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Review Censorship Leaves a Bad Taste in Customers' Mouths

Posted by Judy Melanson on Thu, Jun 06, 2013

empty plateThis week, Michael Bauer, a restaurant reviewer in San Francisco, published a letter from a reader about a curious experience a diner had with OpenTable—the popular restaurant reservation and review platform.  It wasn’t a dropped reservation, or glitch in the site, it was something a lot stranger. The letter writer had written a negative, but altogether balanced and reasonable review about an unhygienic dining experience at a popular restaurant, and OpenTable had censored it—in 2013!I’ll admit I’ve heard a few compelling arguments for a moderated/curated review experience, a practiced “Yelper” knows you have to wade through insanely negative, or inordinately positive, reviews to get a real sense of which reviewers to trust. There’s no doubt some filters have appeal, case in point the new app, Find. Eat. Drink., which features reviews exclusively from chefs, bartenders and others in the food industry, not from lowly civilians. But was OpenTable, who responded to Bauer’s questions by saying the review was inappropriate according to their terms of service, out of line? Immersed in the world of Yelp, Trip Advisor, and other sites where the reviews (much less balanced reviews, might I add) flow free, censoring just feels like an anachronism.

OpenTable certainly has every right to moderate reviews as they see fit, but I’d argue they’ve done no one, the restaurant, the customers, nor themselves any favors. For the restaurant, they’ve taken away an opportunity to address a potentially business-altering problem and make it right for the reviewing-customer, who incidentally said the food was quite good. Beyond the reviewing customer, scrubbing the review doesn’t do much for potential customers who could benefit from that information—most of us have learned to filter out the noise of a lone negative review—maybe OpenTable and its restaurant partners need to have a little more faith. And finally, it’s not good for OpenTable, review sites like Yelp, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and countless other platforms let people share their thoughts on businesses with huge audiences. Scrubbing away the negative reviews just negates the experience.

Maybe it’s not just the unnamed restaurant that needs to clean up its act. What do you think?

Judy is VP of CMB's Travel & Entertainment practice and loves collaborating with clients on driving customer loyalty.  She's the mom of two teens and the wife of an oyster farmer. Follow Judy on Twitter at @Judy_LC

Topics: travel and hospitality research, customer experience and loyalty