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Yelp: (No) Thanks for Sharing

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yelp logoIn celebration of our most patriotic holiday, I am declaring my own independence from what I consider one of the most irritating sites on the internet-- Yelp.com. Even the name causes me to chafe.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word "yelp" means:

1. Noun: a sharp shrill bark or cry (as of a tog or turkey); (see) also squeal.

2. Intransitive verb: To utter a sharp quick shrill cry.

At least. they've given themselves an accurate name.


Perhaps it is my own, personal distaste for democracy, especially in terms of voting for, say, restaurants (think Zagat), pop singers (think American Idol), or even presidents (think about whomever you wish) that makes me dislike sites such as Yelp. Before your underwear gets anymore bunched in places, I am hardly un-American. I am a firm believer in our particular form of government, which happens to be republican, rather than democratic. And before your y-fronts become irretrievably lodged, I am referring to systems of government, not political parties. For the sake of argument today, I shall limit my discussion to restaurant commentary.

It seems that anyone with access to a computer today can write a restaurant review, myself included. But is everyone's opinion worth reading, let alone writing? That is certainly debatable. I for one, don't think so.

Call me a snob. Call me an elitist pig. I've been called much worse.

Of course, I believe that everyone is certainly entitled to his or her opinion, but many opinions expressed on sites like Yelp are neither well-informed nor, as is more often the case, well-written.

For example, I've chosen three reviews of Brenda's French Soul Food on Polk Street, which has, as of this posting, 338 Yelp reviews. This is from a four yelp star rated piece:

"I enjoyed this place a lot. We found parking right on Vaness. Our wait was about 20 minutes. We arrived at 11am I think. It will seat about 20 people-30people. I did not see Brenda though."

"My first time eating beignets -- I did not know it came in threes, I should of ordered one of each. We got three apple ones. It was gooood and fattening."

"I ordered the bowl of gumbo (dark gumbo). I am use to the tomatoey colored gumbo but it was pretty good."

"Also got an entree of the Harrytown special which includes oysters, grits and biscuits."

"I loved the biscuits."

"Cute little place to revisit or bring out of towners."

Harrytown Special? I can only assume she meant Hangtown Fry. With testimonials like this, it's not surprising the restaurant sustains such long lines out the door. Are reviews such as these typed on a texting keypad, rather than at a keyboard? That would be a charitable explanation of such short sentences. It's like some unevocative, bastard form of haiku. It horrifies, but that's just fine, since I tend to savor crappiness. The only point it serves, in my book, is as the object of mockery.

Now here is an excerpt from a not-so-good (two yelp star) review:

"Just before we passed out from hunger, they brought over our beignet flight which was good, our favorite beignet was the crawfish. The only other compliment I have is for the coffee. The breakfast plates were mediocre. My friend, who was starving, took 5 bites of her omelette and left the rest."

She certainly has a flair for the dramatic. If one decides to set out and review a restaurant, whether one has enjoyed the experience or not, one should, to the best of one's ability, explain why. What made these crawfish beignets good? What could possibly compel a starving woman to take only five bites of an omelette? These are things I want answered. If a reviewer cannot accurately describe her experience-- the food she ate, the service she received, or her surroundings-- she has no business wasting anyone's time with her fourth-grade writing skills. Make that third grade-- I know a couple of nine year-olds who write much more vividly.

And, finally, here's a rather terrible (one yelp star) piece:

"I am as honest as a heartbeat, so believe me when I say that this spot is highly overrated. I just have no desire to come again-- wait or no wait."

"I had a bit of all four of our plates and the sampler benettes, so here goes my opinion..."

"My dish-- The Shrimp and Goat Cheese Omelet Grits and Cream Biscuit-- The shrimp was not devianed and thus flavorless. I opted not to have the bacon relish on top so I will be fair and refrain from further commenting about it. I like my gritts creamier than it was but it was tastey and the buiscutt was pretty good."

"Watermelon Sweet Tea-- Free refills, but they don't really tell you that. liked it because it was not sweet, and I like water. It was also luke-warm."

"The Chalkboard Special, Shrimp Pot Pie- The shrimp was overcooked and rubbery, and the veggies were overcooked and mushy. Boo Hoo!"

Honest as a heartbeat. Perhaps she should have her cardiologist examine her for arrythmia. I don't trust anyone starts off by telling me how honest she is. It was a bad review on a number of levels, star ratings aside. I do, however, admire her creative spelling, the fact that she feels shrimp proto --intestines are where all the flavor is, and that she can't tell the difference between a mirror and a chalkboard. I read the bit about why she likes the Watermelon Sweet Tea about ten times.

If you're interested in reading about her bikini waxing at the Pink Cheeks Skin Salon in Sherman Oaks, I will happily email you her yelp profile.

I had hoped the members of Yelp Elite might be a little more helpful or, at least, better writers, since the elite page states:

"...Yelp members who get in are known for having reviews that are insightful, irreverent and personal (aka useful, funny and cool!)."

Of course, it also requests that Elite members have:

"Personal pizazz! Even after all this, we look for a certain je ne sais quoi—we call it Yelpitude. To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice James Stewart when defining pornography in a case about obscenity, 'Yelp Elite is hard to define, but we 'know it when we see it.'"

Perhaps I should have sensed trouble when I realized the Yelp Elite squad (or, at least, the person responsible for writing the copy) had mistaken a much-beloved Campbell's Soup-hawking actor for Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart.

The first elite reviewer I read was a young lady named Beverly. She went on and on about her experience with a DAT date to Frisée Restaurant in the Castro. I hope that by DAT she meant "Dine About Town". Please read:

"Sidenote: It was cramped as s**t. We sat upstairs and the ceiling was like 6 feet high and we sat at a tiny itty bitty table next to a tiny itty bitty walk way. Oh and the service. SLOW AS S**T. I want to minus stars for the service but the food was so good I just can't bring myself to do it."

What is it about her personal writing style that led her to become part of the Yelp Elite? Was it her penchant for using fecal terms when describing her experience? Perhaps it was her photos (which are required of all Elite members). Maybe her two lip rings at the right-hand corner of her mouth catch enough food so that she might savor it more thoughtfully upon her return home from dining, quill pen in hand and that deep-in-thought dreamy look that only fake, blue-tinted contact lenses can properly convey. Does she have "that certain je ne sais quoi"? I'm thinking it's more like elle ne sait rien.

Well, I've had my fun at Yelp's expense today, but to be fair(ish), I must say that, in browsing the site for several hours this week, I have come across some people who do offer thoughtful-- and fairly well-written-- reviews. Case in point: Kerry "Tempura Assassin" K in describing her experience at Burritoville in San Anselmo:

"[My husband] was a little more offended at the sight of iceberg lettuce on his carne asada taco ($2.95) than I was. Granted, yes, iceberg lettuce in a Mexican restaurant is an insult to my intelligence, I was able to forgive. This was largely due to the chips, which were thick, crisp, and toasty as well as a lovely salsa bar, friendly and welcoming service, a clean environment, and a buy 9 get 1 free taco card."

"Caveat lector: on the back of the frequent buyer card, it spells out the number of tacos in spanish, "uno, dos, etc." After the 9th one it says "bingo gringo". Gringo eh? That must mean that either Latinos and Chicanos don't eat here or the food isn't real Mexican. So perhaps my taste can't be trusted with this review. If you keep reading, read on with that in mind."

Finally, someone who notices and describes those little details that make a review worth reading. That, and the fact that she used the term caveat lector correctly (or at all). A bright, shining tablet of antacid to save me from so much Yelping bile. I'd really like to hug her. If elite membership could be limited to the likes of Kerry, I think I might have a little more faith in the website. Otherwise, what is the point of creating an elite class, if it is open to, well, everyone?


If you accused me of elitism, you'd be absolutely correct in doing so. Why should I waste my time reading the average person's average review? I don't want an average guy running my country, building my home, or giving me a colonoscopy. I want experts. I want smart people. Same goes for my restaurant reviewers. If all you can give me in describing a gumbo is "OMGITSAWESUM!!!", perhaps you should just keep it to yourself. The world beyond your Myspace friends list is not ready for you.

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