The Inquisitive Diner's Field Guide to Yelpers
Yelp is a huge force in the restaurant review world. They've taken a motley assortment of amateur writers and given them legitimacy and a huge platform from which to express their opinions. The site is a huge trove of information, written by normal people who don't see their name splashed across newsprint every week. Some of them contribute so much that they're given the Yelp equivalent of a prefect's badge--the "Elite '11" moniker.
Not all Yelpers are alike, though, and not all are positive contributors. The signal-to-noise ratio can be pretty discouraging, particularly as a given restaurant receives more reviews. For every couple of middle-of-the-road, helpful reviews, there are ten "gotcha" reviews--catalogued below.
The Would-Be Critic
The Would-Be Critic is on Yelp only for practice, writing lengthy, prosaic review after lengthy, prosaic review in hopes of landing a professional food criticism job. This Yelper can be identified by the use of semicolons and the overuse of adverbs ending in -ly.
"While the steak was competently prepared and rested sufficiently, the potatoes simply didn't work; someone should let the kitchen know that truffle oil is not a proper substitute for black truffles."
It doesn't matter if the food is good, bad or indifferent; the Scenester is drawn to famous names like a moth to flame. Michael Voltaggio or Eric Ripert could, in a fit of pique, create a deliberately awful dish and the Scenester would fawn over it. Identify this Yelper by the repeated use of the chef's name in the review.
"...Ludo Lefebvre's new hot spot. It's pretty much impossible to get a reservation here, unless you have the hookups like me lol, but trust me the crowds are never wrong."
The Special Orders Judge
The S.O.J. customizes each and every dish to his own needs, real or imagined, and then judges the kitchen (generally harshly) based on these one-off dishes. Can be spotted by the unsubtle references to dietary restrictions, food allergies or aversions.
"I had the pesto chicken sandwich, but asked them to hold the chicken since I'm vegetarian, and it was pretty boring, just some bread with a slice of cheese and some herbs."
The Social Butterfly
Writes about the décor, the looks of the staff, the bar, and the atmosphere--but completely fails to mention the food, arguably the most important part of a restaurant review. Can be identified by references to attractive (or unattractive) people and sentences that start with "so".
"So me and Jenna and all her crowd showed up at 9 and flirted in the bar for half an hour, because the restaurant was pretty dead. We ordered some food but it got hopping about 10. Totally full of hot guys."
The Contrarian thinks he or she is going to be achieve fame by consistently disagreeing with the popular opinion of nearly every restaurant. He or she appears to thrive on going to highly-rated places and then panning them. Look for references to hype or emperors' clothing, or even just a count of how many positive reviews a given restaurant has gotten.
"A hundred and forty-seven five-star reviews? I don't know why everybody fawns over this place. I ordered the house special pho and it was just plain beef noodle soup. Soooo overhyped. The emperor has no clothes."
The One-Timer is also known as the Bungee Yelper. He or she jumps in for one single, solitary review--always negative--and then is never heard from again, other than attempting to thumbs-down subsequent positive reviews. Look for the telltale signs of really specific gripes and general complaining.
"I don't usually post on boards like this but we went to this place and it was just TERRIBLE. The service was the worst ever and the chicken sandwich was cut into TRIANGLES, even though we SPECIFICALLY ordered it cut into RECTANGLES. Avoid!"
The Shill is rarely the actual restaurant owner; the owners have figured out that the Yelp admin staff are onto them. Instead, they get friends and family to talk it up, hoping for a ratings boost as well as SEO benefits. These can usually be identified by the unnecessary references to coupons, deals or other quasi-advertising information.
"Emil is from a beautiful town in France where they learn to cook in elementary school. You will love this place as much as we did! Make sure to ask about the loyalty card and don't forget to check in on Foursquare."
Johnny Fragment condenses into five sentence fragments a review that, in a newspaper, would be 1,000 words long. Can be identified by looking for reviews that look like they were written on a BlackBerry.
"Ate here. Decent. Good value. Would return."
The Xenophobe refuses to acknowledge that other cultures might have different approaches to food, and writes reviews based on the one American dish every ethnic restaurant feels compelled to include on the menu. Any reference to a non-English-speaking staff is a sure sign of this Yelper.
"It was pretty gross. And nobody spoke English so we had no idea if we were eating beef, or what. I asked for a hamburger and they couldn't even make a real hamburger--something about it being a pho shop."
The First to Review
The First to Review doesn't care about whether the food is any good; it's all a contest to pile up as many of those coveted blue "1" badges as possible. This Yelper will go to previews, media dinners and menu tests--and then write a review within an hour of returning home, regardless of whether the restaurant is open to the public yet.
"Went to the friends-and-family preview Thursday night. The walls aren't fully painted, but it'll be done in time for the grand opening. Had a great lamb dish--hope it'll be on the menu."
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.