Are you a restaurant owner or employee in San Francisco who struggled with Yelp or Yelpers during the pandemic? If that is the case, we would like to know more.
San Francisco-based review platform Yelp has been keen to publicize its efforts to support restaurants during the coronavirus crisis, from an aborted partnership with GoFundMe to new moderation standards that are triggering some reviews. Despite this messaging, some of Yelp’s users continue to trash businesses in San Francisco or elsewhere, for the crime of enforcing local mask policies — which restaurants, by law, must do.
It’s an issue Eater SF has heard about since the pandemic began, but one restaurant in particular provides a case study in the behavior: Brewery and Distillery Seven Stills, specifically its 22,500-square-foot flagship in Mission Bay. The gigantic place opened with two bars, a huge indoor dining room and a beer garden in November 2019, and remained open even after issues with state liquor control closed its doors. other locations.
When the pandemic hit, however, it closed and reopened in late June with takeout, delivery and outdoor dining. It was the latter offering that got some Yelp reviewers into trouble, the company noted via Instagram this week, writing, “We continue to receive negative reviews. [Yelp] reviews and comments because customers went elsewhere that didn’t require them to wear a mask or had a more relaxed policy about wearing a mask when ordering.” A look at its Yelp page confirms that complaint, with negative reviews dating back to July regarding expectations that diners wear masks when workers approach the table — in particular, that enforcement of mask policies made them uncomfortable.
The review above, for example, specifically states that the two-star review for Seven Stills is not for the service (“friendly”) or the beer (“really great”) but for the “stressful and anxious” experience. – specifically, that the restaurant follows the San Francisco Face Covering Law, which states:
[Customers] must wear a face covering whenever they are not eating or drinking, including but not limited to: while waiting to be seated; when reviewing the menu and order; while socializing at a table while waiting for their food and drinks to be served or after class or the meal is full; and each time they leave the table, for example to go to the toilet. Customers must also wear a face covering whenever servers, busses or other staff approach their table.
To be fair to this reviewer, there was still a lot of confusion about when and where face coverings should be worn in a restaurant, which is why local lobby group Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) , just weeks after this negative review, released a set of signs intended to help restaurants communicate laws around mask use for diners. It’s unclear if this reviewer was aware of the San Francisco law, and a message sent to them by Eater SF received no response at the time of publication.
This August 4 review (again, after SF’s face-covering rules were revised, but before the launch of the GGRA’s education policy) also awards its one-star designation — the lowest rating possible from Yelp — specifically to Seven Stills’ enforcement of the county mask policies, as the place has “good food, drink.”
“They’ll tell you to keep putting a mask back on every time they come to your table,” the reviewer writes, saying “it’s so stressful and makes you anxious while you’re just trying to relax for once for the 30 to 60 minutes. You’re there.” When contacted by Eater SF, this reviewer initially accepted an email conversation, but did not respond to questions sent.
This reviewer agreed to speak with Eater SF and said mask policies weren’t the only issue with their Seven Stills party, as “the food was mediocre and the drinks were okay” and “they were also disorganized during from the time they started a tab under our table number under someone else’s name. And then they would add our food and drink to that person’s tab and not try to fix it. There were also some not very friendly employees.
However, they also tell Eater SF that “the masking was uncomfortable because I’ve never experienced that in an outdoor dining establishment”, which is quite surprising, given the city’s vehemence in enforcing the law. The reviewer also says the policies were “inconsistent throughout the night. Some staff asked us to mask up and some didn’t so it was a bit confusing.
“It was also awkward,” the reviewer told Eater SF, “as we were actively eating or drinking, which I believe is an exception, but we were told to drop off our food and drinks to mask ourselves before to be served.”
According to Yelp spokesperson Brenae Leary, these negative reviews are the exception, not the rule. “We see the majority of our users trying to support the restaurants they love,” she says, and the company is seeing a five-fold increase in positive reviews from its users year-over-year.
It’s a glimmer that Leary attributes to a desire to help during the coronavirus crisis, and it’s being helped, she says, by a new feature in the company — strong encouragement to, as one blog post puts it. from the company, “remain empathetic and patient with businesses. When a user goes to write a review, they receive a “ghost text” that nudges them towards positive sentiments, as well as a pop-up “reminding users that many companies are doing their best during COVID-19 and we appreciate them. take that into consideration if things don’t go as planned. This feature launched in July, Leary says.
This means that these reviewers likely moved past these suggestions and prompts, deciding that the issues they faced were serious enough to still merit a negative review. According to Yelp, while reviewers who criticize food and service are fair (if not empathetic), some reviews aren’t allowed. From a Yelp statement to Eater SF:
We have zero tolerance for any claims in reviews of contracting COVID-19 from a business or its employees, or negative reviews of a business being closed during what would be their normal business hours under circumstances. normal. Over the past few months, we have also updated our content guidelines and do not allow reviews when a user criticizes a company’s safety measures, such as requiring masks, modified hours in due to the pandemic or other events that are beyond a company’s control, such as government regulations.
Leary says that reviews that violate any of these guidelines can be flagged by users (in other words, Yelp doesn’t proactively patrol reviews), and that their content moderation team will remove all reviews from counterfeit. “We saw the lowest shrinkage months when most of the country was shut down in April and May,” Yelp told Eater SF via a statement. “Since May, we’ve seen a month-over-month increase in the removal of pandemic-related content as more businesses and states reopen.”
This increase in moves makes sense, especially given the theme that all of these reviews share — that diners felt stressed, anxious, and uncomfortable about the enforcement of mask policies. It’s certainly understandable for anyone alive in 2020 to feel stressed, anxious, or uneasy at any time of the day, no matter what they’re doing, and it’s equally understandable that people rely on meals. to the restaurant to escape this anguish. But how much can a restaurant do to help diners forget about the literal dumpster fire that are these troubled times? Is it right, decent, or fair to ask them to violate local laws and put their workers at risk so we can all feel “normal” while we have a beer?