clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Study: Angry Yelpers Use Traumatic Words, Happy Yelpers Write About Drugs and Sex

Photo: Shutterstock
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

A new study from a Stanford linguistics professor in First Monday has analyzed the language and has made some interesting discoveries regarding the sense of self that Yelpers articulate with their language choices. Using computer software to assess some 900,000 reviews of 6,548 restaurants on Yelp, the study finds that strongly "negative reviews, especially in expensive restaurants, were more likely to use features previously associated with narratives of trauma." The syntax, "negative emotional vocabulary," and "focus on the past actions of third person actors such as waiters" are taken to suggest "that negative reviews function as a means of coping with service–related trauma." Poor Yelpers.

The study also looks at the implications of the language used in positive reviews. Apparently when praising cheap restaurants reviewers often frame the experience with drugs and addiction. (Women in particular are likely to use the language of addiction when talking about food.) Positive reviews of expensive restaurants tend use metaphors of sex and sensuality and employ longer words, suggesting that reviewers are trying to present themselves "well-educated."

So what's the take away? For researchers, the study "shows that online reviews are also valuable as a source of insight into social psychological processes." For restaurant managers, the study might shed light on the importance of customer service and preventing "service-related trauma" in preventing low online reviews.

· Narrative Framing of Consumer Sentiment in Online Retsaurant Reviews [First Monday via Stanford News]
· All Yelp Coverage on Eater [-E-]