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How to read TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews

by Michael on July 23, 2014

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Yelp and Trip Advisor are our go-to web sites for finding reviews of restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions. They are usually pretty accurate but it’s important to weed out the reviewers whose opinion you shouldn’t trust. Also be aware that Yelp viewers skew younger than TripAdvisor so take that into account when comparing places. Here’s our guide for how to read TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews:

Watch the star ratings: Ratings go from 1 to 5 stars. Ignore the 1 and 5 star reviews. When someone says it’s the worst place they’ve ever been they are so hyperbolic you can’t trust the review. The same goes for those 5 star reviews that seem as if they were written by the hotel or restaurant’s public relations agency. The reviews that contain the best information, both pro and con, are usually in the 2 to 4 star range and are written by discerning, observant travelers.

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Seek reviews from locals: Look closely at the reviews written by locals. Visitors from far-flung locations rave about certain famous cheesesteak places in our hometown of Philadelphia, but Philadelphians tend to say they’re not that good. Local reviewers know what other options are available in their hometown and are less likely to be suckered by a place that relies on the tourist trade.

We love the English but: “Mustn’t grumble” is a common expression in England. But when it comes to reviewing a place we want to hear the bad stuff. The reviews will state where the person lives so if it’s someplace like Melting Cheddarshire, England you can skip the review. A typical English review will read, “The hotel caught fire at 2 AM and we had to be evacuated. But it had been feeling a bit nippy anyway so we appreciated the extra warmth and the firefighters were charming blokes.” So beware. You might want to be careful with Canadians too, they’re just too damn nice to say anything bad.

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Great gluten-free options: People who need to avoid gluten have a serious medical condition but “gluten-free” has morphed into the latest diet fad among foodies.  The latter group is so excited when a restaurant offers gluten-free options that it clouds their judgment of the meal and results in over-the-top enthusiasm for the place.

Great vegan options: See gluten-free above.


I love New York but do they love anything back?
As a native New Yorker I know them pretty well. When I see a review from someone in Manhattan I know to skip it. Although they are sometimes clever in their criticisms, someone who complains that the 800-count sheets only had 767 threads (they know because they counted them) is probably too critical for me.

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I normally don’t like _________ but I loved these: If someone doesn’t normally like, say, pizza, are you really going to trust their judgment when they find a pizza they do like? When I’m looking for a pizzeria I want to hear from true aficionados who know the difference between a good one and cheese-topped cardboard. (Or heaven forbid, Chicago style pizza.)

They only take cash: I’m astonished when I read complaints about cash-only establishments like donut shops where the bill might come to two bucks. But I’ve stood on line behind enough hipsters using a debit card to buy a Red Bull that I shouldn’t be. They’ve become the modern-day equivalent of the little old ladies who still write checks at the supermarket. If someone isn’t responsible enough to walk around with five dollars in their pocket, do you really trust their opinion about anything?

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My kids/grandkids love it: Sorry but I’m not taking restaurant recommendations from a runny-nosed five-year-old. Unless of course I’m taking my runny-nosed five-year-old niece out to eat.

People who have written only one review: There are many reviewers who have only one review on Yelp or Trip Advisor. Typically the review is either so over the top positive it was probably written by a fake identity who is related to the owner, or it is so negative that it is written by a competitor. Be very suspicious of anyone who has taken the time to set up a reviewer account but then only writes one review. Perhaps the place really was so horrible that they just had to take the time to tell the world about it, but be discerning if you read these.

It was AMAZING!!!: The word “amazing” is so over-used these days that it doesn’t really say much beyond, “Hey I didn’t get food poisoning or bed bugs.” When you come across the overuse of this hackneyed term skip the review and find someone who’ll describe the place in more detail.

Meh: If this word is used, usually in the first sentence, stop reading and move on. The person is obviously trying to sound trendy and really has nothing to offer you. See remark about New York above.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Billy July 23, 2014 at 6:47 pm

One or two sentence reviews don’t usually tell much either. The flip side is I won’t read the super long ones.

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Michael July 26, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Sometimes there are good tidbits of information in the really long reviews but I tend to just skip or scan them.

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Steve July 24, 2014 at 4:22 pm

What about companies paying for good reviews on Yelp?

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Michael July 26, 2014 at 12:27 pm

There have been some lawsuits about some places paying people to write reviews which is a concern.

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Suzanne Fluhr July 30, 2014 at 11:16 am

Trip Advisor is my go to resource. The only exception to throwing out the 5 star and 1 star reviews is when they are almost all one or the other. Also, take a look at the room tips for picking a room if you have that option.

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Coral August 1, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Not all English have a ‘mustn’t grumble attitude’. I think I have written enough reviews on TripAdvisor to be credible by your scale and I certainly call it like it is. If it is good I say so, if it is not I say so too. I presume you are joking when you advise people to avoid reviews by the English. I hope you are. I may have given 1 star once (bed bugs) don’t think I have used the word ‘meh’ ever. My tip would be to think carefully about reviews that think it is ok for the hotel to be dreadful as they were cheap and that definitely is a British trait. My favourites are ‘you get what you pay for’ and ‘for the price we paid it was good’ or ‘what do you expect when it is so cheap?’ Signed mildly offended Brit from Birmingham who loves a bargain but not bed bugs.

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Billy August 18, 2014 at 9:49 pm

That gluten free stuff on everything is annoying.

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Maria September 2, 2014 at 11:51 am

Some really good points on here. I use TripAdvisor a lot but have noticed quite a few “suspicious” looking reviews recently. Hopefully it won’t get flooded with these as it is an excellent resource for travelers.

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Yann October 22, 2014 at 5:17 pm

I fully agree with you when it comes to local reviews. I have actually avoided best rated tripadvisor restaurants during my last trip to Portugal. AMAZING French fries, when the review is about a traditional Portuguese fish restaurant tells you a lot about the reviewer. Unfortunately, many English speaking reviewers make the same experience and feel like they have to leave a comment. Local Portuguese know where to find good fish and do not leave comments on tripadvisor… A very helpful feature would be to be able to filter reviews by country of origin. I trust more locals and certain nationalities when it is about food.

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Michael October 22, 2014 at 9:57 pm

Some good tips. I trust Italians when it comes to food.

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Frank February 11, 2016 at 3:53 am

Hey, us Canadians aren’t all nice. I grumble a lot :)
Frank (bbqboy)

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Michael February 12, 2016 at 8:32 am

But I bet you grumble politely.

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