Ayesha Kiana is one of the founders of Chal Chilli, an Asian Fusion restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. I had the pleasure of speaking with Ayesha a few times since she posted her feelings about Yelp and restaurant reviews on Medium. Her post resonated with me, particularly given our feelings about the effectiveness and validity of Yelp reviews. In short, we’re questioning if these reviews truly represent the “wisdom of the crowd”. Ayesha also brought a real-life use case about why professional reviewers still matter in the restaurant market. Our interview occurred over several phone calls in November and December.
Q: In your blog, you say:
Whereas the Yelper will come in, order the simplest dishes, and then complain to high-hell about never coming back to the place all while using up the throwing up emoji, the critic will actually come in, order specialty dishes, eat them, then come back later up to three more times, and really try to get a sense of what is going on. Then, after that, even if a bad review will come, it won’t be insulting, it will be constructive. This is important. The food critic cares about fixing and guiding. The Yelper cares about destroying and replacing.
This is a pretty powerful comment. However, the concept of a “review” site isn’t going away – what would you like it to be do that it isn’t doing today?
A: The problem isn’t really with all review sites, it’s primarily with Yelp. Yelp is creating an anger issue and encouraging people to take out their anger online vs. talking with people directly. If somebody has a bad experience or wants to make a suggestion, I want to hear it first hand and in person if possible. We’ve started leaving comment cards in the restaurant asking for our customers to leave us feedback.
Q: That sounds like a great idea. What do you do for people who don’t fill in the comment cards immediately but still want to give feedback? What about following up directly with customers via email or text message?
A: We haven’t thought that out completely. Those are good scenarios we have to think about.
Q: What other issues have you specifically had with Yelp that led you to write your blog post?
A: It seems like it never ends. We’ve seen Craigslist ads for Yelp reviews, and we did pay for Yelp ads at the beginning that of course kept bad reviews off our page until we stopped paying for ads. It just seems like it’s a game you need to play vs. something that’s truly useful and helpful to both businesses and consumers. The other challenge is that most people that like you don’t say anything online unless you ask (which is against Yelp’s rules). The people that do most of the talking are the folks that didn’t like you but don’t have the nerve to tell you to your face.
Q: What do you think of the idea of the term feedback vs. review?
A: I personally love it – we use it on our comment cards. But I don’t know that the customer really understands the nuance.
Q: How do you reach out to potential customers and how/why is it different than the way you have approached “professional” critics?
A: We have a cooking show that helps a lot. Everything else we do is word-of-mouth. We don’t have a PR firm.
Q: What about the other food sites – Menupages, Facebook, Seamless, Opentable, Urbanspoon, Google+ – what do you think of them? They all come up on page 1 of a search for your restaurant.
A: The other food sites have been fine. Yelp is the only one that has created this angry consumer. Opentable is more verified since you have to make a reservation to give a review.
Q: Any other sites you like or dislike?
A: We’ll be writing another post on Groupon soon, another idea we’re not big fans of.
Thanks for talking to us Ayesha and sharing your thoughts! We’ll be profiling other small business owners, if you’d like to share your feedback with us or be interviewed, please drop us an email or add a comment to this post below.