Half-baked restaurant critiques? Do Yelp, Urbanspoon, Open Table and others help or hurt?

Rest

Restaurateurs feel helpless against diners’ sour online reviews

On the Internet, everybody’s a critic.

But some critics are making a name for themselves – even if it’s a fake one – offering readers personal assessments of the dining experience. The reviews may be perfectly positive or nasty and negative, but either way, these citizen critics have put the restaurant industry on high alert.

Take Urbanspoon.com, one of many sites that encourage people to review their local restaurants.

Enraged by what was perceived as lackadaisical care during a visit to a popular casual dining spot in the Bay View neighborhood, someone named Pikkled Pink documented his or her experience:

“Our server was absolutely horrible! We waited about 10 minutes for drinks while she chatted at the bar with co-workers.”

That was the opening salvo in a review that described the fried butternut squash wonton appetizers as “amazing” and the dinner as “disgusting at best” and “barely edible.”

Restaurant owners have always known that word-of-mouth or a negative review from a professional critic could make or break their business. Now, online sites including Urbanspoon, Yelp.com and Open Table allow anyone with a smartphone to judge a restaurant based on the first glass of water and fire off that opinion to thousands of readers, right from the table.

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