you will not have time in one sitting to read this entire post, including any links. i’m telling you now because i know. it’s 10:51 and i will give myself an hour to write this out as best i can.
i do not look at yelp. thank god i have not gotten into that. i am busy from sun-up to very late at night and yelp is not something i have time for. there might have been a time early in the evolution of review sites where i went there, but i noticed right away that is seemed to be a place to vent, tear down, and hate. while there are genuine reviews as well, there is a disproportionate amount of vitriol. i have not been back. i do not wish to return. it’s not something that really even comes to my radar at all now. until today when i read this blog post by jay porter… i will cut and paste for your ease of reading.
How About a Nice Game of Chess?
Yelp and similar review sites are a lightning rod in the world of community-based small business owners — a world which includes almost all independent restaurants. Restaurants which, at least to the untrained eye, appear to be the bread-and-butter providers of review fodder for Yelp.
I don’t think you can find many small business owners that really like Yelp. From the perspective of most small businesses, the underlying business does all the real work, while Yelp runs a kind of high-tech “protection” racket.
Personally, my thoughts about Yelp and similar sites have evolved a little over the years. At first, I didn’t think these site would even catch on. Obviously, at least to a certain extent, I was mistaken about that. That said, I’m still convinced that Yelp reviews are far less important to any business than good word-of-mouth within a target market.
As these review sites become popular in my market, I experienced what I think every small business owner does — concern about the online reviewers who didn’t get what we were trying to do, fear that they might scare away people who would otherwise appreciate our work. This, I think, is where a lot of business owners stress out. It’s from this emotional place that we often make the mistake of engaging with the haters, in order to try to control the public discourse about our efforts.
I made that same mistake — engaging trolls and haters — not with Yelp, but in the comments section of our own blog in the first few years of the Linkery. Fortunately, however, that meant I didn’t really ever have the time to engage people on Yelp. I guess I figured that those conversations were stressful enough that I didn’t want to also help someone else make money off of them.
By 2008 I had pulled back a lot, and I had a much better understanding the ways in which Yelp and similar sites hurt both businesses and consumers. I saw that, whether an individual review is positive or negative, the real damage it does is in turning a community business into mere reviewable content. A product or service that could make a difference to the community becomes instead just grist for the review mill.
In a post on the Linkery blog, I wrote:
Some businesses are frustrated by what they read on Yelp, others are elated…. But in every case, the people are robbed of opportunities to build something better, as the mentality takes hold that it the business’ job to guess and deliver what the consumer wants, and the consumer’s job to evaluate the experience after the fact.
Over time, ignoring Yelp in particular became quite easy for me, as I saw that the vast majority of Yelpers in San Diego (where our businesses were located) weren’t interested in the kind of food we were interested in serving. Yelp San Diego came to establish itself as a platform for 1) sharing opinions about dirt cheap, late-night-style eats, 2) practicing clever/snarky writing, and 3) venting emotional/family/personal/whatever issues that have nothing to do with the business or its aims. For the last few years, Yelp has been a thing that I know exists, but doesn’t have any effect on my life.
Now that I’ve moved to San Francisco, however, I am periodically shaken alert to the presence of Yelp. I regularly meet normal, thoughtful, tasteful, persons who actually use the site to make decisions about where to eat, or who at least treat the site as relevant. It seems that Yelp has an actual presence here. Or maybe it’s just that a lot more business owners in the Bay believe it’s important to have good Yelp reviews. I’m not sure.
For years I’ve felt that the only important metric on Yelp for a business is the amount of reviews it has. The number of reviews is a marker of how many people are coming to your place; having a lot of guests is better than not having a lot of guests. But it’s really easy to find successful places with 3 starts and places that fold despite their 5 star rating. It’s also easy to find brilliant places with a bad rating, and horrible places with a great rating (particularly if they serve really cheap food). Any thoughtful person will see quickly that there’s a pretty weak correlation between reviews and quality or value.
Which means that, whatever Yelp is offering, it isn’t a consumer guide. I think to some extent Yelp is offering its users the sense of being in a community. Even more importantly, Yelp and other review sites offer their users the feeling of power over the businesses they patronize. The users think they are influencing the businesses, punishing them for their mistakes, and rewarding their quality — even though the businesses know that the reviews they get don’t correlate to service quality. In fact, the business owners see that reviews are more dependent on the reviewer than on any objective factor.
Sound like a familiar dynamic?
Billions of dollars of venture capital are spent in the tech industry, with the goal of turning community businesses into content that can be bookmarked, checked-in at, “liked”, and reviewed. This is a willful perversion of the basic principle of a business creating something of value, and selling it to a consumer. Instead there is now a parasitic third business that has stepped in, with the intent selling something else to the consumer — a powerful feeling of control over their real-life service providers. In this model, the parasitic tech business is totally agnostic about the “subject” (underlying) enterprise — restaurants and stores will come and go, but the rush of writing a one-star review after a bad experience can be repeated over and over again, forever.
The loser here, unknowingly, is the “user” — the guest or the customer. By engaging primarily with the online enterprise instead of with the in-person business, the “Yelper” perpetuates the social detachment of the very kind of enterprises — small, independent, flexible — that could easily partner with him to become an important part of his life. That local independent business, perhaps started by a neighbor with a passion for doing going work and making a difference in her community, instead is encouraged to pursue an unsustainable race to the bottom: ever-lower prices, ever-smaller margins, ever-decreasing quality. Eventually that business is no longer capable of responding to the needs of its patrons, and can only dish out the worst products at the bottomest prices.
So here’s the paradox: while good online reviews probably do help drive traffic to independent businesses, for these businesses to mature, over the years, into truly compelling entities, they have do more than just not read their reviews. They have to ignore the very framework of the review system itself.
Call it the WarGames truism: The only winning move is not to play.
back to satch here:
thank you jay porter, so well explained.
i made the mistake of moving my pawn right off the bat with today’s chess challenge. let me explain:
southern living came out once to feature satchel’s. i think somehow the city welcome center was involved in bringing them. they talked to us about our place, and later an article came out which was a split page of satchel’s vs. blue highway. it was easily the most shallow story on us to date and the 2 things that really got to me were 1. they made it like we were at war, which we are not. we are friendly and similar businesses. and 2. while our first bumper sticker and t-shirt was front design “keep it simple” and back design, “eat at satchel’s” and we opened before blue highway, the southern living magazine made frank of BH’s “quote:”
“keep it simple.” i assume it was something frank did say but the article showed no real understanding of the local dynamic… the fact that we weren’t competing for best pizza and we actually are friendly to one another. we serve different people on opposite sides of town.
years go by…. a twitter handle pops up “visit gainesville.” i assume this must be the welcome to gainesville team or group or simply the welcome center staff out on i-75. over the year i notice lots of RT’s for blue highway, stubbies, the fat tuscan. i can see that these restaurants are favorites for the tweeter. they are ones i love too. just tonight i had an incredible time at stubbies for bold city brewery tap takeover and a beef brisket sandwich that was the best i’ve had in this town. cool. whatever. visit gville likes these places.
yesterday…. i see a tweet from “visit gainesville” asking people which they like better, satchel’s or blue highway? my blood boiled some. why? because i disagree with the premise. we are not in competition and some people will love my pizza more, some theirs, and then there’s piesano’s, italian gator, big lou’s, leonardo’s, millhopper lenoardo’s…. so many great pizza joints all over town. why is visit gainesville doing this? why are they making a war out of peace?
but i blew it off as best i could.
today…. mike sanford’s blog comes into my email feed. mike sanford somehow gathers all the things to do in town and condenses them into a packed blog about events and food with humor and candor. i read the headlines and follow up if i am interested in one of the restaurant reviews. today the first headline i saw was about a “battle” between satchel’s and blue highway for best pizza. lord have mercy, i thought, why must this sort of thing persist? if i win i feel bad for frank who has an incredible trio of restaurants, if he wins, there must be some mistake (haha). whoever wins, the whole city loses. why do reduce our news to battles over best pizza and why must we dwell on the negative things about place X that is working around the clock to offer good service and food to whoever “can afford” to come in. why make this into something it is not?
ok, and the rub? well, it’s not that satchel’s lost. no, i don’t mind losing because i see the happy customers and employees every day. we could be ranked 4th in the city and i can handle that. but the reasons… it’s the reasons that bother me most.
in no particular order:
we are losers because
1. we don’t stay open 7 days a week. we choose to close 2 days to have a more rested and cheerful staff. we like to spend times with our friends and dogs and kids and so we all get 2 days – in a row- off – every – week. we are nice enough to tell you this on public radio ads, on the door, on the website, on the in house and take out menus, on the answering machine, the website proper and the mobile web page. we also painted it on a sandwich board we put out saturday night until tuesday mornings and last year i even painted it on a piece of the awning facing the parking lot with the words “sorry” on there.
“hey, betty is sick, can you pick up sunday and monday for her? sorry, i know you’ve already worked 5 days this week and your regular 5 next week, but we really need you…. ”
** if i can’t make it in 5 days then i need a different profession. (although i was there 11 hours this past “day off” doing a mosaic on the screen porch floor to try and make the place nicer.)
2. we don’t take credit cards. we need to get up with the 21st century. oh, is that how people do it now? they pay with plastic? i bet visa and mastercard love that. i bet they make $50,000 from some restaurants in fees each year. i bet they love charging high interest to people who cannot afford to go out to eat.
no thanks visa. sorry mastercard. we’ll buy an ATM, charge a low fee, and give the money to local charities and good causes. if you need your credit card that bad, please, we are not the right place for you.
3. too expensive. according to the article our cheese deep dish is $26. in fact, the $26 deep dish has 3 toppings and “comes with extra cheese.” while i will not argue whether that price is appropriate, i do know we can easily feed 4 very hungry adults and that works out to less than $7 per person. i know this is way too much for most folks, but that’s why we’re so slow over there.
our servers do not make “tip wages” ( and i am not referring to any other pizzeria here as i do not know how they operate) which simply means our servers earn at least $10 an hour plus a cut of tips and in short order any decent employee can be making $15 an hour with tips, seasoned employees much more. while this is not making anyone rich, it does mean that the food will be a bit more expensive. our labor costs are 51% of gross. i’ll compare that to any restaurant owner in town who wants to throw out numbers. i do not imagine one would come forward to say that our labor percentage is too low. my cousin who is GM at a local corporate restaurant tells me their labor is about 20%. remember, i am not trying to win anything here. there is no real argument about who has the best pizza, there are only “cons” to our business that make us losers.
i did not read the article a second time and i don’t want to get into again to see what other cons we have. those were the big 3 i remember. the article was not mean or unflattering to us. the article made it out like both places were awesome.
but while i know that NOT PLAYING THE GAME is the only winning strategy, i have a silly deep felt conviction to stand up for what i do and believe in. i will not bow down to the credit culture. i will not open 7 days a week at the expense of my staff and i will not get in a price war with competitors only to result in less money for the employees. in fact, i will not ever willingly participate in a faked up battle against my local fellow pizzeria so that i or he can be declared a winner and i or he can be declared a loser. while it may be considered just all in good fun for the writer, the gainesville community should be half about gainesville and half about community. i don’t pit my kids against each other and then point out their personal convictions as flaws and i think this is a bad way to say “visit gainesville.”
please forgive me for writing all this. i know it is petty and looks like a retaliation for losing the “pizza battle” that only about 6 people really care about anyway. i have been to 2 locations of blue highway numerous times and i commend them for their fine food and good service. frank seems to be a genuine nice guy and he knows how to run a restaurant. i’m not even mad at today’s writer or yesterday’s tweeter, (although i wonder if they are one and the same?) and i did not even bother to remember the name of who wrote the post…. but you can see why i don’t ever go on yelp. can you imagine if i started to reply to the crazies that use that site to spew hate?
it’s 11:46 so i have 5 more minutes…. just enough time to cut and paste the referenced battle of the pizza place post with some comments at the bottom, 2 being mine and that’s when my pawns first moved and got me in this actual losing battle….
Satchel’s vs. Blue Highway Pizza: And the winner is…
Melissa Kahan, GLOB Correspondent
EDITOR’S Note: Melissa Kahan is entering her senior year as a UF Journalism & Communications undergraduate and is giving professional ‘foodie writing’ serious consideration.
This is the battle of the Gainesville lunch Out Blog’s “oh-my-gosh it’s so good” pizza joints: Satchel’s Pizza and Blue Highway Pizza. They are both Gainesville hot-spots with raves of delicious, unique pizza that seem to be the go-to for recommendations of Gainesville pizza gems. Who will come out on top? I’ve made my choice, I will be interested in reading your comments below this feature.
The good toppings:
082713SatchelsA> Catering and call-ahead seating to feast on these huge, flavorful pizzas
> Locally-sourced — and impressively-varied — toppings, from BBQ tempeh to meatballs
> You can eat in a van. Enough said.
> Colorful and lively décor is just too cheerful to not be a mood enhancer.
> Awesome bumper stickers. Hey, did you just come from Satchel’s, cause I totally can tell the world I did.
> Killer salad. It’s just so good.
> This well-known restaurant has been an icon in the Gainesville community for over 10 years.
Blue Highway Pizza:
> Provides dine-in or delivery, even walked over and delivered straight to your hands at World of Beer in Tioga Town Center
> Locally-sourced — and also very impressively-varied — toppings. Shrimp and roasted veggies. C’mon.
BHpizza2> I usually shy away from thin crust. Don’t, at least at Blue Highway. Ideal thickness.
> Bang for buck. The most expensive specialty deep dish at Blue Highway is still cheaper than Satchel’s cheese deep dish.
> You can get a punch card to lead up to a reward. And we like rewards, especially those of the edible variety.
> There are many, many more menu choices of Italian cuisine if pizza is not your craving of the night.
It would appear that the two places have similar pros: a ton of pizza topping choices for the most adventurous pizza connoisseur, locally-sourced goodies, memorable dine-in experiences and all around well crafted pies. Satchel’s does have one more pro than Blue Highway. However, eating in a van at Satchels — might I add this only happens once in a blue moon if the timing is perfect — and buying bumper stickers pale in comparison to Blue Highway’s reward card and personal delivery to World of Beer option, no? But it’s all about preference; is Satchel’s lively décor and extremely large and filling pizzas the way to go, or is it about gaining reward points and getting an also satiating pizza delivered to you at the most convenient of all times a.k.a. while consuming alcohol?
The bad toppings:
082713Saychels> It’s only open Tuesday through Saturday
> A slice of cheese pizza is $3; a deep dish cheese pizza is $26. Needless to say, it’s pricey.
> Cash only. Enter the 21st century, guys.
> It’s not close to campus. Car required.
> Like many popular pizza joints, a longer wait time can be expected.
> It is pretty far away on the opposite end of town as Satchels. Again, car required.
082713Bhighway> It is a more pricey option for the on-a-budget diners as compared to chain restaurants, such as Papa John’s Pizza.
Satchel’s does have one more con on the list than Blue Highway, but again this comes down to preference. While both have long wait times on the majority of occasions and are relatively further away in terms of distance from the university, I still say Satchel’s has lost in this category as well. Satchel’s is delicious but expensive as all get-up, and they only accept cash. I can’t tell you how inconveniencing that is, especially since a dinner for two could easily rack up a $40 tab, and who carries that kind of cash on a daily basis? It’s also not open every day and is more expensive than Blue Highway.
The GLOB Pizza Battle Winner: Although my love for Satchel’s will not be in jeopardy, Blue Highway, pizza image right and at top of feature, wins in the all around pizza battle. The pros have it and even the cons are to be expected in most popular restaurants. What do YOU think fellow GLOBers?
Last modified on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 04:27
Read 403 times
Published in Staff Articles
Mike S. GLOB Master
Also the deep dish is $26 but comes with 4 toppings (3 + extra cheese included) so a bit of bad reporting there. Blue Highway is great too, I hate that everyone feels the need to constantly compare. Yes, $1.50 ATM fee goes to local charities. we have a tree house and bocce court, gift shop and live music. a greenhouse you can eat in. The two places are just so different. Go blue highway! Now in Ocala too! Go satchels. bringing people to the Eastside!
satch Wednesday, 28 August 2013 08:27 Comment Link
You forgot Leonardo’s Millhopper! LOVE THAT DEEP DISH
Stacy Tuesday, 27 August 2013 12:18 Comment Link
Blue Highway is the winner. Satchel’s Pizza is iover rated and i think their sald is just OK. Satchel’s Pizza is “cool”, but not the inconvenience of not taking credit cards and being expensive …
Scott T Tuesday, 27 August 2013 11:26 Comment Link
Blue Highway gets my vote.
Let us not forget Big Lou’s!
Jules Tuesday, 27 August 2013 11:25 Comment Link
Welcome aboard Melissa. Nice to have a new voice and perspective. Have to agree with pizza review. Seems like you pay the price to be cool at Satchel’s. Should have mentioned original Blue Highway in Micanopy if you want some great atmosphere.
Jon Roosenraad Tuesday, 27 August 2013 11:05 Comment Link
Satchel’s, for sure, you forgot to weigh in that they are on the East Side, which is in need of more businesses. And I don’t think you put enough weight on the fact that Satchel’s salads are WAY better than the delicious, but not quite as wonderful ones at Blue Highway. As for the cash only remark you made, there is an ATM AND the fees stay in G-ville and benefit local causes. Blue Highway is good, but I still vote for Satchel’s. (also, the bumper stickers are free and the live entertainment is cool!)
Debra Tuesday, 27 August 2013 08:48 Comment Link