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Yelp restaurant sticker

It’s not shocking to hear that Yelp reviews can make or break a restaurant, however fair or not. The impact of Yelp reviews on restaurants, in particular, has actually led chef Anthony Bourdain to speak out against the site altogether, calling elite Yelpers “bad for restaurants.”

The thing with Yelp is that anyone can post on it and, with enough effort, anyone can become an elite Yelper with extra influence. These people then wield the power that Yelp has to make or break restaurants’ reputations. It’s this influence that Bourdain detests, telling Eater that elite Yelpers are “universally loathed by chefs everywhere. They are the very picture of entitled, negative energy.”

Whether you agree with Bourdain or not, we still live in a restaurant world where Yelpers control a website that has an incredible rank in search engines, which means when someone searches for your business, they’re likely to find the reviews before they even see your website. That means that the effect that a Yelp review has can be huge.

Yelp attracts over 50 million unique website visitors per month, all of whom are looking to visit their next restaurant, get their next haircut or hire someone for a job at their home. A negative review can be the difference between someone giving you business, or choosing to give it to someone else.

restaurant guests dining

What do restaurant owners do to balance out the impact of Yelp? Well, one strategy that some resort to is buying positive Yelp reviews. Yep, you can actually purchase positive Yelp reviews—just type “buy Yelp reviews” into Google and a variety of websites offering just that will pop up. For a small fee, any of the Yelp review services that pop up will fill your page with positive reviews from people who seem like random customers.

The thing with buying paid Yelp reviews, though, is that Yelp has become really good at detecting paid reviews and then leverages penalties against the businesses that shelled out for them. This is just one of the reasons that buying Yelp reviews is something that restaurants should avoid at all costs—it’s a bad decision when it comes to restaurant reputation management. Want to know more about why?

Here are five of the main reasons you shouldn’t spend your hard earned cash on Yelp reviews.

group of friends getting great restaurant customer service

Reason #1: Don’t Buy Yelp Reviews Because They Won’t Get Seen

Yelp is not keen on the idea of people trying to cheat their system. They have extremely selective filters set up to keep fake reviews from showing up to the general public.

They pay special attention to how many reviews the person has written in the past, and whether someone writes a five-star review for one business and a one-star review for a local competitor. They also have special algorithms that watch for certain wording.

Beyond the internal Yelp algorithm, you’ll also find that the Yelp community is close-knit and will self-police any reviews they deem suspicious.

If you get flagged for buying fake reviews, the negative light it will cast your restaurant in just isn’t worth it. Think about how potential customers perusing Yelp for recommendations will see your restaurant if it looks like you had to buy positive reviews? One easy assumption to make is that your place isn’t great and that you can’t get great reviews otherwise. Even if you’re just looking to balance out some unfounded negative reviews, this isn’t the way.

Reason #2: Don’t Buy Yelp Reviews Because Yelpers Will Flag You

Even if you can get past Yelp’s review filters, you must still face fellow Yelpers. People who use Yelp on a regular basis (and there may be hundreds in any given city) can sniff out a fake review from a mile away.

“When I see people with no friends and one review, definite red flag. I’ve actually caught a few employees of restaurants giving rave reviews, so tacky,” confirms Yelper Jen “The Beaner” L.

If enough people flag a review, it will well disappear. That means that if your paid reviews stand out, ultimately your money will just be wasted when it gets removed after enough dedicated Yelpers deem it to be inauthentic and flag it away. There are plenty of other ways you can spend the marketing money that will land you with authentic positive reviews that will withstand the scrutiny of Yelpers. Host an event or offer a special at your restaurant and reward anyone who leaves a Yelp review with a free drink or appetizer next time they come back. If you’re going to try to grow your Yelp reviews, always opt for organic.

Yelp notice saying that fake reviews will be removed and company will be punished

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Reason #3: Don’t Buy Yelp Reviews Because Yelpers Will Out You

Think it’s bad to spend money and time soliciting Yelp reviews just for them to get flagged? Get ready for the backfire, because Yelpers value their community. So when they sniff suspicious activity, they just may very well “out” you in their reviews.

Restaurant guests writing a Yelp review on their phones

Instead of just having a bad review, you’ll have a bad review that tells the world that you pay for your good reviews. Yelpers read reviews every day—seriously, it’s their thingand also have a good sense of who is in their community. Trying to fake them out is a big no-no. Trying to pay highly active Yelpers for a review is also an excellent way to be “outed” since the community holds a high standard of review integrity.

Reason #4: Don’t Buy Yelp Reviews Because There Are Better Ways to Get Real Ones

Several businesses around the country have tried offering a discount to customers who leave them a good review. All they need to do is bring in a printed copy of their review to gain the reward. This is a good strategy for incentivizing good reviews but it doesn’t guarantee not getting “outed.” Careful wording is important in this case—it’s all about authenticity.

The key is rewarding customers for leaving any review, not just positive ones. Rather than touting “20 percent off for a good review,” you may be better off with a promotion that says something like, “Did you love us on Yelp? We love you too! Just show us your Yelp review and get 20 percent off!” That way you’re not asking for a positive review, you’re just rewarding your loyal customers. If you ask your customers for positive reviews at the same time and they all start to flow in at once, you’ll get much of the same treatment that you would if you had just bought the reviews directly.

Reason #5: Don’t Buy Yelp Reviews Because You Don’t Have To

The truth is that you shouldn’t have to pay for Yelp reviews. If something out of your control came up in a Yelp review, contacting the offending Yelper directly to see what went wrong and how you could fix it for them now and in the future is a far superior approach than responding by buying fake reviews.

Did they have a bad meal? Offer another one on the house. Was their meal delivered 45 minutes late? Consider fixing it by delivering another meal yourself with your personal apology.

Whether you like Yelpers or not, there will be a time when the fate of your business may lie in their hands. Just like back in the old days when a vocal customer would tell the whole town that she found a fly in her soup.

server giving guest food

You can’t control word of mouth. All you can control is what you bring to the table.

The folks that you employ will always have an incredible impact on the reviews that you receive. If someone leaves feeling appreciated and well cared for, you’re almost always going to win their hearts. The thing about Yelp is that you’ll hate it when a negative review or two creates a little extra work for your marketing team, but you’re going to love Yelp when it’s bringing you new business and boosting your profits straight through the roof. It will never be just one or the other—it’s the epitome of taking the bad in with the good.

Yelper Kay “Two for the Price of One” R. notes, “I’ve never thought too much about formal ‘review schemes,’ but planted reviews (good or bad) always sway my judgment or opinion of a place. Sometimes in their favor. Sometimes not. If someone has to rely on paid consultants to write reviews for them, their business will not last long anyway. Gary Vaynerchuk’s concept of The Thank You Economy rings true here: Consumers want authenticity and value.  If you make your product into a service, it adds to that value and enhances the authenticity.”

There are many ways for any business to turn a negative review into a positive one. It just comes down to old-fashioned customer service. Just try to think about how your grandparents were treated as customers way back when the customer was “always right” and you’ll be just fine.

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As part of Upserve’s family of more than 10,000 restaurants, The Chef is Restaurant Insider’s secret weapon in the kitchen. As a restaurant expert in all things marketing, menu building, management, training and more, restaurateurs trust The Chef and the award-winning Restaurant Insider to dish out the ingredients needed to make your business a sweet success.
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