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Rachel Belle

Yelp Help: A Former Seattle Restaurant Critic's Guide to Writing a Better Yelp Review

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Last month we talked about Yelp and how big of an impact it has on restaurants. Yelp's head of corporate communication, Vince Sollito says stars equal cash flow.

"There was a Harvard Business Study that indicated that a one star increase on Yelp could increase a restaurant's revenues by 9 percent."

And we heard loud and clear from restaurant owners, about how frustrating and hurtful customer reviews can be. Caylee Betts opened The Station Pizzeria in Woodinville with her dad Kent.

"We actually got one star reviews before the doors even opened. Not only that, but they had actually reviewed the crust of the pizza. They had said that it was thick and soggy. The restaurant wasn't even open yet. There were reviews posted that were actually talking about the food when the restaurant wasn't open yet. So that's the kind of inaccuracies that can happen. You have no control."

A restaurant can't remove itself from Yelp, and customer review sites appear here to stay. So instead of fighting them, perhaps we can learn to work with them.

Restaurant critic Hanna Raskin, who just left Seattle Weekly to review the restaurants of Charleston, South Carolina, has a new book called Yelp Help: How To Write Great Online Restaurant Reviews.

She says maybe Yelpers just need a bit of a tutorial so that restaurants get a fair review and diners can make a more educated decision about where to eat.

"I think Yelp is great," Hanna says. "I'm really happy about it and I think the time is right for kind of this critical assessment of Yelp."

She offers amateur reviewers a bevy of tips.

"The most important thing in an online review is to focus on facts as opposed to opinion. Your fact gathering is the most important service you can perform as a civilian reviewer. If we're talking about description, really important to say, 'My taco was covered with cream sauce.' Much more important than saying, 'I hated that taco.'"

The next time you're ready to write a review about how you got ripped off, maybe think of this:

"Cost and value are two very different things. I really think it's pretty useless when people, in their reviews, say, 'This was too expensive.' or 'I got ripped off.' Much better to say, 'This is what I got and this is the price that was charged for it' and allow the reader to reach their own conclusions. There are some people who don't care where the pork was sourced. They're never going to pay $14 for a BLT. But there are other people who are really going to be excited that the lettuce came from the restaurant's own garden and they're happy to pay it."

Something I've seen countless times on review sites is someone in Seattle looking for good dim sum or soup dumplings is told that you have to go to Vancouver to get a good shumai.

"Totally useless because nobody is deciding, 'Well, should I go to the ID tonight or should I go to China?' I mean, that's just not a choice. So I think you really want to take your ego out of it as much as possible."

She says people often build themselves up as serious experts on a particular cuisine.

"Sometimes people are wrong! And they will get on and say, 'I'm Jewish so I know what a corned beef sandwich should be.' You know, maybe you do, maybe you don't. If you grew up Jewish in, I don't know, in Iowa, maybe you don't know what someone from New York thinks a great corned beef sandwich should be. I don't think you should necessary assume, because of your own ethnic heritage, and you see this all the time, that you're an expert on any particular food subject."

One of my biggest pet peeves with Yelp is how mean reviewers can be, callously dropping hate speech while hiding behind their computer screens. Hanna has some advice on how to keep the hostility out of reviews.

"Sleeping on it, waiting til the next day is really a good idea. You need your time to get your thoughts together anyhow. I'm not saying professional critics know how to do everything. But I don't know any professional critics who would run home after a meal and start writing. A true review that's going to have a bearing on that restaurant's success or failure? I don't think anybody does it immediately after eating."

There are many other great tips in the book, but the last one I will leave you with is sort of a pet peeve for Hanna.

"Just trying to write honestly and without cliche. If you wouldn't tell your mother that it was 'Yummy-O scrumptious,' don't put it in the review.

Rachel Belle, Ron and Don Show Reporter
Rachel Belle is a feature contributor and personality on The Ron & Don Show on KIRO Radio (weekdays 3-7pm), and host of Ring My Belle Weekends (Sundays at 3pm).
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Tune in to KIRO Radio on Sundays at 3pm for Ring my Belle with Rachel Belle.

Who is Rachel Belle?
Rachel Belle's "Ring My Belle" segment airs Monday-Friday on The Ron & Don Show at 4:37pm and 6:37pm. You can hear "Ring My Belle Weekends" Saturdays at 5:00pm Sundays at 3:00pm. Rachel is a northern California native who loves anything and everything culinary, playing Scrabble, petting cats and performing improv.

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