Fooled Again

Foodie Friday! The subject today isn’t actually food itself but the places in which it’s served. You probably how competitive the restaurant space is – just think about how hard it is for you to decide where to go eat when you go out. Which cuisine? How far to go? Is this new place any good? We’ve all been there.
More often than not these days, people turn to review sites such as Yelp for information.

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It’s not news to any of us that some of the reviews on Yelp (and other review sites) are fake. Great ones may have been posted by the restaurant, bad ones could come from a competitor. Yelp has an algorithm that is supposed to spot and eliminate those issues to a great extent.  The folks at Harvard B-School released a study about it.  What they found is interesting but not terribly surprising:

First, roughly 16 percent of restaurant reviews on Yelp are identified as fraudulent, and tend to be more extreme (favorable or unfavorable) than other reviews. Second, a restaurant is more likely to commit review fraud when its reputation is weak, i.e., when it has few reviews, or it has recently received bad reviews. Third, chain restaurants – which benefit  less from Yelp – are also less likely to commit review fraud. Fourth, when restaurants face increased competition, they become more likely to leave unfavorable reviews for competitors. Taken in aggregate, these findings highlight the extent of review fraud and suggest that a business’s decision to commit review fraud respond to competition and reputation incentives rather than simply the restaurant’s ethics.

They looked at 316,415 reviews of 3,625 restaurants so it’s not a small study. That said, this doesn’t even address an individual who had a nice meal with good service but maybe had a run in with another customer and decides to blame the restaurant with an inaccurate review – I’d call that just as fake as the others.

The NY Attorney General cracked down on businesses that were writing fake reviews.  It’s a problem for anyone who relies on the internet for research.  So don’t.


Yes.  I wrote that.  Instead, use the web to find out about available options and use trusted sites with paid, professional reviewers.  Then put down the device and ask a friend or coworker or family member.  There’s an expression in computing – GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.  That’s what many review sites are like despite their best efforts (and I mean that they try to weed out fake stuff sincerely).  Some of it is the blind leading the rest of us – who knows how educated and daring the palates are of most amateurs?  A bunch of it is fraud.  The problem is we don’t know which is which.

Or maybe we just need not to be afraid to be “wrong” about the choices we make and go and enjoy an evening out with someone?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

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