Given Yelp's immense popularity, a particularly harsh review can leave business owners feeling stunned and powerless. So one San Francisco restaurant decided to confront its worst reviews by emblazoning them on T-shirts. Delfina Restaurant owner Craig Stoll talks about running a restaurant in the age of Yelp.
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BOB GARFIELD: So, really, who does expect a business to be 100 percent flawless? Well, sometimes the business’ owner, the person who owns it, founded it, lives with it and pours his heart and soul into it – someone like Craig Stoll, who, along with his wife, Anne, owns the San Francisco restaurants Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina. Actually, his Yelp reviews are quite positive, usually four out of five stars. Still, occasionally someone posts a stinker, and that apparently is a serious bummer, so much so that one of their managers suggested they do some Yelping of their own. They took some of the worst Yelp reviews – this place sucks, for example – and put them on t-shirts which the wait staff sometimes would wear on the job, to the confusion and sometimes delight of customers. Why go to such snarky lengths? Because when Craig Stoll first logged onto Yelp to see what the world was writing about his restaurant -
CRAIG STOLL: It was horrible. I think what we feel and what a lot of businesses feel is powerless with these Yelp reviews. You can't respond. You know, short of contacting the person and giving them a gift certificate or, you know, begging forgiveness, there’s really no public way to respond, plus it could be a lie. You know, they could say, my brother got food poisoning and died and the waitress insulted me and a rat ran across the table. And you can call Yelp, and they would say, well, this doesn't violent our terms and conditions, and no, we're not taking it off.
BOB GARFIELD: Did this experience cause you to do different staff training, to change your operations in any material way?
CRAIG STOLL: Yes. There have been things pointed out to us that we've changed. You know, we've said, wow, they're absolutely right. Maybe we need to explain that pastas are not meant to be entrees because it’s not a huge bowl of pasta. There’s a lot of things like that that we've really concentrated on because of the feedback. So it’s completely candid comments about the food and service that they might not even give us were they to give us their comments in person.
BOB GARFIELD: Let me ask you about what’s going on in your head. When trained reviewers come in to Delfina, they tend to have very, very nice things to say. They apparently have very good experiences there. They like the food. And the preponderance of the feedback from ordinary mortals on Yelp has been quite positive, right?
CRAIG STOLL: Yeah.
BOB GARFIELD: But the 20 percent of nasty stuff just sticks in your craw. Why does it get to you so much?
CRAIG STOLL: That’s how we are. [LAUGHS] We celebrate the good but not as much as we focus on the bad, I guess, you know. It’s a public flogging. It, it stings.
BOB GARFIELD: But in your teeshirt stunt you actually didn't put positive Yelp reviews on them. Why not?
CRAIG STOLL: It, it wasn't the point. The point was to just – it was fun for the staff. The staff, too, they read these things, and they get really upset. And they'll be, like, oh, I waited on that guy last night. He was asking for pineapple on his pizza. And then, now he’s complaining about the quality of our mozzarella? What the – [BOB LAUGHS] – that guy’s, you know. Or, you know, I know his pizza took a little longer but, Jesus Christ, it didn't take three hours. I know it didn't take three hours. They get more upset than we do.
BOB GARFIELD: Do you continue to go onto Yelp to see what users are having to say?
CRAIG STOLL: I stopped going onto Yelp a couple of years ago. I'm just – I can't take it. You know [LAUGHS] it just puts me in a bad mood for the entire day. Our managers look at it. My wife Annie, who I run the business with, audits it pretty regularly.
BOB GARFIELD: So on balance, I've got to ask you this. Do you think that this service is good for the San Francisco dining community, or isn't it?
CRAIG STOLL: [SIGHS] It’s a yes or no question, isn't it?
BOB GARFIELD: I believe it was, yeah.
CRAIG STOLL: [LAUGHS] Ah, man. Do you think it’s good for the – my wife’s sitting right here – do you think Yelp is good for the San Francisco community, the dining-out community, I should say, or not?
ANNE STOLL: I think it’s good.
CRAIG STOLL: Overall, I guess. Yeah, overall it’s good. I mean, it’s just people are talking more about restaurants. And I hate to say it – I mean, colleagues might shoot me – but I think that people want to know what other people like them think. And to all our, you know, handwringing and being upset about this, we [LAUGHS] – the other day one of our managers was deciding on where she was going to go and was looking at Yelp reviews [LAUGHS] of some restaurants -
[BOB LAUGHING] - which just cracked me up. In a way, I mean, it’s fairly brilliant. It’s – it’s the future, and there’s no getting around it.
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BOB GARFIELD: Craig, thank you very much.
CRAIG STOLL: You’re welcome.
BOB GARFIELD: Craig Stoll is the chef and owner, along with his wife Anne, of Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco.