Ruth Reichl, former editor in chief of Gourmet Magazine, former food critic at the NY Times, and author of several popular books, has given a very honest interview to Fashion Week Daily. (This may come as a shock to you, but I’m not a fashion plate – someone forwarded me the link.)
In the piece she talks about her feelings over the closure of gourmet, today’s food trends, and what she’s planning to do next. Some choice quotes:
We’re guessing you’re not a big Yelper.
Anybody who believes Yelp is an idiot. Most people on Yelp have no idea what they’re talking about.
What about Zagat?
I’ve always hated Zagat. If I’m going to listen to someone else’s opinions on restaurants, I don’t care if I agree or not. I just want to know who they are. If you follow critics, you know whether they’re Francophiles, or if they like a lot of spice. I know what [Times critic] Pete Wells’s biases are. We mostly agree. He’s not a snob, which is rare among critics. He loves food and has been brave with his reviews.
As to what it was like working at Condé Nast,
How excessive was it?
A car, hair, and makeup every morning at your house if you wanted it. When I traveled, I wouldn’t even know where I was going. My secretary would tell my driver which airport to take me to, and then she would hand me a folder with my itinerary. I knew I was a visitor in that world, though—I wasn’t going to be in it for the rest of my life. I didn’t know money like that even existed before arriving at Condé Nast! It’s not real life, in some important way. People gave each other lavish gifts. If somebody retired at Condé Nast in those days, your secretary would go buy a $500 gift. Some editors at Condé Nast have never been on the subway—they’d take a car to go two blocks! I’ve stayed in touch with my wonderful driver, Mustafa. We still meet for coffee. It was fun, but I didn’t want my nine-year-old son to think everybody had a driver to take him to camp.
Oh good grief! I worked in restaurants that Ruth gave favorable reviews to back in the day (and even remember when she was first appointed to her position with the NYT), she is NOT the humble, down to earth person she’s pretending to be. Typically, restaurants received positive reviews once they figured out who she was (her disguises were really pathetic) and proceeded to deeply kiss her butt. Of course she hates Yelp and Zagat’s, she’s a snob!
Which is not to say some of her criticism isn’t valid, just she approaches it from a very rarified position. Also, I love eating and shopping (and am pretty picky). I also HATE it when food and clothing are intellectualized—they’re still both shallow, pretentious industries. I can guarantee you, she LOVED the Conde Nast world at the time–honestly who wouldn’t (other than all the assistants toiling at sub-minimum wage to pay for drivers, perks, etc…)? That said, kinda explains some of why publishing is a dying industry, no?
She may be all of those things but she is right about Yelp. Its an ugly joke. They should all be put in jail for extortion.
Are there any critics or restaurant owners that LIKE Yelp?
The problems are numerous – anyone can post a review, so you end up with the usual smattering of people that like everything, people that hate everything, people that review places based upon their expectations rather than what a restaurant actually is, people with personal grievances to air, people with generally bad taste, and most importantly the accusations of reviews being filtered based upon the purchasing of ad revenue.
On the other hand, there are some very substantial benefits. It is free advertising for many restaurants, so long as they can endure calls asking them to pay for ads. It does a pretty good job of making restaurant information easily searchable, such as finding a good old-fashioned, a torte, or whatever you’re craving. Even with the reviews, while you shouldn’t go strictly off the star system, IN GENERAL a 4-star place will be a safer bet than a 3-star place, for those of us that can’t afford to try every restaurant in the city. Especially the lower-end places that tend to get ignored by critics.
The best way to use Yelp is to actually read reviews of places you’re considering. Are the complaints legitimate? Food being under-cooked or burnt is a red flag. Vague complaints about the “rudeness” of the staff are much easier to ignore. Are the same themes being echoed by many users?
The same could be said for the Mafia. They provide services that benefit people too. But that doesnt make them an overall positive force for a business. They think they have businesses by the short and curlys. And they do to some extent. If you dont pay tp play you WILL get bad reviews posted front and center and good ones filtered by the all mysterious Oz like algorythms My restaurant hss 18 bad reviews posted and 53!!!! mostly good reviews filtered. They actually have called me 3 times in three years asking me if we wanted to ” get our positive reviews more attention” If we pay 500 a month to be “sponsored” (protection money). Its quite a genius plan actually . Definately Sopranos worthy stuff.
That’s actually kinda interesting—-I recently “took possession” of my (non-hospitality industry) employer’s Yelp listings and have yet to be contacted in any way.Thus far, it’s been nothing but a positive experience, with increased page views and website click throughs. We have both positive and (very old) negative reviews.
They cant do it to everyone. A simple Google of Yelp scam might enlighten.
I echo @Haggis
The only thing I use Yelp for is to act like a phone book/information. What’s around here again?…What time do they close?