The Quandary of YELP!

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The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Hoke » Sat Aug 04, 2012 12:46 pm

We all...well, almost all...check out reviews of things. Restaurants, shows, movies. We like to see what other people are thinking. Traditionally, we relied on "professional" reviews written by people that were somehow vetted before they became reviewers and were held to certain standards. Not always, but usually.

Then with the such things as Zagat and the interwebz came the day of the casual review by "regular people". At least Zagat has identifiable standards and some form of managerial/content control. The new ones? Not so much, it seems. And instead of a review that is at least thought out, and hopefully reviewed by an editor before being published (and doesn't everyone benefit from an editor?), we get angry little snippets and off-the-cuff petty little peeves aired on the interwebz forever.

Trouble is, readers don't often know what went on with these petty little peeves, and although sometimes the writer/reviewers reveal themselves as normal everyday shits rather than reasoned reviewers, that's not always the case.

For a bit of insight into what a YELP! review can do, the effect it has, and the classy way one restarateur responded, I pull this Facebook post from a restaurant owner in Portland (and from a pretty good taqueria too.)

I really don't understand some people. They must go through life really angry. Just responded to this Yelp review: http://www.yelp.com/biz/mi-mero-mole-po ... PXib-EY9Gw

We fucked up. Okay. Someone got our happy hour times wrong. Seems like they went a little overboard, especially if they'd had good experiences in the past here.

I responded with the following. I don't follow the Yelp recommendations that say the customer is always right and never to challenge anything the customer says. That should be obvious by the way I treat Yelpers who are, frankly, idiots. But we did make a mistake here. Should I prostrate myself? Maybe it's stupid, but I feel like the truth and fairness is more important than whatever these two customers might have spent in my restaurant in the future. I don't know. You tell me. I can take the criticism, believe it or not:

---QUOTE---
Glad you enjoyed your previous visits. Sorry that you had a bad experience.

The person who you talked with, Christian, is new and had only worked weekends previously when we don't have a happy hour. He mistakenly thought that because we start the normal menu at 5pm that we also end the happy hour menu.

I was doing payroll in the dining room when you guys came in. I couldn't hear exactly what was said, but it seemed as if Christian was being apologetic by his tone. I'm sorry if you felt he was being cold. Perhaps he was uncomfortable having to tell you something you didn't want to hear and you mistook that as unfriendliness. I've worked with Christian a couple weeks now and while he's not as skilled as Pablo or I at dealing with customers and explaining things, he's always been very polite and often his problem is a lack of confidence. He's a far cry from the aloof Portland kid working at the next hip coffee shop that doesn't care about the customer, just the next party. Christian calls women "Ma'am" and men "Sir". He comes from the South and Latin culture where politeness is required. He isn't working to party. He's working to pay for a roof over his young daughter's head. But then, I see him with hundreds of customers a day and you had just one experience and rarely is one experience the best measure of a person.

After I saw you guys leave, I walked over to Christian to see why. I assumed that it was something such as us not having carnitas, carne asada or chimichangas -- typical reasons people leave. When he explained that he had told you guys that happy hour had ended, I corrected him and he was visibly dispirited. By then, you guys were gone. He looked out the door, but didn't see you.

I joked, saying, "Website hours for happy hour wrong. 1 star." It was disappointing to see that my joke came true, not just because it hurts our overall score or that people will see it and get a mistaken impression of our restaurant and commitment to customer service, but because you guys say you had previous good experiences and after one mistake, you opened a Yelp account and gave us the lowest possible Yelp score and said you'll never come back. It seems so fractious.

We try very hard to have the best customer service of any counter service restaurant in Portland. We are not perfect by any means, but then I don't know any restaurants or people that are. We often go above and beyond. For example, last night we had two guys come by at nearly 9:30pm and be visibly disappointed, throwing up their hands, when they saw that we were closed. They thought we were open until 10pm, as we are on Friday and Saturday. I waved them in and offered to make them burritos to go, the one thing we could still do since our tortilla grills were shut down. They had been celebrating at Landmark for one of the guy's birthdays and they were elated. Today, we had a person call and a couple tables come in prior to us being ready for our full menu. They didn't want the happy hour menu, so I took their orders, got them drinks and chips, and rushed the best we could to try to get them the food before our normal dinner time. Tonight, a lady's shrimp was too spicy for her. I immediately substituted it for something else at no charge even though Pablo had warned her that it was very spicy. We had two tables come up and order food after they had already gotten their previous orders. Even though the board was full with orders, I quickly grabbed their items so they didn't have to wait until everyone was done to get the rest of their food. These are just little things, but they're things we do every day because we want our customers to enjoy their experience.

Seems a shame to base your opinion on one unfortunate mistake, but that's your right. Por Que No is a decent taqueria and perhaps you'll be happier there.

Anyway, I thought I owed you an explanation and an apology for the mistake. I also wanted to let you know how we perceive our commitment to customer service and what my experience is watching Christian interact with customers. If you'd like to have an actual conversation, you can call 503.232.8226 and ask for Nick. I'm here most days that we are open.

Thanks.

Nick Zukin
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Carl Eppig » Sat Aug 04, 2012 1:37 pm

If I get Yelp when I Google a restaurant, I read all the reviews. There seems to be always at least one ringer. I have never heard of a restaurant that pleased all the people all the time. And the one they don't please always seems to go to Yelp or a similar site.
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Hoke » Sat Aug 04, 2012 1:46 pm

Carl, sometimes it's easy to sort out the whiners and bitchers (who are always whining and bitching about everything) from astute quality commenters who seem to be blessed with more than one brain cell in their heads. But not always.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of people who actually DO believe that it must be true if you read it on the internet.

It's good that everyone gets to have an opinion. It's also necessary to mention that not everyone's opinion has merit. And that people who read the opinions have to make that judgement of the reviewer as well as the reviewed.
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Rahsaan » Sat Aug 04, 2012 3:51 pm

Hoke wrote:It's good that everyone gets to have an opinion. It's also necessary to mention that not everyone's opinion has merit. And that people who read the opinions have to make that judgement of the reviewer as well as the reviewed.


Yes, the most useless part of the Yelp reviews is where they say "Best x I've ever had" as if I'm supposed to have a clue about their previous experience and therefore how much stock I should put in that praise.
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Sat Aug 04, 2012 4:18 pm

Yelp is basically useless. It takes way too long to plow through stupid reviews, old reviews, wrong reviews, reviews by people who want something that the restaurant doesn't actually offer, reviews by people who have a chip on their shoulder in the first place, etc etc etc.
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Karen/NoCA » Sat Aug 04, 2012 5:06 pm

Times are really tough right now for all businesses, and I often find I need just a little more patience and understanding. Yelp is basically useless for me....I prefer calling friends and asking them. If we are traveling, I ask local shop keepers for advice on where to eat or the proprietor of the RV park we are staying in.

Off topic but may be of interest and kind of along the same idea here. A fire started along our interstate last Wednesday, mid-afternoon. Authorities closed it down, north and south for over 10 hours. It was in an mountainous area, with vacation cabins, mountain homes, and a couple of very small towns. It was a mess. Red Cross could not get in to assist because the Sheriff had no idea where to have them set up where folks could get to easily out of harms way. One small town was overwhelmed with big rigs, hundreds of folks looking for shelter from the triple digit heat, bathrooms, etc. There was no power. Cars, big rigs, hot people were kept on the interstate for hours until they could get control of it and begin to turn cars around and use pilot cars to get folks out of the smoke. I went on-line today to read the comments. Some complained they had to leave their vacation cabin and had no where to go, insulted the small town (which had no power) insulted our fire fighters. Not one word of thanks for getting them out of the area, successfully handling an evac for hundreds of folks, or for the fire fighters who were risking their lives in triple digit heat. :( The small towns had nothing in place to help them survive the emergency for a few days. Unbelievable. Someone even complained that Redding has all the resources, trained personnel, that we even do drills...why did we not help? The fact that we sent local fire fighters, medical personnel, was not mentioned. Nor was the fact that the interstate was a huge mess and no one was moving.
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Lou Kessler » Sat Aug 04, 2012 8:04 pm

Karen/NoCA wrote:Times are really tough right now for all businesses, and I often find I need just a little more patience and understanding. Yelp is basically useless for me....I prefer calling friends and asking them. If we are traveling, I ask local shop keepers for advice on where to eat or the proprietor of the RV park we are staying in.

Off topic but may be of interest and kind of along the same idea here. A fire started along our interstate last Wednesday, mid-afternoon. Authorities closed it down, north and south for over 10 hours. It was in an mountainous area, with vacation cabins, mountain homes, and a couple of very small towns. It was a mess. Red Cross could not get in to assist because the Sheriff had no idea where to have them set up where folks could get to easily out of harms way. One small town was overwhelmed with big rigs, hundreds of folks looking for shelter from the triple digit heat, bathrooms, etc. There was no power. Cars, big rigs, hot people were kept on the interstate for hours until they could get control of it and begin to turn cars around and use pilot cars to get folks out of the smoke. I went on-line today to read the comments. Some complained they had to leave their vacation cabin and had no where to go, insulted the small town (which had no power) insulted our fire fighters. Not one word of thanks for getting them out of the area, successfully handling an evac for hundreds of folks, or for the fire fighters who were risking their lives in triple digit heat. :( The small towns had nothing in place to help them survive the emergency for a few days. Unbelievable. Someone even complained that Redding has all the resources, trained personnel, that we even do drills...why did we not help? The fact that we sent local fire fighters, medical personnel, was not mentioned. Nor was the fact that the interstate was a huge mess and no one was moving.


Interstate 5 closed ten hours? That's truly a nightmare considering the logistics involved. Fireman and the police never seem to get the praise they deserve. I gather that the problem was north of Redding, we travel that section every year on our way to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and can visualize the problems.
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Karen/NoCA » Sat Aug 04, 2012 9:12 pm

Interstate 5 closed ten hours? That's truly a nightmare considering the logistics involved. Fireman and the police never seem to get the praise they deserve. I gather that the problem was north of Redding, we travel that section every year on our way to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and can visualize the problems.


Yes, 10+ hours.....near Fawndale Road, Gillman Road area. Fawndale is usually where they close during the snow storms in winter.
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Dale Williams » Sat Aug 04, 2012 11:04 pm

Hmm. Not really a Yelp fan (or Tripadvisor, or random CT notes, etc). Too much noise. If it's my only option, if there is a particularly positive or negative review that concerns me I tend to try to look at that reviewer's other posts to get sense of their tastes and experiences (we all want to ignore the guy who says "I ordered the sashimi appetizer, and they brought me raw fish, " "the waiter didn't even tell us his name," or "to me if the bread basket isn't warm, restaurant can't be good.")

But... if this case it looks like Yelp pretty much functioned as intended. People came in during period when a special menu was promised, and were told that it wasn't available They left and posted their experiences on a public forum. Rather than worry about Yelp maybe Nick ought to make sure sure that his employees actually know what hours are for special menus. Kind of a basic for front of the house (not exactly requiring hours of trainng). If indeed the vast majority of customers are pleased, it should show up in ratings. I am a pretty understanding guy, but the whole "Christian is supporting his daughter" argument is pretty weak (reminds me of salesman who showed me pix of his kids because my offer for a Corolla was "too low").
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Craig Winchell » Sun Aug 05, 2012 11:45 am

I like Yelp. I had a very highly rated restaurant on Yelp. Unfortunately, it didn't keep me from losing my shirt. But be that as it may, Yelp is the very picture of democracy. Anyone can put up a Yelp review. I had people who joined yelp specifiaclly to put in negative reviews of my restaurant. I had people who were so enthralled (luckily, many more people) that they independently decided to give my restaurant high marks, and who articulate why they gave the high marks. And there were many more people who probably never even considered posting, both supporters and detractors. All in all, Yelp reviews, together, gave a fairly good representation of my restaurant, I thought.

Of course, there is always the danger that someone might just try to sabotage a business or its owner, having nothing to do with reality. There is no vetting process to assure that a reviewer even made use of a business (Yelp reviews all types of businesses and services). A group of people who have never hit a restaurant, perhaps even associated with a competing restaurant, could fire off negative reviews. I like to think it's a realtively remote possibility in most circumstances. In general, I find Yelp reviews to be pretty reliable, overall.
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Sun Aug 05, 2012 2:58 pm

I'd go with Hoke and Craig on this. I use Yelp mostly for restaurants and I've found that as long as there are enough reviews to give a good sample (maybe 10 or so), I can get a pretty good idea of a place. It's generally pretty obvious when some reviewer has been to the place once, got mad about something, and vented with their review. As Hoke says, the more thoughtful ones will usually be fairly balanced and detailed enough to give you a pretty good idea of what the restaurant is all about.

As an example, I was looking for a place for banh mi about a year ago. I went through the reviews of several places in our Little Saigon neighborhood that specialize in these and ended up going to one I'd never heard of before because of the rave reviews. It turned out to be a great place that we've patronized regularly ever since. The other place that was recommended for quality was dinged for having long waits and inefficient service. Sure enough, the one time we went in there, it was a zoo and we left without even trying to get a sandwich.

I also appreciate business owners who take the time to answer reviews that are less than stellar. It shows that they care about their reputation and are at least willing to give their side of the story.

"An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a very narrow field" - Niels Bohr
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Lou Kessler » Sun Aug 05, 2012 5:23 pm

I gave up on Yelp awhile back after trying some restaurants in the Palm Springs area that had very good reviews per Yelp. I should have known better because the overall restaurant scene has always sucked big time in the Palm Springs area. :(
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Robin Garr » Sun Aug 05, 2012 5:51 pm

<rant>My problem with Yelp, UrbanSpoon, TripAdvisor and similar operations is that they are the Walmarts of food journalism online, national corporations seeking to profit by building faux local communities on the cheap. I realize I'm biased since I publish an online community for Louisville restaurants and sometimes feel like the owner of the local hardware store looking askance at the new Home Depot down the street, but I think some of the issues raised here reflect the problem with corporate-run interactive groups with profit as the primary motive. </rant>
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Hoke » Sun Aug 05, 2012 10:42 pm

I can certainly see your particular point of view, Robin. I look at it a bit differently from the same viewpoint.

It's the principle of GIGO.

I am a fervent believer in democracy, but I vastly prefer a democratic republic to a straight democracy. I understand that everyone has their own opinion, and wants to voice it. But I don't consider everyone's opinion of equal weight or force and can screen out the majority of them, no matter how important they think themselves.

I like to think there's some reason to pay attention to a reviewer, some sort of bona fides to be established. Some sort of context to be generated. With you, I have a very firm context. With some anonymous nobody who might have an axe to grind or may just turn out to be an imbecile who knows how to surf the interwebz and type, I don't have and will never expect context.
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Mon Aug 06, 2012 1:56 am

You make a good point, Robin, and the fact that they're trying to create an online community is something I easily forget when it comes to Yelp. For me, it's a repository for anonymous reviews and nothing more. The attempts to get people involved in more organized events and such have always struck me as somewhat pathetic. I guess some people must go for that stuff but there's a huge difference between what happens on Yelp and what happens here. I think it does reflect the fact that it's a corporate attempt to get people to come together.

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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Dale Williams » Mon Aug 06, 2012 11:26 am

Robin, Louisville is lucky to have your forum, and I can certainly understand how you feel. But the advantages of Chow.com, Yelp, Tripadvisor etc is that they are national/international. Lots of places don't have a standalone local forum (and if there is one it's not always obvious how to find), so say if I am going to be staying in a place like San Simeon CA Yelp and Chowhound are likely the only options.

All user-generated review sites have to be viewed through a filter- one has to account for reviewer's knowledge, experience base, and of course biases (we've all seen shills as well as competitors or folks with a grudge). If one is a regular in a community then user generated reviews can be quite valuable- you can regard tastings notes by Rahsaan or Bob as valuable, and ones by Salil or Dale less so (or you can say I trust David for Riesling, but not for Sauvignon Blanc). A list of reviews by strangers is less useful, but if willing/able to spend a little time one can click through to other reviews to get an idea what their taste/experience is like. I recently was checking on an older Burgundy on Cellartracker and there was a very negative review. But when I checked reviewer he had about 400 CA tasting notes, and 13 Burgs. The Burgs were mostly negative, including actual wines I had liked, and the posiitive reviews were for Perrot-Minot and Gros Frere wines. So I can discount that person for my tastes. That's why average score on CT or number of stars on Yelp is pretty low in my decision making.

Let's don't forget that old style "professional" reviews weren't exactly perfect. Ruth R might have tried to use disguises, but most places know pros in their town, and you can pretty much assume their experiences might differ from the masses. Plus it's not like critics don't have preferences (or hold grudges).

In the end, with a sufficient mass, one probably can get some sense of a place from user-generated reivews. Again, in this particular case it seems to be this is not petty, self-important, or imbecilic, but what I'd call a pretty legitimate gripe- showing up for an advertised special and being told they it wasn't in effect (and host didn't check with owner/manager who was apparently sitting in the room). The manager can complain that a person with only one review gave him one star pulling down his average, but in that case he should want the 5 star review that is another reviewer's only review (a few down) pulled.
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Robin Garr » Mon Aug 06, 2012 12:20 pm

Dale Williams wrote:In the end, with a sufficient mass, one probably can get some sense of a place from user-generated reivews.

Thoughtful points, Dale, thanks!

In my defense, I need to point out two things, though: First, I did label my own post as a <rant>. :mrgreen:

And second, without denying that the national review sites can - as you argue - be of some use, I'll stand by the Home Depot analogy. Yes, you can buy good stuff at Home Depot, and I do. But mega-corporate management and profit focus do make a difference, and when I want sound, friendly advice on a hardware problem, and a personalized and fair deal, I'll walk up to the corner and hit Oscar's Hardware, Serving Louisville Since 1884, every time.
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Rahsaan » Mon Aug 06, 2012 2:39 pm

Robin Garr wrote:...when I want sound, friendly advice on a hardware problem, and a personalized and fair deal, I'll walk up to the corner and hit Oscar's Hardware, Serving Louisville Since 1884, every time.


So where does that leave you when you need restaurant information in a city where you've never been and have no contacts?
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Jenise » Mon Aug 06, 2012 2:57 pm

Robin Garr wrote:And second, without denying that the national review sites can - as you argue - be of some use, I'll stand by the Home Depot analogy. Yes, you can buy good stuff at Home Depot, and I do. But mega-corporate management and profit focus do make a difference, and when I want sound, friendly advice on a hardware problem, and a personalized and fair deal, I'll walk up to the corner and hit Oscar's Hardware, Serving Louisville Since 1884, every time.


Of course. But you discount completely the usefullness of sites like Yelp, UrbanSpoon, etc. to travellers. Most towns don't have a Lousiville HotBytes or even a particularly discerning, competent reviewer at the local rag. If you came to my part of Northwest Washington you'd have nothing BUT these social networking sites to rely on, and you'd find that reccos from bad reviewers actually do you some favors in quickly identifying restaurants you'd want to avoid (think: "the salad bar's awesome!"). I poured over several of these sites when we went to Kansas City, and they were enormously helpful in identifying the venues that would most likely give me the kind of experience I was hoping for.
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Hoke » Mon Aug 06, 2012 3:25 pm

Jenise wrote:
Robin Garr wrote:And second, without denying that the national review sites can - as you argue - be of some use, I'll stand by the Home Depot analogy. Yes, you can buy good stuff at Home Depot, and I do. But mega-corporate management and profit focus do make a difference, and when I want sound, friendly advice on a hardware problem, and a personalized and fair deal, I'll walk up to the corner and hit Oscar's Hardware, Serving Louisville Since 1884, every time.


Of course. But you discount completely the usefullness of sites like Yelp, UrbanSpoon, etc. to travellers. Most towns don't have a Lousiville HotBytes or even a particularly discerning, competent reviewer at the local rag. If you came to my part of Northwest Washington you'd have nothing BUT these social networking sites to rely on, and you'd find that reccos from bad reviewers actually do you some favors in quickly identifying restaurants you'd want to avoid (think: "the salad bar's awesome!"). I poured over several of these sites when we went to Kansas City, and they were enormously helpful in identifying the venues that would most likely give me the kind of experience I was hoping for.


Giveaway phrases:

"All you can eat"

"Huuuuge buffet"

"Endless salad bar"

"Meat eater's delight"

"Eat it all in one sitting and you get it free!!!"
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Lou Kessler » Mon Aug 06, 2012 4:38 pm

Rahsaan wrote:
Robin Garr wrote:...when I want sound, friendly advice on a hardware problem, and a personalized and fair deal, I'll walk up to the corner and hit Oscar's Hardware, Serving Louisville Since 1884, every time.


So where does that leave you when you need restaurant information in a city where you've never been and have no contacts?

I look in the local yellow pages to see if the town has a wine store. I call & tell them I'm a tourist in town and ask what are the best restaurants to eat at locally. Over the years this has helped me on more than one occasion. It seems like people who are into wine are usually into food.
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Mike Filigenzi » Mon Aug 06, 2012 5:02 pm

Hoke wrote:Giveaway phrases:

"All you can eat"

"Huuuuge buffet"

"Endless salad bar"

"Meat eater's delight"

"Eat it all in one sitting and you get it free!!!"


Which brings to mind the radio commercial they were broadcasting for Hometown Buffet a while back, in which the announcer proclaimed, "Eat all you want, it's the American way!"

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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Jenise » Mon Aug 06, 2012 5:35 pm

Lou Kessler wrote:I look in the local yellow pages to see if the town has a wine store. I call & tell them I'm a tourist in town and ask what are the best restaurants to eat at locally. Over the years this has helped me on more than one occasion. It seems like people who are into wine are usually into food.


SIMILAR! Only I didn't think about asking a wine store; instead, though, I've sought out interior decorators and gay florists. Impeccable taste usually translates into all areas. :)
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Re: The Quandary of YELP!

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Mon Aug 06, 2012 6:17 pm

Jenise wrote:
Lou Kessler wrote:I look in the local yellow pages to see if the town has a wine store. I call & tell them I'm a tourist in town and ask what are the best restaurants to eat at locally. Over the years this has helped me on more than one occasion. It seems like people who are into wine are usually into food.


SIMILAR! Only I didn't think about asking a wine store; instead, though, I've sought out interior decorators and gay florists. Impeccable taste usually translates into all areas. :)


I don't think I've ever seen a yellow pages that lists "Gay Florists". :wink:
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