If you’re looking for a way to combat reputation-wrecking reviews on Yelp, take a cue from San Diego’s Craft & Commerce: Take ownership of those negative write- ups. How? This gastropub-with-an-edge plays audio clips of its worst Yelp reviews in its restrooms, giving patrons a laugh while holding online critics up for ridicule merely by taking what they wrote and repeating it word-for-word in a different context.
It’s a clever move because, much as restaurant operators would like to ignore Yelp, the review site isn’t going away. It now pulls in 84 million unique visitors a month and the Yelp app is accessed by 8.2 million unique mobile devices per month. No matter how much money you’ve spent building and maintaining a cool website and mobile presence, and no matter how adept you may be at manipulating social media, Yelp remains the default starting point for the majority of people searching for information about your restaurant. If these searchers see even a few highly negative reviews on your restaurant’s Yelp listing, chances are they’ll move on and find someplace else to eat.
Bad Yelp reviews seem devastating when viewed on a computer screen. But when read out loud, their content can make the people who wrote them seem like dopes. Here are some of the Yelp reviews whose spoken-word versions are currently being played in the restrooms at Craft & Commerce:
• “I have never been in a place that tries soo hard. This place is the epicenter of those assholes with the mustaches….Next, the place is jammed with hipsters eating corn dogs….” -- Adam I.
• “The food doesn't live up to the hype. Biscuits that taste like the ones from Red Lobster but half the size. Average fried chicken. We've had better mussels at Bleu Boheme. And the bacon ice cream sandwich? Re: bacon -- just because it's trendy, doesn't mean you have to do it.” -- April L.
• “There really is no vodka here. But the bartender who helped us had big muscles and suspenders, so I guess that makes up for the lack of my alcohol of choice. Settled for a Mule and was content. It's like a mojito, but the dominant flavor being ginger instead of mint. Me loves me some ginger.” – Azure I.
• “FRIES -- Too chewy and hard. In my opinion, not ideal. If I came back, I'd substitute the fries for something else. You know, like replacing one American puppet dictator with another. You know, to eventually promote democracy or something like that….ATTIRE - To blend in, dress up with hipster tones and flaunt a New York accent.” – Brian K.
The takeaway for most restaurant guests has to be that, collectively, the people posting bad Yelp reviews about Craft & Commerce aren’t worth paying attention to. And you can bet that when a guest returns from the restroom, he or she shares the taped anti-Yelp sentiments with their dinner companions. (Hear a negative review voiced by a professional actor.)
As marketing moves go, this one looks like a big winner that costs next to nothing. It helps that Craft & Commerce has won national honors for its craft cocktail and beer programs and that chef Jason McLeod, who won two Michelin stars while cooking at Ria in Chicago, oversees the food. Lame-brained reviews are definitely going to seem out of context here. But other restaurants can and will use this tactic, too, because anything that helps neuter bad Yelp reviews seems sure to get a warm reception in the restaurant ownership community.