Bill Ervolino yelps about Yelp and how it can destroy friendships

Bill Ervolino  | Today’s word is “yelp,” which has numerous synonyms — “squawk,” “shriek,” “scream” and “yowl,” among them — and means “a short, sharp cry, especially of pain or alarm.” It is also the name of a website that allows you to post online reviews of restaurants, takeout […]

Today’s word is “yelp,” which has numerous synonyms — “squawk,” “shriek,” “scream” and “yowl,” among them — and means “a short, sharp cry, especially of pain or alarm.”

It is also the name of a website that allows you to post online reviews of restaurants, takeout joints, plumbers, dentists, trampoline parks … you name it.

These reviews, which also feature one-to-five-star ratings, run the gamut from “Amazing food!” and “Phenomenal service!” to “You could get better fondue at Rikers Island.”

(True. Their fondue is excellent.)

I should point out that there are many other online resources for reviews, including Google, Grubhub and But, like Xerox, “yelp” is often misused as a generic phrase. Many folks refer to all online reviews as “yelps,” no matter where they’re from.

Some of these reviews are so awful, I cry, squawk and shriek in pain (or alarm) just reading them.

Others are terribly misleading. Or outdated. (Recently, my friend Olga and I drove up and down the same highway for 30 minutes, searching in vain for a tapas restaurant that closed 13 years ago.)

Earlier this month, my friend Tom journeyed to the Garden State for a three-day weekend and informed me that he wanted pizza.

I suggested an Italian joint that I like in Hackensack — they make the brick-oven variety — but Tom was adamant: “I’d like to try one of those deep-dish pizzas.”

He mentioned a chain that wasn’t too far away and asked if I’d eaten there.

I told him I had not — and added that the pizza was probably awful.

But, after reading some online reviews, he was obsessed. He even offered to drive there by himself, if I wasn’t interested in going with him.

“Don’t be silly,” I said. “You’re my guest. If that’s where you want to eat, that’s where we’ll eat.”

Twenty minutes later, we were inside a rather woodsy-looking dining room. It was 2 p.m. and we were seated in a booth next to a window with some opened (and tamper-proof) Venetian blinds. 

I politely informed the waitress that the sun was burning my retinas. So, she moved us to an even creepier table, on the other side of the restaurant, swathed in murky darkness. (It was so dark, I needed to light up my phone in order to read the menu.)

I ordered an unsweetened iced tea, a “personal” deep-dish pie with mushrooms and a bowl of Italian Wedding soup.


The tea was OK, the mushrooms looked diseased, the pizza crust tasted like a stale corn muffin and the Italian Wedding soup was grounds for divorce.

Tom was apologetic: “Sorry. I guess it’s not very good.”

I told him to relax: “There’s no need to apologize. You wanted to try a different restaurant. So, we tried it. No big deal. I’m fine. I just want to pay the bill, beat you up in the parking lot and go home.”

During the ride back to my house, Tom fished his phone out of his pocket. “Do you want to leave a negative Yelp review? The manager might give us a refund. Or gift certificates for a complimentary dinner.”

Can you imagine?  

That would be like my doctor giving me a coupon for a free sinus infection.

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No more was said about the pizza. But, as long as I’m howling and yowling about yelping: Four weeks ago, I was at my apartment on Long Island and needed an oil change. My brother Donald recommended a friend of his who has an auto shop nearby.

I texted the guy, made an appointment and showed up the following morning, five minutes early. 

He told me he was a little behind and that I’d have to wait, so I went into his office, had some coffee and made small talk with a woman who must have studied small talk in college. 

She never shut up.

It was an hour before my car was finally driven into the garage. The job was completed about 20 minutes later and, after I left, the owner sent me a text asking for a Yelp.

I mentioned the wait in my review but said that I liked the owner and gave the place four stars. 

An hour later, my brother called, screaming at me for only giving his friend four (out of five) stars.

“You have to give him five,” Donald said.

A five-star oil change?

I asked why. “Did he use extra virgin motor oil?”

Donald was insistent: “Four stars bring you down on Google when people do a search. I don’t want to lose a friend.”


So, I went back on Yelp and changed my four to five. 

While I was at it, I also gave five stars to the restaurant that closed 13 years ago and another five to the fondue on Rikers Island.

Bill Ervolino can be reached at [email protected]

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