Tons of chefs hate Yelp. Whether it’s the site’s Elite Yelpers asking for free stuff or the habit of users to dogpile celebrity chefs for their perceived sins, the review platform is not widely beloved among restauranteurs. It’s probably not going to earn any more friends with its latest move, either.
As of yesterday, what had been a pilot program limited to a few cities is rolling out across the country over the next few months:
Over the last five years, we have been able to add health inspection information to more than 200,000 business pages, both in partnership with local governments and by working with HDScores, which maintains a nationwide database of health inspection reports. Now, that number will more than triple as we work to incorporate more of the HDScores database, which covers three quarters of the US population across 42 states. Today we have added health inspection data to Yelp for more restaurants in New York, California, Texas, Illinois and Washington, DC, and will continue to roll out updates state-by-state in the coming months.
Yelp argues that it’s doing a public good, citing a 2005 study showing lower rates of food poisoning after LA improved its health inspection placards. It also notes that lower scores tend to drive people away from restaurants when the data is posted on Yelp. That point seems a touch strange to bring up, considering the site has fought allegations of extortion for years. It’s an argument that just will not go away — as many claim that if you don’t advertise on Yelp, the company will deliberately ruin your reputation on the site. The fact that Yelp’s users are sometimes rather unpleasant themselves doesn’t help either.
Adding to the problem is different states update health scores in different ways and have different standards. San Francisco restaurant owners pointed out that even if they fix problems immediately, the data isn’t updated until their next full inspection, which could be months away. Yelp’s health inspection tool, so far, doesn’t say how current the health inspection data is. And it’s worth noting that our kitchen habits at home would probably give us failing grades, and yet we eat there every day.
It’s true that this data is worth knowing before you go out, and better access to it is a good thing. But by the same token, restauranteurs and chefs haven’t trusted Yelp’s motives for a long time. We’ll have to see what Yelp does with the data, and what restaurants notice as the feature arrives in their city.