Should Yelp Remove Reviews By Non Customers?

Lehigh Pub, the restaurant in Pennsylvania that had two patrons arrested for not tipping, was blasted on Yelp in the past 24 hours or so by angry readers. Many of them weren’t customers, but heard about the arrests in the news and came to vote down the pub. As of this morning, it had an average of one star out of five.

Now that average is back up to two stars and the number of reviews is down to 38, from a high of over 300 earlier today. That’s because Yelp has removed most of the ones posted by non-customers who came just to complain about the tipping story. They’ve also removed most of the photos people added, which by and large were just photos of police cars or of people being beaten and/or arrested by police. I think a couple of shots were also of poop.

Some readers might cry foul at Yelp’s deletion policy, and in fact a lot of reviewers are re-posting their original complaints but adding Yelp to the list of offenders. (There’s already another police brutality photo in the mix.) But the site’s ratings are supposed to be built around actual customer experiences, not second-hand reports; Yelp says this explicitly in their FAQ.

That means that Yelp isn’t really a good source if you want to find out about a company’s business practices, or if you want an overview of press—good or bad—that’s been written about a place. Fortunately for future patrons, it’s doubtful that there won’t be any mention of the incident once local diners have had their say. They all know about the arrests, too.

In the meantime, it looks like Yelp will have to keep monitoring the page for second-hand reviews. Or maybe they could follow Wikipedia’s model and just lock it down until everyone cools off.

“Lehigh Pub” [Yelp] (Thanks to Michael!)

“College Students Arrested For Refusing To Pay Tip”
(Photo: serk1)


Edit Your Comment

  1. SlappyWhite says:

    I think the main purpose of the comments on Yelp are to show the owners that even if they had a choice, they now would never go to Lehigh Pub, just because of the little stunt they pulled with the tip.

    I wonder how the Pub is doing these days after all the publicity.

    • bobcatred says:

      @SlappyWhite: Be that as it may, Yelp is supposed to be a review site, which implies that you have some personal experience with the product or service you are reviewing. This tendency to flood review sites with opinions on things you’ve never used and places you’ve never been to is what makes review sites so unreliable to begin with. I’d much rather see two reviews from the people who actually were arrested than 300 from people who are mouthing off about a situation they weren’t involved in.

      • hi says:

        @bobcatred: “I’d much rather see two reviews from the people who actually were arrested than 300 from people who are mouthing off about a situation they weren’t involved in. “

        Well when you get arrested for something that’s not even illegal we will be sure to not “mouth off” for you and don’t get a lawyer either because he was not involved your situation.

        • qwickone says:

          @hi: Well now you’re just being silly. No one is saying mouthing off is bad or unnecessary, it just doesn’t belong on Yelp. That’s not the purpose of that particular website. This site, however, is the perfect venue for that.

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    “Now that average is back up to two stars…” Back UP to two stars? Damn. This place be awful. Now I know why they instituted mandatory tipping there!

  3. jdmba says:

    Well, non-customers should not be able to comment, but neither should the owners in disguise. Also, if I recall correctly, there were articles about Yelp offering better ratings (or only positive ratings) to businesses who paid them money.

    Regardless, the whole Yelp review situation is out of hand in any event, and cannot be trusted.

    • kateblack says:

      @jdmba: I’m a heavy user of Yelp, and I have to contest the idea that Yelp cannot be trusted.

      It’s a site with user-driven content, and as-such, is as good as what users post.

      There are some flaws, as there are with any site, but a discriminating reader should be able to discern legit reviews from shills AND slams by people who have no firsthand experience.

      • coffeeculture says:

        @kateblack: I agree, I use and contribute to yelp a lot. There’s a lot of trash on there and opinions that are retarded. But, hey, they’re called opinions…I usually weed them out (like vegans reviewing texas BBQ places).

        reminds me of the LA restaurant that got “yelp bombed” when an employee/owner contributed a few hundred dollars to the Yes on 8 (anti gay marriage) campaign last year.

        non-customers shouldn’t review…but my threshold is small. if you walk into a store and it smells funny and has rude employees and you walk out, i count that as “contact” and a yelp review is allowable. reviewing based on politics/outside incident shouldn’t be allowed.

  4. bryanpass says:

    They were 100% in the right to remove comments. I rely on sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon, etc. to make informed decisions on where to spend my money, and the only credible advice in that situation is from paying customers who have experienced their service first hand.

    Anything else is just raises the noise floor.

    • Rachacha says:

      @bryanpass: Comments of people who were protesting the way that the “no tip arrest” situation played out were essentially spamming Yelp, I agree with you that Yelp was correct in removing the posts of people who had not actually done business with the establishment.

    • sleze69 says:

      @bryanpass: Yelp was correct to remove the non-customers but since they allow businesses to pay them for favorable treatment, I would never use the site.

    • arguewithme says:

      Wrong! what if the people WERE paying customers, but still complained because they didn’t like the events that happened?

      How do you know if a reviewer has been to a restaurant or not?

      I also use yelp as a restaurant guide, and i’d be much happier knowing these types of reviews stay up because it keeps the site OBJECTIVE. Anyone that agreed with the arrests can write bullshit positive reviews if they please, in this case they haven’t….

    • Nate128 says:

      @bryanpass: So are you saying that you would eat at this restaurant?

    • meehawl says:

      @bryanpass: You trust Yelp? Did you miss the stories over the past year about how Yelp biases its review selection for paying advertisers:




  5. Michael Belisle says:

    I’m behind Yelp on this one. If I go to read reviews of a place, I don’t want 250 reviews that all say the same thing, from people who haven’t been to the place.

    The accused can post a one star review about how the service was abysmal, and they were arrested for not paying a tip that was greater than the amount listed on the menu. It’ll probably get voted to the top.

    But I don’t need 250 people who read an article to come in and say “this place should go to hell”.

  6. h0mi says:

    This also happened a lot to businesses that donated money to prop 8 last year; some taco joint in LA was boycotted and yelp-bombed.

    • xsmasher says:

      @h0mi: Yep, and Yelp did the same thing – they removed the rogue reviews. I can see Yelp’s point, they only want reviews that pertain to the quality of the restaurant, but if a restaurant is run by fascists I’d like to know about it.

      The fact that the restaurant will call the cops on displeased diners is relevant to my choice of restaurants. The bar is within their rights, but they made the wrong choice. The manager should have kissed the patron’s asses, not called the cops.

    • [DFX] Deimos says:

      @h0mi: Good, business that participate in such things deserve to be exposed to the public.

    • outshined says:


      Not a taco joint; a longstanding Mexican restaurant with a large gay clientele. It wasn’t actually the restaurant that donated money, it was someone who worked there who happened to be the niece of the owner. It sparked quite a debate whether to boycott the place because of one employee’s beliefs.

    • That's Consumer007 to you says:

      @h0mi: @xsmasher: No they actually they were NOT within their legal rights to call the cops. The patron’s civil rights were violated.

      • xsmasher says:

        @Areyouagoodlittleconsumer: I don’t see that. If we were talking about an optional gratuity I would agree. The 18% was indicated on the menu; I say it’s part of the bill, not optional. The manger *should* have waived as good customer service, but is not legally obligated to do so.

        One report was that the the manager said “We’re cool!” but then called the cops afterward – that sounds like filing a false police report or somesuch, but still not a civil right violation.

        • sqlrob says:

          @xsmasher: Except there’s legal precedent that says it is optional.

          • xsmasher says:

            @sqlrob: Citation, please.

            @Megalomania: What false advertising? I think you’re grasping at straws there. The menu isn’t “advertising,” you’re already in the restaurant. And every indication is that the fee is displayed right on the menu.

            They have a fee for groups over six – I don’t see the justification for saying the fee is optional. If they want to charge for water, or refills, or a bottle opening charge, or tables over six, they can.

        • Megalomania says:

          @xsmasher: If they want a mandatory tip amount, then they can damn well raise their prices by 18%. If it is mandatory to pay a certain percent extra, then it is false advertising to not show the prices with that taken into account.

        • floraposte says:

          @xsmasher: Yes, 18% was indicated on the menu. And they were charged well over that, which I suspect isn’t legal, even if you believe that the advertised gratuity could be mandatory.

  7. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Actual topic aside, I do hope this establishment closes due to this incident. It would be a good reminder to all customer service-based employees (wait staff, managers, owners) that when you create a poor customer experience, the word spreads. Best practice: treat your customer fairly. It’s cheaper in the long run.

    • bryanpass says:

      @Loias: So a bartender, server or cook who works hard and had nothing to do with the incident should be put out of work in a time when jobs are hard to come by, just to make a point about fair customer service?

      • Saboth says:


        I guess the solution would be to take your tip to the manager. “I am leaving a 5% tip. 3% is for the cook, 1% is for the bartender (since I don’t drink and see it as a waste of money), 1% is for the busboy, 0% is for the server, that did a horrendous job.”

        • s017jrs says:

          After a horrid Sunday brunch experience we tipped the busboy because he was the only person in the restaurant that was actually working.

  8. XTC46 says:

    First off…yelp is a scam. They call registered businesses and if you dont pay them for an account, good reviews get removed, and bad reviews bummped.

    Aside from that, yes, yelp should. Their rules state it must be a first hand experience.

    • StanTheManDean says:

      @xtc46 – thinksmarter on twitter:

      Ya think?

      Oh, your are right. Yelp does the same thing as the BBB.

      BBB contacted me, if I “donated” money to their cause they would make my problems disappear.

      Fark you.

      BTW, I have one BBB comment…..customer complained our poor customer service becaus the business closed promptly as advertised and our employees would not allow the customer to enter and shop after business hours.

      I guess I should have donated the $500 to the BBB and my problem would never have been posted.

  9. wrjohnston91283 says:

    I think it should be for customers or people with first hand knowledge only. So if I was walking by John’s Bar, and I saw John beating a customer that should be allowed, but someone across the country reading about it should not be able to.

    Very hard to enforce, i know.

  10. G.O.B.: Come on! says:

    Owned (at least temporarily). Feel the wrath of the internet.

    Also, Yelp is removing the overwhelmingly (and non-customer) negative reviews. They’re leaving the 5-star ones that are just as fake, though. Looking through, you see people from California and Florida who are cutting against the shitstorm with comments like:

    “the food and service here rocks! well worth the 18% gratuity added tip. only d-bags try to weasel out of tipping.”

    Sarcastic or not, they’re just as fake Yelp mods!

  11. bravo369 says:

    I definitely think non-customers should be able to give reviews. If a business is screwing over people, other should know about it. Think about when turbotax came out with a new version but didn’t tell anyone or put on the box that you can only do 1 tax return and would have to pay for each additional return. That’s sneaky and they got KILLED on amazon for it. They eventually changed it because of the negative feedback and reviews. If i didn’t see those reviews, my mom would have purchased that program and would have been very very very upset. She got TaxAct instead.

    of course these reviews shouldn’t be things like ‘I hear they make a horrible meatloaf’, it should be concrete facts. them calling the police because someone didn’t leave a tip for bad service is a fact. while it doesn’t say anything about the food, it does let me know whether i want to spend my money at a place that is so petty.

    • 2 replies says:

      @bravo369: “If a business is screwing over people, other should know about it.”
      This is very true.

      But it must be kept in mind that we only know that the establishment in question screwed over that ONE group. We only know of that ONE isolated incident.

      Yes, people should know about it when a business pulls shenanigans. Especially overboard legal shenanigans *cough*riaa*cough*
      And this is EXACTLY the purpose of consumerist.

      But 300+ negative reviews of a restaurant based on third-hand(at best) knowledge of a single unfortunate event is HIGHLY inappropriate and skews reviews made by people who have actually eaten there.
      Not only inappropriate, I’d go so far as to say it’s counter-productive to what you should be doing (helping the consumer) because as I said, it’s skewing the review data which any other consumer may want to see.

      So while when it comes to responding to the isolated incident, anyone is free to contact the restaurant and voice to management that they would not stand for it if put in the same position they put those kids. And comments about the incident are appropriate in threads ABOUT THE INCIDENT.

      But when it comes to REVIEWS of the restaurant, on Yelp (or any other review site) that ONE incident should be reflected with ONE (albeit VERY NEGATIVE) review by THE person who experienced it first-hand.

  12. AngryK9 says:

    Word of mouth is a powerful thing. They can remove all of the negative comments from their site that they want, but they can’t remove opinions from sites like The Consumerist. All they’re doing is making themselves look even more petty and childish.

  13. Triterion says:

    Everyone knows Yelp is a scam. I just can’t seem to delete my account there though, just too darn helpful, grr!

  14. PsiCop says:

    Yelp gets to set its own rules, and if one of them is that people can only report first-hand experiences, then that’s the way it is. Anyone who disagrees, can just create his/her own version of Yelp.

    That said, perhaps an option is to segregate their reviews, separating votes by first-hand reviewers from third parties. This means each business would have 2 ratings instead of one, but it would be more accurate.

  15. sir_eccles says:

    Ms Streisand, you are needed in wardrobe, curtain call in five minutes.

  16. Gnort says:

    Lesson to businesses everywhere: don’t make The Interwebs mad!

    But yeah, I’d rather Yelp was kept fairly clean of random non-customer posts…I think. hmmm… Would be nice to know of this kind of thing though, on second thought.

  17. citrus538 says:

    Yelp does plenty of fishy things. I’ve seen people leave reviews that were “invisible” to everyone except themselves. Pretty underhanded if you ask me. They make the business look better, and customers are happy to see their negative reviews are online. Except nobody else can see them.

    I’ve also seen negative reviews just deleted outright with no explanation (probably due to business owner complaint).

    I don’t trust yelp ratings at all.

  18. CoarseLive says:

    I say “Yes!”

    A small restaurant in a small neighborhood would never be this officious because they’d get a terrible reputation for being inflexible and uncaring.

    Large restaurants get away with this officiousness because everyone is anonymous – well, no more. They can no longer use the laws to screw people with impunity. So, it really doesn’t matter what we think. The fact of the matter is that people are going to rise up and react to these bastards.

    One problem with this site is that it doesn’t channel consumer anger. It fuels it, but it doesn’t do anything with it, and often discourages action in ways that would shame corporations for acting selfishly.

  19. lajoan says:

    BTW, here is a terrific and *award-winning* article about Yelp by the East Bay Express in Berkeley.

    I have a love-hate relationship with Yelp, and I have no idea if removing these reviews is a good thing or not.


    • lehrdude says:

      That article is disturbing in many ways. I think Yelp has just lost any and all credibility in my book…and I will no longer be using it.

  20. dbshaw says:

    SHOULD non customers be allowed to review? No. But, hey, that’s marketplace. Piss off your consumers, word-of-mouth, whats the problem?

  21. PhilFR says:

    Yelp should remove themselves from the Internet. As many have said earlier, they juice the results, extorting money from small business owners to either delete bad reviews, or else they’ll delete the good reviews. Have this on authority from a close friend who runs a small business and who yelp tried to scam in this way.

    Yelp has zero credibility in my book.

  22. madanthony says:

    Several years ago, there was a very small company that had a price mistake on their website that got picked up by one of the big deal sites. After they canceled, a bunch of people posted negative comments on resellerratings, which led to them instituting a similar policy of removing price mistake complaints.

    I think it’s reasonable – the point of reviews is to get the reaction of normal customers, not people reacting to news articles or to an honest price mistake.

  23. dougp26364 says:

    If Yelp is a site for reviews of restaurants or businesses, then only those that have actually used the business should be posting.

    I found it highly objectionable that the manager of a restaurant would go to such extreme’s to force a customer to pay a tip for services they didn’t consider rendered but, that was their solution. I trust that if he/she runs the business so poorly that it won’t last long anyway, with or without all the drive by second hand reviews on Yelp.

  24. johnfrombrooklyn says:

    Yelp is a scam. It allows anonymous false reviews but very little opportunity for a business to respond unless it “happens” to be an advertiser. I know a local restaurant that got a 1-star review for its “Peking Duck” but has never had Peking Duck on its menu. When it contacted Yelp, it was basically told to go away. And then the next day a Yelp sales rep called implying that if it advertised, it would have more control over reviews. I have a new strategy – unless there is documented rat feces or cockroaches – I seek out restaurants with bad reviews for service. 90% of the time the restaurant is awesome.

  25. BytheSea says:

    Yelp is not epinions. It’s for reading the opinions of people who actually went there. If someone recommends me a resturant and I ask, “How’s their chicken parm,” and they say, “I don’t know, but I read about this one time the police were called there,” they’re not helping me. Except that maybe the place is kinda ghetto but police get called to the Ritz once in a while, ykno?

    That’s the same reason I read Netflix reviews from Netflix users and I wouldn’t want just anyone on the net writing them. I don’t want to know how the newest Disney movie was in a theaterful of screaming kids, or how the biggest hyped thriller didn’t live up to its marketing 10 years ago. I want to know how good the movie was on its own, in your living room, in this DVD edition.

    So,I’m saying, review sites should be specific and policed.

  26. PsiCop says:

    As for the picture in this post … eeeww! Too reminiscent of the ladybug (OK, “Asian lady beetle”) invasion that hit here a month ago. Dis-freaking-gusting, is all I can say … !

  27. boshaus says:


    Right, but lets keep it to first hand testimony about the events in the reviews.

  28. vladthepaler says:

    I think a better move would be for Yelp to remove ratings by non-customers, but leave the comments in, since they are informational. Pictures/videos should be left in only if they depict the establishment being reviewed, or its wares. If they don’t sell poop, no poop pictures. If the picture shows the arrest scene that really took place at the restaurant, that should be left in.

  29. jehovazion001 says:

    YELP in HELL!
    We pray YELP goes bankrupt and sinks to the bottom of hell, and takes its MAFIA YELPERS with them. We pray that GOD shows no mercy for all the damage and EXTORTION they have inflicted upon small business owners and the children they support. YELP is a den of snakes and deserve to BURN for the lies and slander they spread on the web.
    Say five times: “Archangel Michael destroy YELP now!”
    *Small business owners DO NOT REGISTER WITH YELP or pay “sponsor” extortion fees. PLEASE CANCEL your YELP subscription ASAP! YELP will be bankrupt soon!

  30. Dirtybot says:

    Mostly, I assume that every review on Yelp is written by an entitled d-bag and thus worthless anyway. “Minus one star because my waitress was unattractive. Minus another star because she didn’t magically know I needed a low-salt meal. Minus a third star because I felt bloated afterward from the sodium.”

  31. LADogworks says:

    Yelp has proven to be the most unreliable dishonest review site on the web. We had a four and a half star rating until a competitor opened across the street. Suddenly bad reviews were posted by people that had never been to my business, we checked! We dropped to three stars. The same people posting negative reviews about us wrote positive reviews about our competitor. My enraged clients started writing reviews, over 13 five star reviews were posted. The positive reviews disappeared in two days!!! While on the competitors site suddenly ALL the negative reviews were gone. Something is very wrong at yelp! In the month that we were slammed our page had over 500 views, were normal is around just over 200. I wrote to yelp and they told me it is a automated system they can not control. If that is true why does the automated system only delete positive reviews?! Bad reviews from 2007(a bad year) remain intact! THIS IS BULL CRAP!! The smear campaign launched against us by our competitor was exposed to yelp but will do nothing about it! Yelp is a scam! I am very seriously thinking about legal action!!