TAMPA - 10 years after the San Francisco based review site, Yelp began, local Tampa Bay Area businesses are paying attention.
Demand for brisket is brisk at The Smoke Shack in South Tampa.
But you might be surprised to learn that this modest barbeque food truck is the number one rated restaurant in all of Tampa Bay, according to the online community "Yelp."
Yelp, with it's legion of consumer reviewers known at "Yelpers," is marking ten years in business this summer. The customer may not always be right, but their opinion of a restaurant's food, service or decor matters when it's posted on the popular site.
"People read Yelp because they want to know where to put their money," said Brett Nehls, 29, of Tampa. He also has the enviable job of Yelp Community Manager.
"Yelp reviews really make people become less picky and particular and stuck in their ways and really get to experience the great things about our city," said Nehls.
And though The Smoke Shack is a hit, nearby Datz Restaurant inspires almost fanatic loyalty. It's the second most reviewed local restaurant after Berns Steak House. And while they are constantly busy and expanding, Datz got dinged on Yelp and responded with a billboard that read: "Some guy on Yelp hates us. Come in and see why".
"We felt like we wanted to poke a little fun at ourselves," said Datz owner, Suzanne Perry.
With her success, Perry can laugh. But, she values the feedback she gets from customers who might not otherwise complain.
"If you start to see consistently a complaint about an item we know we have to fix it. We use that as very valuable business research," said Perry.
But not everyone values the service. Yelp and Yelp contributors have been sued by business owners who say their reputations have been ruined by unfair or malicious reviews. Some have suggested refusing to advertise with Yelp can hurt your rating.
"Absolutely not," said Nehls. "There's no amount of money that can influence a review one way or another. There's no connection to the sales department and the recommendations."
Nehls said proprietary Yelp software also filters out shrill or profane comments, along with reviews that appear to come from owners or competitors with a vested interest.
With 57 million reviews on their site, Yelp and other crowd sourced review sites like Urban Spoon and Trip Advisor now seem to be a permanent part of doing business.
"Every restaurant has a couple people that didn't like them, but if overall your score is good, it's definitely good for business," said Perry.