Are Yelp reviews a form of civic action?
Yelp, the ratings site with 70 million users, has begun the process of integrating city health department reports into its restaurant reviews. Starting over the next few weeks, when you look up Mission Chinese in San Francisco or New York, Pat’s King of Steaks in Philadelphia or Pizzeria Uno in Chicago, you’ll also see the results of the health inspection, which in New York City appears as a single letter grade posted in the windows of all restaurants. Google, TripAdvisor, Zagat, and CitySearch are considering doing the same.
The hospitality industry in New York hates the letter grading system, saying it’s inconsistent, arbitrary, and inaccurate. They recently sent Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman a letter asking him to hold off posting the ratings until the City Council has a chance to “reform” the system.
Yelp is unlikely to agree. They see publicizing this already quite public information as part of their mission. “Increasing the transparency and accessibility of important public information is another example of how San Francisco, New York and other municipalities are leading the charge in bettering citizens lives by fostering innovation,” responded Mr. Stoppelman in a statement.
There’s already been a hint of retaliation from NYC business owners, as seen in this letter from the owner of three downtown nightspots, declining to participate in some Yelp member drink specials.
But the controversy could lead New York City to change the rules. The council is planning to respond to business owners’ criticism with some new legislation improving the inspection process.