Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Yelping about blogging, I mean, blogging about Yelping

I remember very clearly when I first heard about Yelp, back when it was first launching just as a site for New Yorkers to write reviews about local businesses*. It makes sense that Yelp originated there -- New Yorkers have high standards and love to complain loudly and publicly. I was at a party in Hell's Kitchen and my friend Sam was telling me about his new job with a brand new website.

"It's called Yelp," he said, "and it's a site where once you set up an account, you can review restaurants and stuff. Anyone can write the reviews and the businesses can't take them down, even if they're bad."

"Wow, that sounds really cool," I said. "I'll have to check it out." In my head, I thought it sounded retarded. I was sure it would never take off -- I mean, who wants to read reviews written by ignorant people?

Fast forward to the present, in which I am now not only a Yelp member, but a member of the Elite Squad. I applied and was granted Elite status in the summer of 2009; basically, in exchange for Yelping frequently (and wittily), I get invited to some special events with free food and booze.

And speaking of witty, I thought I'd share one of my favorite Yelp reviews ever, written by my friend, Jon. Jon lives in Chicago and had a "conflict" with a tailoring business. Here is his review of
Without a Trace Weavers:

A small hole in one of my favorite sweaters precipitated my search for a good reweaver, and Chicago Magazine recommended Without a Trace, with locations on the Gold Coast and in Chicago's North Park neighborhood. I dropped my sweater off at the Gold Coast location and was told they would be in contact with me when the repairs were completed. Fast forward several weeks later, and my sweater was ready for pick up.

Without a Trace's strange hours (open only until 4:30pm) did not make it easy for me to return to collect my garment, as I had recently begun work in the suburbs and it had become difficult for me to be downtown before they close. I did not pick up my garment until a few weeks after the repairs were completed, and only after several increasingly frantic and accusatory phone calls from the business. For the benefit (and entertainment) of all Yelpers, here is an excerpted portion of the most psychotic voice message:

"I don't know why you're refusing just to come pick up your sweater. . . um, this isn't right. . . I don't understand why you'd bring something in and not pick it up or return any calls. . . I just. . . it's something. . ."

I had never before received as bizarre or manic a voicemail before. Not from any ex after a bad breakup, or from any crazy member of my family. Now, this voice message may lead you to believe that I'm one of those sick people who gets off on dropping off garments for dry cleaning, alterations, or repairs. and then leaving them there forever sticking the company with the bill. Ha, the joke is on you, reweaving company! Reality? A too-long turnaround time and inconvenient hours of operations made it difficult to pick up my sweater, only one of several that I own and that provide me warmth and comfort on a regular basis.

When I returned to pick up my garment, I asked the nice young man working at the time if it was he that left me the aforementioned message. I told him that it was the single most psychotic, unprofessional voicemail that I had ever received. Without hesitation, the employee told me that it must have been the owner, Michael. This leads me to believe that I am not the first customer to suffer the indignity of dealing with the business's proprietor.

If you're looking for a healthy dose of abuse along with your garment repair, might I suggest Without a Trace? If you happen to be reading this, Michael, might I suggest for you some time on the couch with a good psychotherapist? It's not terribly professional to work through your obviously complex emotional issues on your customers' answering machines!

Sometimes when you write a negative review, the business will respond and apologize/offer an incentive to give them another try. Usually, if this happens, it will happen within a month or so of the review being posted. I, however, recently received a message from
Sandella's, a place I reviewed over a year ago. Here's my review and the subsequent message -- I suggest doing a dramatic reading to get the full effect:

Neither tasty nor healthy, Sandella's has little to recommend it. My ham, spinach and swiss "panini" was greasy and measly (seriously, like one slice of ham) and lacking the promised "mango habanero salsa." Also, it wasn't really a panini -- kind of like a sad, deflated burrito. I will not be back.

13 months later.....

Hello Katie. I know you had a bad experience at my restaurant and I appreciate the feedback. The reason why I have taken so long to write back is we have done an extensive menu change and have worked hard over the past year to make the food experience much better.

Since your review and taking into consideration some of your valid points we have hired a chef and worked with her for several months and redesigned the menu. I took the spinach and swiss product off the menu and now offer a choice of Iggy's foccacia along with our flatbread as a panini option. I too agree that what we were serving before was not good. We have also brought in brown rice, avocado and several other ingredients to update our products. We also offer a make your own option for rice bowls, grilled flatbread pizzas and the salads. You can also feel free to design your own panini if you so desire. I understand that you may not wish to give us another try and even worse we could disappoint you a second time but I assure you that we have tried to be a better establishment and many people do like what we are doing now.

So I appreciate the valid review and I hope there are no hard feelings. If you ever do give us a try again I really hope we do a better job this time around. We have really, really put a lot of effort into making things better. However we still are a moderate food establishment that tries to serve a decent product as quickly as possible so there are no miracles here!

Thank you for the input.
Sincerely, Nick M.

I am amused and touched by Nick M's response. He really took my comments to heart, it seems, but acknowledges the challenges of trying to serve "a decent product" in what's basically a fast-food venue. I may just give Sandella's another go.

*Apparently, Yelp actually started in San Francisco. New York was added soon after.


Jonathan Lehman said...

Thanks for the Yelp! shout out, Katie, but I've got some bad news for you. Yelp was founded and is based in San Francisco. The offices are across Mission Street from my desk at SFMOMA.

Katie Vagnino said...

Man, I really need a staff of fact checkers. Thanks for the correction, Jon. And for keeping me and the 'logues honest.