“You’ll have less deliciousness in your life if you don’t try the yummy dishes this restaurant makes.” Another fine review emanating from the online restaurant reviews of YELP. About a decade ago, when YELP was an online newcomer, I perused five or six fabulous reviews of a muffin bakery which had recently opened in Studio City. It sounded too good to be true: freshly-baked carrot cake muffins with icing, corn muffins, orange-cranberry, wild blueberry, raisin bran, chocolate, marble swirl, you-name-it. That you could buy such an array of flavors in miniature sizes was incomprehensible. I jumped in my car and raced to the new muffin store. There was a crowd of young mothers who had gathered outside holding coffee containers, waiting for their numbers to be called. It was hectic. When I finally got my turn at the muffin counter, a very young clerk asked for my order. When she reached into the case to pick up the first muffin her fingers hit the icing on the carrot cake mini. She stuck that finger in her mouth to lick off the icing. I immediately stopped her and cancelled my order. “You mean you don’t want any muffins at all?” Now I wonder how many times the girl has licked the icing off her fingers all day and how many people brought muffins home with her germs on them? Having used numerous YELP reviews in the past has been an uneven experience at best. Some so-called five star restaurants have served some stupefyingly bad meals. Other places with so-so reviews have been very satisfying. I realize the reviewers are not professional, some of them can’t even spell. As one contributor described a chicken/wine entree, “that dish is Julia Child-ESK and very passay.” Oy vey! I know, I know – YELPers are not professionals, nor are Zagat critics.
The Zagati are slightly more mature, sophisticated, well-heeled and have traveled – many will sound the warning for their audience. “Don’t order the steak unless you need a new baseball mitt for spring training.” “Don’t go for the view -- it’s mostly homeless people.” “They should offer a defibrillator on their menu.” “Bring your tapeworm, the portions are enormous.” “My wife was shocked that the high price did not include our waiter.” The wisecracks are very much in evidence in the New York City edition. Whereas, comments about gold-diggers and hookers appear more often in the Washington, DC copies.
In a comparison between the two, YELP is the big winner. It helps to find local businesses of every type and stripe. You can find a reviewer you trust or build a community of reviewers who fit your needs. The reviewers are identified so you can spot your favorites easily. The chef or owner also has the ability to “talk back”, which is a great innovation. Zagat is composed of a composite of reviews done by a number of anonymous people. You don’t know who is responsible for ratings. Zagat does restaurants mainly in big cities globally. They won’t help you find a local plumber. The big difference is: Zagat will cost you – whether by membership or buying their guide. YELP is constanting being updated -- the most important aspect is that
YELP is FREE!
I still think back to the days of exquisite food articles by Craig Claiborne, Pierre Franey, Gael Greene and Lois Dwan as well as the friendly voices of Elmer Dills and Merrill Schindler. I love finding articles by Ruth Reichel and Mimi Sheraton. I thoroughly enjoy reading the well-crafted, articulate columns by S. Irene Virbilla and Jonathan Gold and consider them top tier restaurant critics -- focused, reliable and at the top of their game. I still hold great respect and admiration for Michelin and I still miss my buddy, David Shaw.