Yelp Elite Gwyn C. talks about how she evaluates businesses and how she chooses a star rating. Ranging from occasional freebies to general customer service, Gwen gives insight on how to form a great relationship with customers. She provides clarity on how she writes reviews as well as the rationale behind each. In this episode, hear why the smallest details really do matter and about the impact and importance of responding to customer reviews—both positive and negative.
On the Yelp Blog: Dive deeper into how Yelp Elites help local businesses thrive.
EMILY: Today I’m here with Gwyn, a Yelp Elite reviewer, and actually this is my first Yelp Elite who I’ve done an interview with solo, and I’m super excited about it because this podcast has been around for nearly three years and we have elites and users on the show all the time, but we never just dedicate an entire episode to them. So I thought I’d share a little bit about how I source my guests and how I met you, Gwyn. And then I’ll hand it over to you to tell folks a little bit about your background and your experience with Yelp.
So for Behind the Review, I always have to find the reviewer first. That’s the hardest part of the gig. And so we go out and we find great businesses that we think are doing incredible things, and then we look on that Yelp page for great reviewers who might wanna chat with us. So I was looking at this business page for a restaurant in San Diego, recommended by a business consultant friend of mine, and I saw Gwyn’s profile, incredible review she had written, and I messaged my typical message.
“This review stood out to me and I’d love to talk to you.” And then I moved on to another business, another restaurant also in San Diego. And the first person to pop up with a review worth messaging was Gwyn again. And I was like, all right, I can’t just send my standard message. Now I’ve gotta write a personalized message to Gwyn about which business she’d like to talk about.
Then something even better happened than Gwyn telling me which restaurant she liked more. She emailed me and she told me I’d love to talk about why I rated one five and one four. I’d also love to tell you about a business that really won my heart over years ago in Chicago, and I turned a bunch of family and friends into lifelong customers. And then I just knew, all right, we’re not doing a regular episode with Gwyn. Gwyn’s coming on by herself and we’re gonna talk all things, avid reviewer. So, Gwyn, let me hand you the mic, introduce yourself for everyone and tell us a little bit about your journey and relationship with Yelp.
GWYN: Hi everybody. I really enjoy being able to write reviews on Yelp. My journey began in Chicago. I would say there was a restaurant there that just gave really great service. I was out of college, didn’t have much money. They had just opened up a brand new restaurant in Chicago and I think they were looking to build their business and they built a relationship with me. So I went into the restaurant. I ordered, I could see that they were just still setting up and they gave me a free coke.
And I know that sounds really silly, but just the fact that they did that when they’re starting out was enough for me to go, oh, let me pay attention. The food was great, so you gotta have good food. And then beyond that, I started doing some takeout with them and every now and then they kept throwing something extra in there.
So, they really wanted to earn my business. And the food was terrific. So it was one of those things where Yelp didn’t actually exist at that time, but I wish it had, ’cause I started broadcasting to all my friends and bringing them business. And whenever anyone came into town, we would visit there.
And then just as Yelp was starting to come about, there was a business that one was an auto mechanic and he was struggling, but he was so good, so honest, and so open. And as a woman, it’s really hard to find a business that you can trust, much less a mechanic. I really wanted to help him out and I was just learning about Yelp and technology and all that.
I found Yelp, and wrote a review for him and he started to get more business. And he was so thrilled with how that worked out. And so that started that empowerment of, ‘Hey, your voice has something to say.’ And then from there I’ve got friends who love food. And the one question I hate is when people ask me, where do you wanna go to eat?
Because I never know where I wanna go to eat. I just know, okay, food, food’s, food. So I have one friend in particular who is very fussy about foods. Gotta be five star rating, et cetera. And I was so thrilled that Yelp was available for me to go and start looking up reviews. And what I do is not only do I look at the star rating, but I find it really important to see the comments the other reviewers make.
So that started to become my tool. And then I really wanted to start doing the same for others. Not only because if I enjoy a business, I want everybody to know. Although a lot of times I’ll put in my review, I don’t want too many people to know, because then it becomes too popular and then you can’t get a seat, right?
But I do enjoy doing that. That’s kind of how my journey started.
EMILY: I love it. And at Yelp we’re currently getting ready for next year to celebrate our 20th anniversary. So to talk to people who have been using it through this huge course of time is incredible because it’s really evolved since then.
But so many things have stayed exactly the same. Allowing customers to have a platform to shout out businesses who really impacted them. And I really love what you do because you’re an avid reviewer. So you’re sharing about all types of different experiences you have, not just food. And you also have a pretty clear distinction in your own mind of what star rating you wanna use.
So I’m gonna have you talk a little bit about that and then we’ll talk about the specific restaurant reviews that attracted me to you. But talk to everyone a little bit about what motivates you to review and how you do your star rating breakdown.
GWYN: Absolutely. In terms of the star rating, I want the best for every restaurant. I want them to evolve. I want them to do better. My standards are my standards, and I’m not gonna apologize for that.
But if I get good service and if I get good food, you’re gonna do well. If you know the service isn’t what it needs to be, I’m gonna mark you down a point or two especially if it’s really bad service, then you’re gonna get a three for sure or less, right? But generally it’s between a three and a five range.
If you’re really bad, you’re gonna know that I really did not like something because it’s gonna be below that. There’s a restaurant, sometimes it’ll be a four so that it can encourage them to do better. I do find that some of the restaurants reach out to me if I’ve given them a lower rating beyond anything below a four or a five.
And I appreciate that because it means that the restaurant cares. It means that the business owner cares and that they wanna earn that business back. The ones that take the time to do that, it’s really appreciated and valued And in, in my comments, I always try to be, positively critical. So that it encourages them, ‘Hey, listen, I saw the business owner out there and he’s going around and he is talking to the tables. Never came to us. Spent a lot of time at another table, but never came over to us. Well, what’s wrong with us?”
It sounds really silly, but it’s those little things that I think make a huge difference. Just like the can of Coke, that the other restaurant gave. Even just a smile.
There’s one restaurant that I reviewed and. One server, we weren’t at his table, it wasn’t his responsibility, but he saw that the other server wasn’t paying any attention to us and our service was taking forever. And he came over and checked in on us and took care of us.
And at the end I gave him an extra little tip. But it’s those little things that really go a long way.
EMILY: Absolutely, I think the first thing that you said was service, which for so many users, that makes all the difference. And when you were talking about the restaurant in Chicago, the food had to be good, like you said.
But I think there’s definitely this mindset amongst many Yelp users, and particularly our power users, our elites, that service can win over the whole thing. And you might even get a five star, if there is some critical feedback for the food, but everything else was amazing. They might share that in the text and feedback, but still give that star rating of five because of the service.
And I think in other business industries, the service is more important than the product in many ways, especially when it comes to reviews and getting that excited feedback from your customer.
GWYN: I mean, the food could be just so-so, but because you had good service, you’re gonna wanna go back.
You’re gonna like it and the food will taste a little better than you initially thought. I know it’s a sort of a psychological thing, but it somehow feels like it’s okay and it makes up for it.
EMILY: Absolutely. And I always have to point out for people, because a lot of elites, like you will say things like, I will dock stars and give them below three if they deserve it.
And like it is true, you do write some reviews, but you are inherently positive. Like a vast majority of your reviews are five and four. You only have five one stars and 16 two stars. So just over 20 of your total reviews, which is a couple hundred, are critical. So I need to put that into a little context every once in a while.
But now let’s talk specifically about these two experiences you had that drew me to your profile. ’cause I think it’s really interesting that you can tell me exactly what was the differentiator between those two experiences. Let’s start with your review of Antica Trattoria in San Diego
GWYN: Okay. So this restaurant, I was really excited. So my mother loves Italian food and in our area it’s hard to find really, really good restaurants. And my dad loves McDonald’s. My mom and I have a different palette and I wanted to do something really special for mom, so I was super excited to find this restaurant and see all the star ratings and it had come recommended.
So the first time we went, they actually were booked up. And we were surprised because you don’t need a reservation at a lot of restaurants in the neighborhood that I live in and this is a local restaurant. So we went back again and it was bustling. It’s a cute little restaurant. It really makes you feel like you’ve gone to Italy.
It’s really nicely decorated. There’s a lot of energy in the air. So we were really excited to go in and this is actually the restaurant that I was referring to earlier where I saw the owner going around. There were certain tables that I knew were getting extra special attention, and to the point where I was wondering what’s going on over at that table? Why are those people so much more important or seemingly more important?
The waitress was fun. We didn’t have a hundred percent of her attention, but she was fun and she helped make up for the lack of attention otherwise. The food – I thought my lasagna was really good. Mom enjoyed what she had. My father, on the other hand, was not a fan of his meal, and that doesn’t always make a huge difference to me because I know that his palette is different.
What I liked was that it wasn’t oily. It did taste like it came from Italy or Sicily or whichever area the restaurant and the owners are from.
We did get a little bit of background on the owners. I always like to try and connect in some way, especially if it’s a local restaurant. The story was really a nice story, and then when we left, we were, because it took so long for the service. We were kind of eager to get on our way, so we ordered some cannoli and the cannoli when we got home, it was ginormous and it tasted really good, so that was a nice finishing touch.
And so we enjoyed the restaurant overall. I would’ve liked slightly better service than what we received, which is why it was a four star and not a five star.
EMILY: That was such a good breakdown of everything that was happening. Do you mind reading the review for me?
GWYN: We were very excited to be able to get a table at this bustling restaurant.
It’s in a very unassuming location within a casual strip mall close to Vaughn’s. But walk in and be transported to a nice, friendly neighborhood restaurant bar. Brought my parents out for a nice night out. The restaurant was accommodating, turning down the music. My father’s hard of hearing, so it helped to have the music turned down.
They found a table for us. We had made a reservation from their website on OpenTable, and for some reason that reservation didn’t take, but they still accommodated us. Love the interior, although it can be hard to hear each other. The waitress was friendly, however, overall attention to detail was slightly off. For example, no refill on the ice tea and no bread in the basket.
Lasagna was good. It was surprisingly lighter lasagna than standard American Fair, making it much easier to enjoy its ingredients. Eggplant was also yummy. Again, unlike the American version, as it wasn’t oily or overly breaded. Great for a vegetarian. But what really won the night was the finishing touch, which we had at home. A cannoli large enough for two.
EMILY: And you included a photo. You do photos quite a bit. Can you just talk about the importance of images?
GWYN: Oh, I think it’s highly important when you go to a restaurant, you wanna understand what the portion size is gonna be. The look and appearance of the food is also important. I think that when other people are reading the review, they wanna see, does it look appetizing? How has it plated? Just things like that.
So I think the more pictures the better. I think if you can have the atmosphere. I didn’t put it on this particular post, but I also like to try and capture what the restaurant looks like so you know what you’re walking into.
EMILY: And I think the other thing too is pointing out items and how they might relate to a certain person or not another, right? Like you had mentioned in here. What you guys were thinking about them being accommodating, turning down the music. So for some people, they’re gonna read that and not only will that tell them, like ‘this place is a little louder, but I could ask for it to be turned down.’
But also for other people it’s like the opposite information, right? So you portraying your experience and how it impacted you can help consumers who are like you and who aren’t like you. And that’s why being descriptive of what was positive and not positive in your experience is so important.
GWYN: I think that’s an amazing point that you’re making because who I am and what I like, or what the people around me like, may vary from person to person, right? So I think it’s really important that, hey, this is the type of person I am, these are the kinds of experiences that work for me. And if it relates to you and if you are looking for something like that, then this is what you’re interested in.
EMILY: Yeah, absolutely.
EMILY: Okay, so this review for the Hills Pub, actually time-wise wasn’t even that far off from your other review. They’re pretty close in terms of experience. So can you just talk a little bit about this experience and then I’ll have you read the two reviews as well. But I’m gonna wanna ask about updating reviews. I think this is awesome that we have this as the other example. So you go ahead and chat about this experience for a little bit and I’ll ask you some follow-up questions.
GWYN: Yeah, absolutely. This place really surprised me. There were some business colleagues that wanted to meet at this location at the Hills. And at first it was like, oh, great, we’re going to a pub. Okay, now I’ve gotta mentally think about how I’m gonna navigate the pub and drinking with business colleagues and all of that sort of stuff.
And I walked in and the very first on the outside it has this almost professional look – it sounds really funny to say it that way, but almost like a professional look on the outside. And you walk in and it’s a giant party. You automatically, you walk in and you feel that energy and it’s just terrific and it feels welcoming.
And then I walk through the door straight into the back ’cause the ladies were in the back and it’s an outdoor open area where you can even bring your dogs. And it has a little bit more of a homey fun, I’m in the backyard feel to it. And I sat down and the first thing they said to me is, would you like some mac and cheese?
And I had just arrived. I wasn’t really set on that. I was thinking more in terms of what am I gonna have to drink? And they said, they’re just bringing this out because it’s happy hour and there’s no charge for it. And I thought, oh my gosh, isn’t that amazing? That is the sweetest thing. So sat down, they ordered the drinks.
We were having a great conversation and they came over with another mac and cheese for me because they saw that I had come in. The other two had mac and cheese, but I didn’t have any. And it was actually a buffalo wing, mac and cheese. Something to that effect, which was unusual. And so I was really impressed that A, they noticed I came in B, that they noticed I didn’t have the mac and cheese and then C, that they brought some over unprompted and unrequested. I thought that was really nice.
And then we had, we just had such a nice evening they made sure that our glasses were full if we needed anymore. They weren’t intrusive. It was just such a great experience overall. And then the ladies were telling me that they give a really great brunch there. So I kind of logged that in the back of my mind. We went home after a great evening.
My brother comes into town and he wants to meet for brunch. And I thought, wow, you know what? I had such a great experience there. It would be nice to bring him there. We can have a good, open conversation. So we decided to go there and again, had another really wonderful experience. They were preparing for someone’s birthday and putting up some signs for that. I guess they do it once a month. They do a birthday celebration.
And this time we sat indoors. It was a nice casual location and I thought breakfast at a pub bar kind of place, that just seemed really odd. But somehow they’re able to pull it off and it was really great.
EMILY: That’s so cool. I think sometimes it’s so interesting because our expectations play into how we feel and experience went and ultimately our review. And so it’s funny how in many ways the Hills Pub and what you maybe thought you were getting into versus how they showed up for you, when you were there was what led it to be such an over the top experience, right?
It’s like really surprised and wowed you for what you thought it was gonna be from a venue perspective, which we hear a lot on the show like. If something’s in a strip mall or if it’s a certain type of business or they market themselves as a certain type of business, you might think you know exactly what it’s gonna be like and then you get inside or you meet the team and it can really be different and can really vary.
I love how for your two experiences it was worth it to do an updated review because you really did get a different experience of the restaurant and the entire business, honestly. So let me have you read these. I’ll have you start with the older one and then I’ll have you do the newer one. Is that good?
GWYN: Yeah, absolutely. And you’ll find that in my reviews. There are some locations that if I just really, really truly love a place, I will do follow up reviews or I’ll do multiple check-ins or reviews because I just love the place! And I don’t know, there’s something inside that when you really, I love a place makes you just wanna scream it all the time for some reason whenever you
EMILY: Absolutely. And I think these updated reviews are so powerful because you are experiencing different things at the business and so you’re sharing those different things. And something that not everyone knows is the key keywords and phrases in reviews help impact when a business shows up.
So, same with when the business adds their ‘about’ information. Things that people put in reviews can help them appear. And so, when you write things like buffalo mac and cheese as something you tried, that can help certain customers who might literally be searching by a type of a dish.
So it’s important to know that this is worth your time and benefits the business because you’re sharing more information and you’re giving a fuller picture of the type of experience someone could get if they go to this business. So that’s really cool.
GWYN: I didn’t realize that. That’s great to know.
EMILY: Yeah, it’s awesome. And that’s why people like you who list the different things that you get, it’s so powerful and it really helps people make decisions. Like, I was in New York this past weekend for a friend’s wedding and my boyfriend and I were pulling up Yelp all the time, of course. And what we were doing is looking at what people liked. So photos that were labeled with a menu item name or in the reviews, like what’s a commonly mentioned dish name. And so if people don’t include that stuff, it’s almost like not as helpful of information. Whereas like with your review, you’re giving a sense of what you could order.
You’re describing what it’s like. I mean, That extra content is so valuable and impactful, and consumers should know that because just doing a five stars ‘this place was great.’ Like that’s not really that helpful to other people making a decision of if they wanna go to a certain business.
GWYN: I’ll tell you I definitely, when I look at the reviews, I look at some of the items that have been ordered because it does, when you go into a new restaurant, sometimes you’re like, oh, I know I like pad Thai, but do they do it the right way? Do they not? Oh, this person liked this. Hmm, that might be worth trying.
And I love exploring new foods as well. So, I absolutely look to see who’s ordered what, and if it’s. If it’s mentioned in multiple reviews that they liked a certain dish, well then it’s a home run, you wanna order it.
EMILY: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s so funny because sometimes people will see a certain thing and it’s like, oh, everyone gets that. It’s like, yeah, everyone gets it for a reason. I’ve definitely been in scenarios where something’s described as like, I actually, this is an Italian restaurant, not this past time I was in New York, but the time before that, the most popular thing was the spaghetti. This is a high end Italian restaurant.
We’re talking like $40 spaghetti or something crazy like that. And the description on the menu to me just seemed so like, I don’t know, average, but everyone was saying that it was worth getting and I didn’t get it, and multiple other people in my group got it. And I totally regretted it the whole time.
If the people say it’s good, it’s good. You know, especially if we’re talking about, the same dish popping up over and over where people are just so enthusiastic about it. It’s definitely worth a try.
GWYN: You gotta try it. The other thing I was gonna say is that sometimes I think also another good reason to do a review again is that you know that it’s not just a one-off experience.
Because I think so many times, oh yeah, this person liked this, but someone who’s taken the time, To write two or three reviews and do follow ups, it means that the experience is consistent, right? That, that they enjoyed the food, what, whatever it is that they ordered, that the experience of the customer service, et cetera, is consistent.
Otherwise, they wouldn’t do that unless it’s a bad review. Of course, for the follow up. Then, you know, okay, this one I’ve gotta really weigh. Do I wanna take a chance or not?
EMILY: Yeah, and that’s such a good point because I think a lot of business owners. Think of the updated review feature as like when there’s a problem and then it gets resolved, which it is used in that instance. Like, that’s a great way to use an updated review.
But it’s also to show recurring customers. And I love how you mentioned that because I mean, that matters to me. Like if someone who lives in the area goes there at least once a month, I wanna know that. And it’s funny, you know, we don’t have that button on Yelp for like, Repeat customers.
So updating your review or checking in multiple times is a good way to do it.
So that’s cool that you do that. I’ll have you read your first review.
GWYN: What a great neighborhood pub/restaurant. The vibe is so friendly with tons of energy.
Staff was amazing. Dog friendly with indoor and outdoor space. Met some business friends here and we enjoyed happy hour sitting outside. Couldn’t believe they offered a free serving of amazing Buffalo, Mac and cheese. Just brought it over for being there during happy hour. Had a yummy espresso cookie drink. Yes, I go sugary!
Friends ordered popular pretzels and wings, which were amazing. I hear breakfast is super popular, so plan ahead if you go. In case you can’t tell, I really liked it here. New place to hang out. Great. Can’t wait to go back and try more.
EMILY: Love it, and I actually just realized that the business owner responded to that first one.
Let’s just pause here and talk about that for a second. How often does that happen? What does it mean to you? Talk to me a little bit about that.
GWYN: You know, it’s interesting, occasionally it happens when you give a good review, and it really does mean a lot because it means that they took the time to read the review, that they appreciated that I took a minute to write something – much less, something positive and encouraging. It does mean a lot, when you get a response like that.
When you write something that’s not necessarily positive, you know, where you’re trying to help the business, maybe progress in some of what they’ve, when some of this, the experience that you’ve had if they write back and at least acknowledge it, that means an awful lot, you know?
And if they’re not trying to pull out excuses for why it was however it was. But if they acknowledge that, “Hey, you know what, I’m sorry that was your experience. That’s not the way we do business.” Or, “Hey, you know what, that’s a really interesting point and it’s something for us to move forward with.”
I appreciate that almost as much as I appreciate someone saying, Hey, I like, I’m glad you had a good experience.
EMILY: And I’ve always told business owners that responding is really for all other potential consumers, not even necessarily that particular reviewer.
Obviously it’s great if it’s a critical review and you can turn it around, but responding is really showing more so that you read it and that you care about customer feedback. And I think you’re the type of person that reviews a lot of places, it’s very habitual for you. But I do think that if people see business owners responding, it makes them more interested in sharing their experience. ‘Cause they know that it’s gonna be read. Right?
GWYN: Yeah. It completely encourages me to want to write more reviews and when I see that that’s happened with other reviews as well, that people have, that the business owner has written in, it makes me realize, okay, this isn’t just a chain who’s in it for the money, so to speak, but they actually do care about the experience and they do care about the food.
EMILY: Absolutely. Okay. I’m gonna have you read this other one.
GWYN: Came back to try breakfast, as my friends raved about it one night during happy hour.
It didn’t disappoint. First of all, I should say, this is a really fun and friendly place. Every time I go, I can’t help but leave with a smile. I think having fun is written into their bylaws. I had the breakfast sandwich, which was mini croissant with eggs and a special sauce. I think it comes with jalapeno bacon or something, but I had it without. Yummy and just the right amount.
My brother had the breakfast burrito, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Their menu for breakfast is limited, but had some interesting, less traditional options, which is really nice. They also offer some yummy breakfast drinks. It is a bar after all. But we did not indulge. Best of all in this sweltering heat. They had good AC.
EMILY: I love that. It’s sometimes it’s the little things and honestly mentioning that could be a game changer for why someone chooses it, you know? So it’s all important. All that stuff matters. Talk to me a little bit about. As an avid consumer and someone who does really try to share businesses that are great, why does that matter to you?
GWYN: Yeah, I love finding those, hole-in-the wall places and I love seeing them succeed. I’ve worked with and in small businesses before and I know what kind of a struggle it can be. And so I think that’s part of where my passion comes from, is I just wanna see them do well. I like seeing the local economy do well. I love unique, interesting niche places that are undiscovered.
And then I love being able to tell other people about it, who go, oh wow, I had no idea. You know, finding those hidden gems. I love doing that.
EMILY: Maybe if you can just say a sentence or two on why local independent businesses matter so much to your community and just kind of why you think they’re important, I guess, or why you like to support them.
GWYN: Yeah. I’ve just moved to El Cajon. And there isn’t a lot out here in El Cajon, or at least there’s not a lot that I’ve discovered. And so as a result, I’m always looking for, okay, where can I go? What can I do when friends come into town?
I wanna see them do well, and this is a community that It’s not LA it’s not downtown San Diego.
So it’s a place that could use the business coming in and could use it just would help the economy here. And I would like to see strong businesses here, places that I wanna continue going to. I’d love to find a place where I can go and study or do some work. And I think that by doing reviews that can help encourage that it spreads the word. You’ve got more people coming. The businesses that you really like and are passionate about will survive, especially in this economy, so I like to the food business can be tricky. When restaurants go under your favorite spot goes under, you know, there’s something you could have done to help them. And I feel that this is one of those contributions.
EMILY: Absolutely. We have covered so much ground and really talked about a lot of stuff. Any advice that you have to close us out for maybe people who search on Yelp but haven’t written a review before? Anything that you think you could say to maybe motivate them to give it a shot?
GWYN: I was hesitant in the beginning when it came to Yelp. I didn’t think that people would notice. I didn’t think that it made a difference. And all it took was seeing a couple of thumbs up from people or some of my friends saying, ‘Hey, I read your review.’ It was just one or two, and all of a sudden it started this engine inside of me and people enjoyed seeing just how I wrote certain things. So I would say, you know, for anyone who’s starting out in Yelp, instead of just looking at the reviews, consider the impact that you can have for others on both from the restaurant point of view, helping them out. To your friends, to strangers.
I mean, who would’ve thought that someone would reach out to me and say, Hey, we wanna get your opinion and put you on a podcast, for just writing a review.
EMILY: Well thank you so much for your time Gwyn. It’s about time I had a 1:1 conversation with a Yelp Elite reviewer to help our audience better understand what stands out and motivates consumers to share their experiences with a business. It was also great to hear the impact that review responses have on a consumer’s connection to a business. I think today we learned, it really is the little things a business does to make a customer feel valued and connected to the brand.