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‘South Park’ Is Right: Yelp Has Made Us All Jerks

South Park

Yelp entitlement is just one of the many rude behaviors modern society regularly inflicts upon restaurateurs.


Last night’s “South Park” episode deservedly skewered Yelp reviewers. Unfortunately, Yelp entitlement is just one of the many rude behaviors modern society regularly inflicts upon restaurateurs.

Here’s a quick recap: the whole town becomes totally obsessed with criticizing restaurants on Yelp. Their entitled attitude drives them to ask for all kinds of extra-special favors. Their behavior finally gets the better of one costumed employee at Whistlin’ Willy restaurant, who throws out a Yelper and his daughter. A mob of Yelpers forms, quasi-led by Cartman, which storms the restaurant and beheads the Whistlin’ Willy mascot.

The final scene is a musical number (Warning: NSFW), of restaurant workers getting the last laugh. They’re seen spitting, wiping boogers, and farting into the Yelper’s food, among other things, while noting in a musical number that it’s called a “Yelper’s special.”

The show blows Yelpers’ behavior out of proportion (I mean, when was the last time a mob of Yelp reviewers beheaded a restaurant employee for being denied service?), but they do have a point. Yelp and smartphones have made us all behave ridiculously awful at restaurants.

I’ve seen the Yelp effect on some of my loved ones, namely my dad. Since my he’s discovered Yelp about two years ago, he’s never been the same. After a meal out, it can take a lengthy discussion in the car ride home before he can determine how many stars he will rate his experience. He sometimes will take photos of his food to include in the review for later, but doesn’t always remember to disable the flash on his tablet-sized smartphone, resulting in small explosions of light coming from our table.

My dad isn’t the only one who has become an entirely different customer due to enabling from crowd-sourced review platforms like Yelp and cell phones in general. Last year, an employee of a busy New York restaurant took to the Internet to defend his restaurant against bad Yelp reviews that claimed his place offered slow service. The restauranteur examined surveillance footage from inside the restaurant from 2004, when it had more positive feedback, and compared it to footage from 2014. The difference was startling, but it wasn’t the service that had changed. It was the customer.

Here are some of his observations among customers in 2014:

  • [Upon the arrival of the food] 26 out of 45 customers spend an average of 3 minutes taking photos of the food.
  • 14 out of 45 customers take pictures of each other with the food in front of them or as they are eating the food. This takes on average another 4 minutes as they must review and sometimes retake the photo.
  • 9 out of 45 customers sent their food back to reheat. Obviously if they didn’t pause to do whatever on their phone the food wouldn’t have gotten cold.
  • 27 out of 45 customers asked their waiter to take a group photo. 14 of those requested the waiter retake the photo as they were not pleased with the first photo. On average this entire process between the chit chatting and reviewing the photo taken added another 5 minutes and obviously caused the waiter not to be able to take care of other tables he/she was serving.

All of these cell phone distractions and selfies added an average of 50 minutes to the amount of time a customer spent at the restaurant in 2014 compared to the time the average customer spent in 2004. While there’s a lot more at play than just Yelp reviews, it’s interesting how much we have all come to expect from wait staff nowadays. We rely on them to participate in our selfie game. We blame them when our food is cold because we spent so much time taking photos of it to enhance our Yelp reviews. “South Park” is right. We’ve become intolerable jerks when we go out to eat.