San Francisco-area restaurant Bai Thong Thai has posted the above sign on its door, encouraging its diners to boycott online review site Yelp. "Stop the bully!" it reads. "Our customers repeatedly tell us they have submitted very good reviews...We asked Yelp, we were told, 'Perhaps if you paid to do Yelp ads we could help you with this.'" Bai Thong Thai currently has a three-star rating on Yelp with 89 reviews. It's also the subject of an op-ed criticizing Yelp in the Los Angeles Times today.
After seeing the sign at Bai Thong Thai, Times writer Sandy Banks took a critical look at Yelp, specifically the infamous secret algorithm that filters out "fake" reviews. Banks takes issue with the fact that Yelp favors frequent reviewers over first time posters: "The algorithm seems to me aimed less at protecting consumers than rewarding reviewer loyalty." She also questions whether a restaurant's ad buys (or lack thereof) influence the algorithm. A spokesperson for Yelp told her, "I don't know the exact script people use when they sell advertising...But there's no amount of money anyone can pay Yelp to manipulate reviews."
Bai Thong Thai is not the only restaurant to claim Yelp nicks ratings for restaurants that don't buy ads. In January, the FTC responded to a Freedom of Information act request by revealing almost 700 complaints filed against Yelp, many of which accuse the company of lording higher star ratings and more prominent search placement in exchange for buying advertising. As of December, Yelp still wasn't profitable as a company, so presumably they can use all the ad sales they can get.