The success of recommendation and review websites and applications such as Yelp and TripAdvisor are undeniable. As of the end of July 2014, Yelp had a cumulative 61 million reviews. These reviews are quite powerful: studies have found that 88% of consumers trust them. Surprisingly, the vast majority of reviews on Yelp receive four or five stars (out of five).
But mention Yelp to a chef or restaurateur, and their reaction is likely to be much less positive. One of the issues is that of “cyber-shilling,” where consumers are paid to write reviews—positive or negative. And there have long been rumors and anecdotes of Yelp forcing businesses to pay to suppress negative reviews; this accusation has come up again in a recent shareholder lawsuit against Yelp. The outrage amongst the hospitality community in particular is so strong that a group of French restaurateurs and hoteliers is petitioning France’s Minister of Commerce to effectively ban all defamatory reviews.