complaints about our bathrooms on Yelp. Not because they are dirty (I'm not calling out my own staff) but because WE DON'T HAVE TOILET SEATS!

    seriously. It really upsets people. Let me ask you this though (this is mostly directed at women).....do you think it is EVER really a good idea to sit down on a toilet at a nightclub? Really? do you?

    If bathrooms are so important to you that you need to post a bad review for that, then yeah. Get drunk at home for cheaper....Apparently, squatting in heels is just too much for these ladies. WTF-ever.

    • avani says:

      While I don't like yelp for club reviews, that one is a valid complaint, unless you're saying that if you can't stand/squat you don't belong in a nightclub.

      • elevatordown says:

        Ya know, I'd just like to see the locks on the stalls fixed.

        • jwz says:

          It's actually not the locks, it's that the savages have broken the stall walls loose from the floor. The bolts have sheared off.

          Unsurprisingly, that looks expensive.

          • elevatordown says:

            An option you may consider is using a hammer drill to drill into the concrete(?) floor, and adding extra mounting hardware alongside the existing hardware to hold it in place again. It would be easier than trying to somehow rip the broken bolts out of the ground. I've done it before with server racks.

            But then, I didn't have drunk hip hop fans kicking my server racks and scrawling their name onto our monitors on a consistent basis.

            • ladykalessia says:

              At that point, get a circ saw with a masonry blade, saw a channel and install the wall tongue-in-groove instead of surface mount.

              • jwz says:

                It's not really that simple.


                We have no idea who the manufacturer of these partitions is. And they're hollow, so sinking bolts through them tends to just cause them to mash flat.

          • rodgerd says:

            ...is that owning a club is like working as a cop, in as much as you spend a lot of time looking at the handiwork of the sort of samples of humanity that make you think the world would be best purged with fire.

      • Certainly true. Even when wearing comfy clothing and runners and not having any problems with one's legs or back, hovering can be a bit tricky. Add anything more complicated to the mix and you're just asking for trouble.

      • 0ntological says:

        oh yes, it has its drawbacks.

        However, seriously, club toilets are gross. either learn to squat, or don't complain if it's gross. Plenty of ladies put down tp so they can sit down. I know because I clean it up. It's not the end of the world and imo is definitely NOT a reason to give us a crappy review. Some of the most awesome places I have been to were also pretty damn gruesome. We are far from gruesome!

        • elusis says:

          I have to say: I hate squatters. I hate them with a fire of a thousand suns. The only reason there is EVER pee on the seat is because of squatting. There is basically nothing you can spread or contract via the skin on your butt.

          That said, I don't care about the DNA lack of seats. I sit there just fine. I have too many layers to manage to also manage squatting. (And see also, para #1).

          • violentbloom says:

            I can't squat and pee. I can squat OR I can pee. But the muscles I use to squat apparently are entangled with the same ones that lock my bladder firmly shut. And it doesn't help either that stainless steel is freezing cold. The lack of seat is trivial however. Usually I just try to hold it until I get home, which means less beverages. I should look into those pee funnels for women I guess.

            Seriously if you're going to hover, wipe up after yourself you barbarians.

            • 0ntological says:

              if you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be neat and wipe the seat.

              There. I said it. That being said though- I can squat without "sprinkling". Hey...everyone has gotta have a skill!

              • 0ntological says:

                No matter how hard we, the "bitter, rude" (according to Yelp) staff work to keep the bathrooms clean for you all....there will, you know, occasionally be VOMIT on the seats.

                You can sit on it...or you can squat.

                BTW jwz: I'm in ur jrnl, discusin my peein'.

            • "Seriously if you're going to hover, wipe up after yourself you barbarians."

              IAWTC

        • entomologist says:

          I think perhaps you're missing Avani's point because you're not acquainted with her in real life: she has a physical disability which requires her to use a wheelchair to get around. (Avani, if you're still reading this thread, I hope I'm not out of line for explaining this.) "Learn to squat" isn't exactly a viable option for those without full use of their legs, and comes across in that context as rather callous.

      • ladykalessia says:

        What I want are grab handles on the wall to facilitate this while drunk.

    • I totally asked Jaime about this Monday cuz I was curious why the toliets didn't have seats. I mean, I don't care considering you'd have to be insane to sit on a public toliet, but there's always chicks freaking out about it like you said.

    • unwoman says:

      I am fine with no seats, but I've always had to make my own "cowboy hats" there (I am not a fan of squat-n-spray, though obviously lots of women are.) Seems the DNA would save on toilet paper what they would spend on seat covers if they would actually stock them. Given that I have to use a lot of toilet paper because making cowboy hats is hard and I inevitably mess up and have to start over a few times.

      • moonwick says:

        What are you afraid of catching from a toilet seat?

        • unwoman says:

          I'm not afraid of catching anything -- I'm just not fond of feeling someone else's urine on my skin. Some people are into that I'm sure, but it doesn't rock my world.

          To clarify, normal public toilets I simply wipe down with TP, but the metal seats at the DNA are so unbearably *cold* that it's impossible to tell if you got all the piss off because your skin feels cold all over when you get up, as if you may have gotten pee on you.

      • baconmonkey says:

        history has shown that the general drunk public cannot be trusted to use those one-at-a-time. Instead, somebody has trouble operating their hands, and pulls them all out all over the floor.

    • They're too drunk to squad.

      Personally I'm with you, I don't sit down on toilets in public, ever. Doesn't matter what country I'm in.

    • jette says:

      I for one have always appreciated that there was no seat at the DNA bathrooms so I could just hover away with impunity.

    • Sorry. The DNA bathrooms are fucking awful. Not Maritime Hall awful, but still awful.

      It comes up in pretty much every conversation I've ever had about the DNA. It comes up in reviews, maybe jwz should accept that he bought his toilets from the wrong industrial supply shop.

    • "do you think it is EVER really a good idea to sit down on a toilet at a nightclub? Really? do you?"

      And here I am reminded of how different Las Vegas is from the rest of the world. The bathrooms in the clubs here are generally spotless, attended, and usually have free candy, perfume, and tampons.

  2. autopope says:

    Ah, now you know how I feel about Amazon.com reader reviews. (Hint: you want to click that link. Don't you?)

  3. vomitrocity says:

    Yelp drives me CRAZY.
    I work at a small pet supply store and grooming business with 6 locations in Chicago. We get negative commets from the crazy people, and nothing from the customers that love us. I wish we could contest the reviews or at lease leave comments to them. Like when someone says "I hate that place, they shaved my dog bald!!!" I'd like to be able to say "Actually, I know who you are. You told the groomer to cut off a half inch all over and that is what she did, but you don't understand that that is done WITH CLIPPERS, NOT SCISSORS and you flipped the fuck out when you saw clippers in the groomer's hand. Your dog was not "shaved beyond recognition"... you just wanted a free haircut, and were willing to resort to embarassing yourself by yelling at us to get it. Jerk."

    Etc.

    • vomitrocity says:

      Ignore my spelling. -_-

    • vomitrocity says:

      So to confirm your suspicion...

      "So I tend to assume that reviews of everything else on that site hover around that level of reliability."

      ...you are correct in assuming that.

    • taffer says:

      I'm a professional writer (technical docs, not something interesting like novels) and we see the same thing in docs and support... almost nobody (some miniscule fraction of a percentage) gives good feedback. The only people you hear from are the complainers.

      Luckily, computer software gets less passive-agressive feedback, but it's still there.

      Someone (ie, not me) should start up a review site for businesses where the business owner can reply to reviews, and the reviewer can reply to that, etc.

  4. mc_kingfish says:

    Yep... Hubba got contacted by yelp for the shakedown, too.

  5. whittles says:

    Yeah, I get a phone call from Yelp about once a month trying to convince me to pay for their services.

    While I've had really great luck with Yelp for my massage business, I would never pay for their services. The whole reason that people trust my reviews is because I didn't pay for them. It's not advertising in their eyes, it's customer referrals.

    That having been said, their club and restaurant referrals are a joke.

    • elusis says:

      Really, on the restaurant thing? I use them a lot for restaurants (but can't imagine doing so for clubs, other than for basic info like location and contacts.)

      • whittles says:

        Well, it depends. I've seen far too many with just as many 5 stars as 1 and the reasons have been so all over the place and often really irrelevant. I guess I give them more weight than club reviews, but not a ton.

        • flipzagging says:

          Even if Yelp was honest, and they aren't, this would happen.

          I've seen a place with reviews like "BEST CHINESE FOOD EVER OM NUM NUM" and I get there and the tofu literally has sugar baked onto it.

      • And to see if they have a freaking WEBSITE, since yelp usually comes up before that!

  6. g_na says:

    That's as bad as the reviews of vegetarian restaurants where people give them a lower score because "I know it's a veggie restaurant, but I want *meat* with my meal!"

    • zare_k says:

      And also "This inexpensive, casual restaurant failed to provide me with grovelling service and Guide Michelin worthy food".

  7. rbeef says:

    I love the new jigsaw.

    Thanks!

  8. rbeef says:

    My password saver apparently went ahead and saved the last comment I posted, too.

    Anyway, does anyone have any suggestions for trustful local review sites?

    • elevatordown says:

      http://www.jatbar.com is pretty cool. the reviews are actual reviews (as opposed to rants or two sentence remarks), and people have to go through sort of a tutorial process on the site's message board before they'll allow the person to post reviews on the main pages. Unfortunately, it only covers restaurants.

  9. tels7ar says:

    For more hilarity, check the reviews for the Java House (not Red's Java House) down at pier 40. Yelp is so completely filled with freaky/odd/wrong reviews that I have grown to hate it too.

  10. ajaxxx says:

    Apparently (according to one of my favorite bar's reviews), yelp fanboys will organize bar crawls, show up with fifty people on a slow night without notifying the bar first, and then act all astonished on the internet that they somehow got bad service.

    It's hard to have much pity.

  11. bitterjesus says:

    As a sometime reviewer on Yelp, I'm going to stand up for the site on this basis: all reviews are subjective, and the way I usually determine whether I'm likely to like a place is not just by the ratings but by the tone and content of the review. If the reviewer sounds like a douchebag, then the content of the review is discarded (or I may even decide to patronize the establishment if the reviewer was sufficiently obnoxious); if the reviewer sounds like he shares my criteria for enjoying something, then I'm more likely to take the review seriously. Then I aggregate the other reviews into similar categories for as long as I care to and decide, on balance, whether I care to give the place a shot.

    This is all the same basic methodology I use for evaluating professional reviewers; with Yelp, the advantage is that all the reviews are in one place. The disadvantage is that some of the reviewers are, one can only surmise based on the contents of their reviews, clinically retarded.

    • gytterberg says:

      +1. A scathing, hateful, irrational review by a douchebag is likely to contain more useful information than "Went with my boyfriend. It was okay. Good tacos." Or "A+++++++++ seller will buy again!!!!!!", since this extends to the whole internet.

    • sylvar says:

      I'm with bitterjesus. Disclosure: I'm part of the Yelp Elite Squad, which means they invite me to a free cocktail hour about once a month. (My reviews are here.)

    • zare_k says:

      I also find Yelp quite helpful for restaurant discovery and write reviews there every once in a while myself. It's definitely led me to some great places I might not otherwise have found.
      As a reader though one definitely has to have a weeding function to get rid of reviews written by sockpuppets, special snowflakes, and the uninformed.

    • 1000000% agreed. People complain to me ALL DAY LONG, and I am quite accustomed to, uh, "adjusting for context."

      Though, now that I'm commenting, I'd put your Average Yelp Reviewer up against your Average Youtube Commenter in a battle of the wits any day. It'd be a massacre.

      • elusis says:

        People complain to me ALL DAY LONG, and I am quite accustomed to, uh, "adjusting for context."

        Yeah, maybe it's just a matter of having the right set of professional skills. ;)

      • bitterjesus says:

        #include obMandatoryXKCDComic

        In any case, that seems excessively harsh; I'm not sure most YouTube commenters actually have frontal lobes.

  12. pyrop says:

    But [Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman] also acknowledged that privately held Yelp has yet to turn a profit, and that doing so hinges on increasing the number of sponsors.

    So a business owner can either pay to get rid of bad reviews, or they can all not pay Yelp's extortion and just wait and Yelp itself will go away? THERE'S A RIGHT CHOICE AND A WRONG CHOICE HERE, PEOPLE

  13. mdl says:

    You're mostly right. There are a few reviewers worth following, though. Especially one in particular.

    Say hello to Nobu K..

    Saying anything more about why he's awesome would ruin the experience, so I'll leave it at that.

  14. violentbloom says:

    Kevin, our mechanic, was saying they gave him the shakedown too, and then removed some of his positive reviews when he didn't pay up. They claimed it was because the reviews weren't from members or some such nonsense. It seems totally lame.

    I've actually had some luck using it for restaurant reviews, though I read through them and ignore the "I'm too stupid to breathe" posts. But I think that it may have been better a while ago. Like so many things.

    • pushupstairs says:

      there should be an option for logged-in yelp users to "ignore this review", which then removes the review not only from your view but from being computed in the rating average.

  15. vebelfetzer says:

    1. I would like to know who these people are with the special extra-sensitive butts who cannot use public toilets without shrieking or constructing Tooms-style paper nests in bathroom stalls (floor loves you!).

    2. Do these people really think a layer of paper is going to protect them from the sentient colonies of nanoroaches that live on all toilet seats, everywhere?

    3. Were they really taught, maybe by their mothers, that spraying urine across aforementioned lavatory was actually preferable to, I dunno, NOT being a filthy sow in a publically-shared place?

    4. Do they have any idea the bullshit that goes on in the average restaurant kitchen, with items that are actually entering your alimentary tract, as opposed to caressing your (presumably open wound-free) buttocks?

    5. Ditto for every actually contaminated surface in the building, excepting the toilet seats, but including the bartops, the stair railings, the door handles, the balcony railings, and the DJs?

    Eagerly awaiting your reply,

    - Bacterial Realist

    • vebelfetzer says:

      As for Yelp, I was assigned to deal with their shakedowns at the Bone Room. I spent several weeks trolling our personally-assigned caseworker, trying to wheedle from him the Riddle of the Algorithm, and finally cut him loose. We had a bad review mysteriously vanish just before we started getting sales calls, and I interrogated him about it extensively. He became defensive and strained. It was pretty cool I guess.

      Regulars of the Pub on Solano, in Berkeley, unleashed an onslaught of false bad reviews for the express purpose of keeping "yelpers" far, far away. It didn't work.

    • vebelfetzer says:

      6. If you have ever touched a door handle in DNA Lounge and then touched your face, vagina, or household pet, you have given up your right to A) complain and B) use/complain about toilet seats or toilet seat covers.

      7. fffffffff

    • violentbloom says:

      Given a choice I prefer not to sit, step, or stand in pee or poop for that matter. It smells bad and it's uncomfortable.

      Also I wash my hands and try not to shove my hand in my mouth. I have no illusions about my food chain. I just get tested for infestations regularly and then take medicine for it. So far I've not tested positive to giaria, but yes to everything else despite lack of any concrete evidence, like say a worm crawling out of my ass. My doctor says from the test results her patients get back it's like we all live in a third world country without proper sanitation. It's horrifying, I try not to think of the host living inside me.

      The problem with sanitation is that everyone has to use it.

      I highly recommend for your reading consideration: The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters

      • taffer says:

        The Sheep Look Up features all kinds of crazy parasites gone out of control (and becoming immune to the various poisons and antibacterials, etc. we spray around willy-nilly)...

        AFAIK the only parasites I've "enjoyed" were some head lice I got as a kid from a contaminated baseball cap. Just thinking about them makes my scalp itch.

  16. pvck says:

    Most importantly for my purposes: Yelp is always wrong about when things are open. Every few days I have this conversation:

    Them:"Hm, let's check on yelp to see if it's open"
    Me: "Yelp lies. Don't do it."
    Them:"Oh look they say they're open, let's go"
    *long walk ensues to closed place*
    Me: "'I told you so' is insufficient payment for the time lost coming here."

  17. Interestingly, I just put "DNA Lounge" into google and your website came up as the first hit. So tra la, the googs are doing you a solid.

    If those are the reviews you're getting, then DNA Lounge is the kind of place I want to hang out at.

    +1 for no outside bevs
    +1 for drag queens
    +1 for no asian hip hop. How about no hip hop at all?
    +1 for charging a cover
    +5 for having a cute website and a photo gallery curiously devoid of fratboy types. Sweet!

    Tens across the board.

    • cattycritic says:

      Yeah honestly, most of the Yelpbags who shit all over DNA I don't want to see there anyway.

      As for me, I do write reviews on Yelp and I like to think they're fair. I don't use it a whole lot, but it's also easy to tell worthless reviews.

  18. gordonzola says:

    ugh. yelp. I could go on for hours....

  19. radparker says:

    Well, it's not much, but at the very least, I'm going to go add my good review of the club, since I've been there and I think it's awesome.

  20. heresiarch says:

    the whole shakedown thing is sketchy. but i think you are giving Yelp reviewers WAY too much credit. who passes up a club night that interests them because some douche on Yelp complained about the bathrooms?? i use Yelp regularly for restaurants, and sometimes shops & services, but i've rarely checked out night clubs, because i go for particular events, performers, or crowds. i doubt i'm alone in that. just because people write Yelp reviews doesn't mean they heavily influence DNA attendance. also, i suspect having more reviews makes a place seem more legit, even if the comments aren't positive. i'm sticking with all publicity is good publicity in this case.

    also, i would think it useful to see what people don't like about DNA, even if their voices might not be representative. who knew so many people don't like the cash bar? latemodel claims only the main bar is cash-only -- is that true? if it is true, should it be better publicized? i often check out professor rating sites for similar reasons -- many of the students are embarrassingly illiterate, but it's helpful to know which profs they like, what they really think of the classes, whether they do the reading, and so forth.