Yelp asks diners to be more 'empathetic' with restaurant reviews

Nearly 24,000 restaurants listed on Yelp closed down at some point during the coronavirus pandemic

Restaurateurs say it’s impossible to live up to a five-star review during a global pandemic.

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Chefs and business owners are asking customers to cut them some slack when critiquing their dining experience during the coronavirus pandemic and refrain from leaving bad reviews about things that are out of their control -- like wait times for tables and delivery with limited seating and staff, and having to change up menu items due to supply chain issues.

Restaurant review websites are asking customers to be more empathetic toward restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“At this moment with the closures, protesters, and other hurdles many businesses have faced, it’s not the right thing for people to do,” Salil Mehta, a New York City-based chef and owner of Laut and Laut Singapura, which specialize in cuisine from Malaysia and Singapore, told FOX Business, adding: "Businesses are just looking to get by."

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Customers can still leave reviews and rate restaurants on a scale of one to five stars on Yelp’s website, however, the company has asked diners to be a little more understanding.

"We're reminding our users to remain empathetic and patient with businesses during this time," a Yelp spokesperson said, adding that users can share important health and safety updates like whether or not a business is enforcing social distancing or mask requirements.

Lydia Chang, who heads business development for her family's restaurants Mama Chang's in Fairfax, Virginia, and Q by Peter Chang in Bethesda, Maryland, said the restaurants were grappling with few take-out orders in March coupled with protein prices skyrocketing in April. She said customers have been understanding, for the most part, but she's noticed a few comments that look bad for business.

"We have had some reviews that came that have said that the to-go version doesn't look like the promo photo, leading to a refund," Chang said.

Another Yelp user, she said, left a 5-star review after claiming to have received three dumplings instead of seven.

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"The menu clearly states three per order. I find that perplexing," she added.

Since March, 23,981 restaurants listed on Yelp closed down at some point during the pandemic, and 53 percent of those went out of business for good, according to a Yelp data. And globally, nearly 2.2 million restaurants in the world could close, and thousands more will have to restructure or pivot business models, data reported by Bloomberg shows.

And while one bad review on a website like Yelp or Tripadvisor hits hard during normal times, it could be enough to put a restaurant out of business when many are already starving for customers, industry professionals say.

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"Restaurants are struggling to survive. It’s unfair to judge restaurants now based on their performance when we are dealing with financial problems, staffing issues, increased costs, lack of interaction and service," Jason Kaplan, owner of JK Consulting, a New York City-based restaurant consultancy said, adding: "Right now it is best to support restaurants rather than judging them. Hopefully, Yelp and other review sites will also review their policies to reduce false reviews from the competition and former staff."

Some restaurant review sites are forgoing ratings altogether. The Infatuation, a popular restaurant recommendation blog where paid critics give restaurants across the country ratings based on a numerical system from one to 10, announced Tuesday it’s removing its ratings.

“Restaurants are facing the most profound changes and challenges in their existence. Today and in the near future, rating restaurants on a numerical scale is not the best way to use our platform, and it’s not particularly useful to anyone,” Hillary Reinsberg, The Infatuation's editor-in-chief, wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.

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While the restaurant review website will no longer dish out numerical ratings, Reinsberg says the team plans to “find new ways to spotlight special restaurants.”

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