Master raters

On the user-generated review site Yelp, a growing number of New Yorkers churn out evaluations, for free. We asked three prominent posters, Why?

Atif I.

Age: “Thirtysomething”
Occupation: Marketing strategist for an NYC-based Fortune 500 bank
Number of reviews written: Just 141, but my reviews are so detailed that I got messages from Yelpers curious to know if my contributions would be affected by the writers’ strike.
Months Yelping: 13
How many minutes per day do you spend on Yelp? 90 to 150
Why should we trust your opinion? None of my reviews are done without two or three visits. And no one at Yelp covers dessert more extensively than I do!
That must cost a lot of money. It varies. If I go to, say, Jean Georges and a few other pricey restaurants, it could add up to $500 or $1,000 in a month. It’s why I’m a corporate tool: My job allows me to eat dessert. [Laughs]
Where did you get your sweet tooth? My mother was visiting one of the shrines in Pakistan, where I’m from, and a holy man came and blessed her, saying that she would never lack sugar in her life and neither would one of her children.
What’s your trick for avoiding sugar overload? The key to eating sugar is to eat salt—and it’s increasingly popular to use sea salt in desserts. But I don’t OD on it, because I don’t want to have high blood pressure and diabetes when I’m older. [Laughs] I’ve chosen my poison.

Jando S.

Age: 26
Occupation: Marketing
Number of reviews written: 1,005
Months Yelping: 11 Why Yelp? I was formerly very active on Citysearch—I wrote more than 500 reviews before I made the switch—but it would censor certain words, and reviews were rejected because of the very strict content policies.
How many minutes per day do you spend on Yelp? Minutes? More like hours, but usually no more than two.
Is it an obsession? Absolutely. A disgusting one. Often I’ll buckle down and do 50 reviews in a night. I once wrote 200-something in a day.
What’s the motivation? I want to get my two cents in.
Based on your reviews, I’d guess you’re a karaoke buff. I actually don’t enjoy singing. I like going to places where other people are singing. I’m a good voice impersonator, so I get a lot of requests to do Shaggy songs. [Laughs]
Ever Yelp when you really should be doing something else? Often. On Thanksgiving, I was supposed to be spending time with the family but instead I was sitting, looking over notes on the places I planned on reviewing.
What would you be doing if you weren’t Yelping? I’d hit the gym more often. [Laughs] And I probably should.

Irene F.

Age: 24
Occupation: Financial services consulting
Number of reviews written: 1,053
Months Yelping: 18
How many minutes per day do you spend on Yelp? An hour or two per week, total. [Pauses] Um, it’s actually probably much more than that and I just don’t realize it.
Why do you Yelp? To put stuff out there so other people can break out of their usual favorite places.
Is it an obsession? My friends and coworkers would say so. But I don’t have withdrawal symptoms when I’m away from it or anything.
Quote your meanest review. It’s about Yip’s Restaurant: “Yes, I thought $4 kung pao was a deal. A wonderful deal. And it’s takeout Chinese, yeesh, how bad can it be? ‘THAT BAD!!!’­—stomach. ‘RANCID!!’—taste buds. ‘NEVER AGAIN!!’—brain.”
Would you do away with professional critics altogether? That might be a little extreme. They have purpose too—like, I don’t think Yelp is the venue for awarding Michelin stars.
Why should we trust your opinion? I’m opinionated. I used to work in the food-service industry, so things that are off really stand out to me. And I try not to let my personal biases get in the way. I’ll say, “I’m not a fan of this kind of food, but my friends liked this and that.” It’s not just me ranting and raving about how much I hate pizza.