SACRAMENTO, CA - Yelp is the giant of review websites, boasting more 39 million business reviews, everything from restaurants to salons. More than 102 million people visit the website every month and often make decisions about where they spend their time and money based on the reviews.
Rafik Rabehi, manager of Cafe Rolle in East Sacramento, said business has increased 20 to 30 percent thanks to the more than five500 Yelp reviews, with an average four and a half, out of a possible five, star rating.
"We pop up right away and now they come in and we have people visiting from over 30 states," Rabehi said.
Rabehi said not all of the reviews are positive, but says that's part of the online review process.
"In French we say, 'c'est la vie,' and Yelp is an outlet for people to have their voice and the voice cannot say all the same thing," Rabehi said.
On Thursday night, Yelp is held a townhall meeting in Sacramento for 75 business owners. The website is holding 22 of these meetings around the U.S. and Canada, hoping to teach business owners how to handle negative reviews on their site. The Sacramento panel consisted of two Sacramento business owners, two "Yelpers" who write reviews and two Yelp employees.
Many business owners in Sacramento and around the country are frustrated with Yelp. Gonul Blum has been in the restaurant business for 10 years in Sacramento and said Yelp employees have cold-called her, asking her to pay for web ads on their site.
"They told me if I want to have the good reviews on the top when you open the Yelp page ... I've got to advertise it."
Blum opened Trio Restaurant on J Street in Downtown Sacramento nine months ago. More than 70 people have reviewed Trio and she has an average rating of three stars on Yelp. Blum feels her three star rating discourages new customers from trying her restaurant.
"The people who look at the Yelp, yes, it is hurting my business, definitely," Blum said.
According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, hundreds of disgruntled business owners claim that Yelp filters their reviews for their financial benefit. Blum along with others said that she sometimes sees reviews disappear from the site.
"I see my five-star review and the following week I see it's gone," Blum explained.
Morgan Remmers, the manager of local business outreach for Yelp said that Yelp does reserve the right to remove certain reviews from their website.
"The terms of service are concrete across the board. So it's anything from vigilante reviews, second-hand experiences, hate speech, things of that nature or on the subjective face value of the review, would be cause for somebody to get it removed," Remmers said.
Yelp denies claims that ad money can buy better reviews, but Blum said she's tried calling Yelp for help and has never received a response.
After eating lunch, two first-time customers at Trio said they think Blum's food deserves better than 3 stars.
"By the time I'm done with this, it's either 4 or 5," the customers said.