How Yelp deals with reviews from viewers of reality makeover shows

Friday’s epic episode of Kitchen Nightmares, on which the owners of Amy’s Baking Company led Gordon Ramsay to quit, resulted in a flood of reviews of the restaurant on Yelp, but not from people who’d been there. Instead, they appeared to be from viewers who apparently needed a place to anonymously vent and be awful and abusive, based on their newfound, obviously comprehensive knowledge of what they’d only seen on TV.

This is almost predictable and common now for venues featured on makeover shows such as Bar Rescue, Restaurant: Impossible, and Tabatha Takes Over. The reality series bring attention to a venue that then gets reviewed by people who’ve never been there, generally focused on criticizing the people they’ve seen on TV. (It’s interesting that, despite the usually uplifting nature of the last acts of these shows, some viewers are left with strongly negative impressions of the owners/chefs and the establishment.)

Some reviews don’t reference the show, while others, such as this review of Amy’s Baking Company, admit the writers’ ignorance: “First off, I’ve never eaten at this restaurant, but I feel compelled as an American and human being, not to support this restaurant in anyway simply for the way they treat their staff and their patrons.” Another review said: “I just watched the show, and it was pretty terrible.”

So what does Yelp do with reviews from people who’ve obviously never been to the place? The site’s policy is clear: reviews that are not about a reviewer’s personal experience will be removed. So if someone just reviewed an establishment based on a reality TV show, it will be deleted.

I asked Yelp about this phenomenon, and was referred to its terms of service and content guidelines, the latter of which says, in part,

“We want to hear about your firsthand consumer experience, not what you heard from your co-worker or significant other. Try to tell your own story without resorting to broad generalizations and conclusory allegations.”

Yelp told me that “Reviews that are deemed in violation of these guidelines will be removed by our user support team. This team is aware of the [Amy's Baking Company] issue and are currently working on it.”

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.