Despite hand-wringing about the decline of print restaurant reviewing, few people seem to care. When I teach food writing, hardly anyone asks about becoming a critic now, and a post I wrote on how the net influences restaurant reviewing elicited no response.
Maybe it’s about the economy. Food bloggers cook, perhaps because it’s less expensive and more hands-on than eating out. Due to lack of funds, restaurant reviewers now fall into two camps: the few remaining newspaper employees and freelancers reimbursed for meals; and hobbyists, who write on websites like Yelp.
So please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems no one wants to be a restaurant reviewer anymore. And certainly this news about Yelp doesn’t elevate the profession.
What news, you ask? It’s called Yelpmail. On this post from Chez Geek, a restaurateur explains how Yelp salespeople ask for money to ratchet up the restaurant’s ratings. In another tactic, Yelp’s Elite reviewers came in and wrote a favorable review in exchange for a monthly fee.
Chez Geek is not alone in outing Yelp. The East Bay Express nailed Yelp in an expose. Now there’s a class action lawsuit against Yelp for “running an extortion scheme.”
I wonder why newspapers never thought of that? Oh yeah. Because once the review is printed, it can’t be altered (and because blackmail is illegal, BTW). But on the Internet, Yelp can tinker with ratings forever, and move negative reviews lower so readers have to scroll longer to find them.
I suppose print reviewers will gloat. For them, the news about Yelp is just another indication that hobbyist sites can’t be trusted. But other citizen reviewer sites like Chowhound, Citysearch, and Eater will fill the gap. Let’s hope they don’t abuse their power as their sites rise in popularity, just as print reviewers learn that traditional reviews are becoming scarce, and no one seems concerned.