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Yelp Wanted: The Curious Case of the Magically-Appearing Five-Star Review

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When it comes to Yelp empire, the San Francisco site is undoubtedly its crown jewel. There's no disputing that Yelp has plenty of positives; in fact, there's nothing else really like it. Regardless, a lot of people have some issues with Yelp. We're among the ranks that believe there's more than meets the eye with the Yelp world. Hence, Yelp Wanted. Enjoy the show as we pull back the curtain in this on-going Eater investigation.


2006_04_helpwanted.jpgOne of the finest things about Yelp is the seemingly democratic free-for-all in the review sections. It's no secret that some restaurants pay for sponsorships on the site, but just how deep does that money go? According to Yelp, sponsored business only receive "an enhanced photo viewer and the opportunity to thank a user for a selected review." In other words, reviews cannot be edited, modified or deleted.

Call us skeptics, but we wanted to see Yelp put its money where its mouth is. So we posed the question: how much influence do sponsors have on reviews? If we dangled some cash in front of Yelp, could we get rid of a negative review?

To get to the bottom of this query, we had to go undercover, posing as the owner of a poorly-reviewed San Francisco restaurant (sorry, Squat & Gobble, but thanks). The following email was sent to the San Francisco Yelp Community Manager:

From: Squat & Gobble owner [a.k.a. Eater SF in disguise]
Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2007
To: Yelp San Francisco Manager
Subject: Squat & Gobble Cafe Sponsorship?

Dear Yelp,

I am the owner of the Squat & Gobble Cafe on 237 Fillmore Street. I recently noticed that there are some negative reviews about my establishment on your site ( I believe it's one thing to share opinions freely, but it is something entirely different when reviews are completely unconstructive.

I am interested in getting a Yelp sponsorship. If I purchase a sponsorship, can I hide/remove this inflammatory review? What are your rates?

Thank you.

The response? As of today, we have yet to receive any direct email contact with anyone from Yelp, but without even asking or paying any sponsorship money, a shiny, five-star review magically appeared atop the list of reviews for the Squat & Gobble Cafe in less than two hours after sending the email inquiry (see demonstration in above screen caps). Conclusion? We'll leave that to you.

Have issues with Yelp? We want them.