Yelp is an online, service review platform that hosts over 145 million unique visitors every month. Reviewers (called Yelpers) can leave comments and rate a variety of local businesses from car insurance to dog spas to [you guessed it] restaurants. Once these reviews are published, they are made public to other patrons, business owners, and anyone who searches for the business on Google. 

Public relations firms often recognize that any sort of online review has the potential to either make or break a business. Because Yelp (and similarly, Facebook) are used by so many people, many customers regard business reviews posted to them as credible and sourced from a large section of the population. However, it might just be that the only people who cared to leave a review were the ones that either had absolutely terrible experiences or loyal customers who would die for the chili cheese fries at their favorite diner. 

So what imperative do you have to leave a Yelp review- and moreover- does it even matter what you write? Here are some things you should consider before leaving a Yelp review:

Is what you're saying an honest and true experience? 

Did you actually go to the restaurant itself, or are you just repeating an anecdote that someone told you about the restaurant? Did you really find a bug in your salad, or are you just telling that story to be funny? Remember that Yelp reviews have a serious impact on businesses and public perception; especially when they are just opening. Restaurants might not get the same level of foot traffic based on their location, so its important to recognize that different places will feel differential impacts of a bad review. 

What is your intention in writing a review?

Before you start drafting your review, consider what you want other patrons to gain from your experience.  Do you think it is worth if for other patrons to try the restaurant and decide for themselves? Or do you have a big enough stake in the game to impart your wisdom on them? Most importantly, if you're writing a bad review just hoping that the restaurant will cop your meal next time you go, understand that path really doesn't help anyone. 

What about the mediocre restaurants?

Unfortunately, Yelp reviews are often either really positive or really negative. But you can help break this dualism by reviewing places that are "mediocre at best." This will also buffer out the numerical score (1 being the worst and 5 being the best) for the restaurant.   

Consider updating your review if you go back to the restaurant. 

Perhaps my favorite feature on Yelp is that you can leave updates reviews on businesses! I recommend updating reviews if you had a poor experience the first time and an awesome experience the next, or if you tried something new on the menu and think that other people should too! 

Can businesses report or remove negative Yelp reviews? 

Yelp offers some assistance for business owners that may have received defamatory reviews from former disgruntled employees or competitors. However, they have calculated algorithms to prevent businesses from "buying" positive reviews as well. If businesses think that a review is defamatory enough, they can take the case to court (which will almost always create negative attention for them and their business- so it's rarely done). 

Is there certain language to avoid in a Yelp review? 

The language you use to describe a restaurant experience (especially one at an ethnically-specific establishment) almost always carries radicalized connotations. For example, in this Mother Jones article, Sarah Kay describes her observations in a study of 20,000 NYC restaurant reviews. She found that reviewers used the words "ethnic" and "authentic" to describe cuisines from lower-income and new immigrant communities. On many reviews, "authentic" was associated with cheapness and poorer quality. This is particularly problematic as it reinforces racial hierarchies and archetypes that immigrant chefs are trying to break away from. 

I shouldn't have to say "don't be a racist" as part of a "how-to-Yelp" article, but here I am. On a similar note, you shouldn't have to attack the personal profile of any individual in order to get your point across about the quality of their food.  

What should you include in a Yelp review?

You can give the restaurant feedback on so much! Some questions you might consider include: was the waitstaff attentive to your needs as a customer? Do you think the menu had enough/too many options? Did your experience reflect the reviews from other patrons? Did the restaurant accommodate dietary needs and preferences? Were the portions a good value for the price? You can also ask yourself: As a customer, what would I want to know before going to this restaurant? 

Other contextual components you might consider include the time of day you went to the restaurant, what you/others in your party ordered, and if there are any variables that might have impacted service/experience (i.e. Memorial Day Weekend or a day featuring a special menu). 

What is important to keep in mind while reading Yelp reviews? 

The customer might always be right, but they might also exaggerate. If they had the worst restaurant experience they've ever had, they're going to want to communicate that to others by any means necessary. They might have also not read the menu closely or misinterpreted a restaurant policy- it happens! On the other end, restaurants also might mess up sometimes- it happens! Don't take reviews as the end-all-be-all and go try somewhere new for yourself!