Suspicious that Yelp was filtering reviews of 8 Rivers Cafe just because she and her husband, Scott Durrah, didn't advertise, Wanda James took her grievances to the Yelp discussion board. That's where she started a thread called "Yelp is fake and is destroying businesses that don't advertise with them."
In her first post, she noted that out of 72 reviews of 8 Rivers, 33 had been filtered and, therefore, not considered in the star rating of the restaurant. "So, since I told Yelp that I would not advertise with them, more and more of my reviews have been filtered," her post continued. "If this is how Yelp does business they should be out of business."
Since most of the people on Yelp discussion boards are, well, probably fans of Yelp, James's remarks started a predictable shitstorm of commentary, with the real people who write real reviews adamantly defending the way the website works.
"Let me make this clear: I have no issue with the reviews, good, bad or indifferent," James says, when I ask her about the Yelp fight. "My biggest issue is that Yelp has reached so many people and it's deciding what to display about a business."
When she called Yelp about the filtered reviews, she says she was told the company has an algorithm for filtering out fake reviewers, part of which is based on removing reviews that come from writers who have only written one or two comments.
"I don't understand that part of the algorithm," James continues. "Most people don't go home and write 200 reviews. They'll review a place that they like or hate, and that's it. But that doesn't make them fake." She argues that consumers should be able to see all reviews and then decide for themselves what they believe.
But when she took that sentiment to the message boards, she unlocked the fury of the Yelp elite. Most commenters took it upon themselves to explain the filtering system, simultaneously berating the wayward restaurateur for bitching about the algorithm that caught 45 percent of the reviews of her restaurant (some of which, by the way, are one- and two-star write-ups). And, of course, 8 Rivers and James herself came under attack.
"You have a 3 star rating overall on Yelp," writes David "finer diner" T. "That means an average of an A-OK rating. In my experience that's generous."
"You must be very insecure about your business...and have a lot of time on your hands if you are here screaming in the talk threads," writes Jodi A. "I think if I owned a business...I would be too busy working to make my customers happy to bother with yelp!"
Heather S., another business owner, offers this: "Please go play on Open Table and stop with the conspiracy theories."
And Eric "Shovely Joe" M. reminds James that her remarks will likely discourage Yelp zealots from trying her place at all: "I think that it's kind of dumb for any business owner to insult potential customers, regardless if they're 'yelp elites' or not. Regardless if 'your friends' use Yelp or not, a lot of other folks do, so why would you intentionally antagonize users?"
Not surprisingly, James, a political strategist and vet as well as a restaurateur, fired back -- and she made at least one direct hit on the army of elites who are ready to burn her at the stake for speaking against the system: "So. Yelp can review me, but I can't discuss Yelp?"
For more useful insights into her restaurant, James says she's been relying more on OpenTable than Yelp, because comments posted there come from diners she knows have actually been to 8 Rivers.
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James has been battling Yelp for about a year, and she says her profile has been removed from Yelp several times after she's complained about the company on the message boards. She's been researching the ongoing class-action lawsuits against Yelp and is talking to her attorneys to determine her next course of action. "I'm not suing for damages," she notes. "But Yelp is way too big for this to be right."
Wonder if the filter system will catch the one-star "owner hates Yelp" reviews that are bound to come as a result of the spat.