Yelp Testing Consumer Alerts for Dirty Restaurants

By Brian Harris


For restaurant operators, Yelp has either been a welcomed service or a thorn in your side. It provided a platform for your business to shine or to get pummeled by dissatisfied customers—and that was just about the food! Now, Yelp is running an experiment in our hometown of San Francisco that warns customers about recent safety inspections.

The pop-up box says, “Following a recent inspection, this facility received a food safety rating that is in the bottom 5% locally, and is categorized by inspectors as ‘poor.’” It’s the equivalent of the scarlet A for “Agh—that’s gross!” It’s also modeled from warnings that Yelp applies to businesses it suspects of soliciting fraudulent reviews.

For the Public Good

What, in the name of capitalism, is Yelp doing? As The Washington Post reports, the company has built a business selling online ads countering the negative reviews generated by users. It doesn’t stand to make money by preventing food poisoning or playing watchdog by partnering with city regulators to detect it. So why bother? According to Yelp, it’s not all about the money.

“Yelp’s job is to predict in an online way the experience consumers can expect will happen in the offline world,” Luther Lowe, Yelp’s head of public policy, told the newspaper. “To the extent that we can augment the consumer opinions and ratings that our users rely on with government data that they’re creating with their tax dollars — that’s a great win-win.”

In Boston, Yelp ran a keyword algorithm test and determined that Boston could catch the same number of health violations with 40% fewer inspections simply by targeting city resources at what appear to be dirty kitchens. The city is now considering ways to use such a model.

According to Luca, Yelp’s intention is not to put restaurants out of business. “The mark of success in this for me would be if businesses stop getting poor scores.”

Wake-Up Call for Restaurants

Don’t wait for this new Yelp feature to roll out to your city in order to take action. It’s time to inspect that moldy smell or dirty floor the customer complained about. Don’t live in the bubble of your own social media pages—tune into Yelp and get cracking on task management.

Related posts:
Conducting a Food Safety Audit: 7 Principles of HACCP
Bluetooth Thermometer Probe: The Next Generation of Food Safety

Subscribe to Zenput's Blog