Sunday, March 19, 2017

Yelp responsibly

These are stars, also known as weapons.
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. 
In our small community, where everyone knows each other or at least has stood in the same grocery line, opportunities to gossip are everywhere. But most of us understand where that line lies. Most of us know that a slanderous word can make an outcast of a regular person. 
One of our regular people is Bill, a server in his mid-fifties who specializes in fine dining. 
It's a challenge for high-end restaurants to stay in this area. We're fussy. We're close enough to other towns with excellent restaurants to be impatient. Word of mouth goes a long way.  I've seen great places leave just when you thought everything was fine.    
Bill has worked in all of them. For years, he worked in more than one at a time. 
I met Bill fifteen years ago, when he was a shipping associate at a Mailbox store. I was mailing my manuscript to an agent for the first time and he was at the counter. 
It was the most important thing I'd ever done as a writer and I was nervous. When Bill learned of the contents, he called an associate over to cover him and motioned me to the "other counter" for special attention. Then, he took over. We would want to be sure it was signed for, we would want the packaging to be weatherproof, we would want the name of the agent prominently displayed. 
Was I put off by this? Of course not.  I was touched by a stranger's wish to lend expertise to something that was important to another stranger. 
After Bill moved on to serving, and I moved on in my writing career, he still asked how the book was doing as he filled my water glass. 
Bill is self-styled; a host as much as a server. He's a learned food and wine expert and will educate you too, if you let him. He banters with his customers and remembers the entrees they love. His wine suggestions have become my favorites. He knows your favorite table and puts you there when you forget to ask for it. 
A month ago, our newest nice restaurant opened.  
Our fingers are crossed because only one month in, it's wonderful.  The dress is whatever-you're-wearing-right-now, the fare is upscale. The decor is warm and chic, the lighting is perfect, the music is right, it has copper table tops, and it is staffed by servers who have worked with the owner for a long time, including Bill. 
Only weeks after it opened, its Facebook page glowed with praise. Yelp reviews cheered its start. Wonderful! Loved it! Can't wait to come back! Not a single review criticized the food, the wine, the wait. But one, a blistering one, attacked Bill. 
Leaving one star, the reviewer shared that Bill had not only suggested a wine other than what the reviewer had selected, but had, uninvited, gone on to explain why it paired better with an entree as if he were some "New York sommelier." Challenged, and deeply embarrassed in front of friends and family, the reviewer said, his night had been ruined. He suggested that any diner seated at Bill's station ask for another server.   
I imagined Bill reading this about himself.  
Venting online is not a measured act.  We post our angry reviews when we're mad and frustrated, sometimes an hour or two later, possibly fueled by alcohol. We do it anonymously, using identifiers like "123catsrule" because we've learned in our cyber-existence to view human beings as comments. We do it because we're emotional and want all those eyes to know why.  We do it because we half-believe words have no teeth, sitting there on a screen. But they do. 
Companies go out of business over bad Yelp reviews. People lose jobs. 
Does anyone ask to see the manager anymore?
Had the reviewer  taken his grievance to the chef/owner (a call or email still works), not only would he have expressed his disappointment to the person most interested in doing something about it, he might have walked away with a complimentary meal to look forward to. Bill might have been privately counseled, but he would have been spared public humiliation. 
On the Saturday night following the review, I saw Bill at work.  He was busy, moving quickly. When I stopped him to ask how he was, he offered a nod, and a brief "Fine," before rushing away to tend to his station.
Troubling issues and good reasons to speak up are everywhere now. The opportunity to do so anonymously is more than a powerful thing. To a punitive Yelp reviewer who considers it a duty to call out an individual by name, and warn others away from him, it is a weapon. 
You can, you shouldn't.


  1. What a horrible thing to do!! People just don't think.

    1. People don't. I think they are often shocked to know what the real effect of their "anonymous" rant can be.

  2. Sounds like the reviewer had an ego problem to boot. How senseless and unkind!

    1. Even if people don't realize the impact of words like that, serving is a tough position. That alone would make me take the quiet approach.

  3. Yes yes yes. I know far too many people who mildly dislike a place/have a bad experience but take out all of their anger for everything in life on yelp

    1. Well put, you're right. Or, they're set up when they walk in to be unpleased.

  4. Oh my Susan you hit it, why not address the owner, the manager,or email them to complain. The owner might then comp their next meal but on Yelp and anonymously, please!!

    1. It would be a nicer world if Yelp reviewers were forced to wait twelve hours before posting.

  5. This almost made me cry...I feel so bad for Bill..I hope you wrote something kind in the Yelp review for Bill...people need to just shut Mom always said, if you can say anything nice, don't say anything...

  6. Excellent suggestion, and, I've been telling people to go and make sure they ask for him. He seems to be doing really well, now.

  7. Agreed! It has become way too easy to fire off angry commentary online behind the safety of our screens without considering the impact.