"If eight reviews say the food is salty, it's probably salty, and I should check it out," said Scott Schroeder, chef of the South Philly Taproom and American Sardine Bar, in regards to community site Yelp. "But, make sure what you're commenting on is what's actually on the plate."
Eater Philly interviewed numerous industry people in town, Schroeder included, in response to a recent trend of Twitter attacks directed at Yelp and its users by local chefs and bar owners. Overall, they felt the site had merit, but that the users needed to be more responsible for reviews that do affect business.
"I have nothing against the people who use the site, but I feel like there isn't much responsibility on the side of the people writing reviews and even the site itself," continued Schroeder. "Someone complained that one of the i-beams in the ceiling of American Sardine Bar still had a barcode from Home Depot on it. How that affects your dining experience, I'm not sure. If Yelpers want to know why they're not respected by chefs, that should illustrate the point pretty clearly. Someone should be policing stuff like that, especially if their scores are counting like everyone elses."
David Katz, chef and owner of Meme Restaurant, agrees with Schroeder's complaints about responsibility, and said that negative reviews are often based on lack of knowledge or due diligence.
"These people aren't restaurant critics, but they think Yelp makes them one. Real restaurant critics are trained professionals," said Katz. "Not only do they come in multiple times, they discuss the food with me in an interview, and give analytical criticism based on facts. If you want us to take you seriously, then be serious. Do your homework. Talk to the chef. Ask questions. Get the right ingredients on the plate you're complaining about. We love to talk food."
Katz also emphasizes that Philly's food scene is mostly made up of small business owners, and that these reviews can shutter restaurants and affect neighborhoods.
"I'm not sure why the negativity is so prevalent. Remember when you're sandbagging a restaurant, you're affecting their bottom line, their livelihood," said Katz. "If the general populace could criticize you doing your day job that they know nothing about, and possibly get you fired, you might treat your reviews a little differently."
As to whether or not Yelp actually affects the crowds in a restaurant, John Taus, executive chef of The Corner says it absolutely does. "I can't tell you the number of times I've seen someone walk up to the door, check the menu, then look at their smartphone. Sometimes they walk away, and it's most likely a Yelp issue," said Taus. "That's a reality."
With every chef we talked to, they all seemed to agree that Yelp was going to continue to be a part of the new world order of restaurants, but that they hoped Yelpers and Yelp itself would get a handle on the Wild West nature of the site.
"I think the site can be helpful to business owners and chefs," said Katz. "Just remember that when you're playing restaurant critic, I'm trying to play father and provider, too."