Yelp v. Racism

A new feature proves some actions are objectively bad in the land of subjectivity

Last week, Yelp announced it would start flagging businesses accused of racist behavior. (“Yelp Takes Firm Stance Against Racism with New Consumer Alert and Biz Owner Tools” reads the subject line of an email announcing the feature from a Yelp spokesperson.) 

The feature falls in line with some others Yelp has introduced over time, including pausing reviews for businesses flooded with fraudulent reviews — positive or negative — after appearing in news or other viral stories. In Yelp’s definition, a review is legit only if it’s posted after a first-person experience with the business. 

This is an acknowledgement from Yelp that there’s inherently right and inherently wrong behavior by businesses, not just the subjective experiences of consumers. Given the political and social climate in the U.S. and the country’s confirmed problem with systemic racism, it’s a timely acknowledgement, if an overdue one. But it’s also a mindful step into the minefield of subjectivity as a significant portion of the country hides behind assertions like “Well, that’s not my experience.” 

In an email, a Yelp spokesperson clarified the company’s procedures for flagging a racist business based on news reports:  

“Yelp’s User Operations team thoroughly investigates every business that receives an unusual influx of reviews stemming from what people have read in the news or saw on social media. The team will link to a credible national or local media outlet. Credibility is defined by the factual evidence an article provides to give our users the fullest picture of what transpired with the business. This could include evidence as video or photographic evidence, or a link to a racist rant on social media,” they wrote. 

One could argue it’s in Yelp’s best interest to add as much external information and context to its own review pages as possible; this keeps consumers inside the Yelp ecosystem as they look for information  about local businesses. I say that whether or not it’s good for business, it’s a step in the right direction to not only acknowledge that these reprehensible actions exist but do something about the harm they inflict by showing consumers the broader picture. As always, context is important. 

What else is happening? 

Tock unveiled a partnership with Chase that lets diners redeem Chase Ultimate Reward Points for dining experiences. “It's important to note:  This is how you actually help restaurants! The restaurant only sees $$ -- they have no idea who even used points,” wrote Tock CEO Nick Kokonas in a tweet. “There is no difference in revenue even if you get a 1.5x multiple on your points. MUCH better than gift cards, fundme's, etc. Buy food!” 

In May, I wrote a piece for Eater about often pricy rewards cards usually earmarked for travel rewards and how they’re adjusting to pandemic times. The general consensus was: the longer the pandemic lasts, the more reward cards associated with travel will expand their offerings to provide value to cardholders who spend hundreds of dollars per year to carry the cards. 

Celebs are getting into virtual restaurants and, according to a piece in Hngry, it could be a boon for the business. The idea also surfaced in an industry newsletter out of Singapore (h/t to Andrew from Family Meal on this one). I am personally skeptical about this given that it feels like one trend built on top of another built on top of a restaurant delivery business that is probably losing money, and shared a few of my thoughts in Tuesday’s Family Meal newsletter. The big question, in my opinion, is: should restaurant businesses be built for longevity right now, or is it better to invest in a model that can quickly pivot to whatever reality we’re living in?

Appropriate that this thought comes on the day New York’s beloved Odeon turns 40, any day is a good day to hear a restaurant you love is a little bit older than you are. 

The Smart Kitchen Summit from The Spoon is happening now. On Thursday, I’ll moderate a morning panel about using tech to create resilient restaurant businesses and later host a roundtable chat with Lawrence Vavra of Family Style, Inc. about — surprise! — virtual restaurants, including thoughts on branding and long-term sustainability. (SKS requires paid registration.) 

I have also finally invested in a portable ring light so feel free to HMU with all your moderation requests.

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