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Web Guy Takes On Yelp

by Paul Bass | Feb 5, 2013 2:33 pm

(10) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Arts & Culture, Business/ Economic Development, Food, Media, Dixwell

Greg Morehead didn’t feel satisfied when he sampled online restaurant reviews—so he cooked up his own dish.

The dish is called “CT Best Restaurants,” a new online restaurant directory featuring customer reviews and background on New Haven and other establishments statewide.

It’s a dog-eat-dog, entrepreneur-eat-entreprenuer world out there, not just in the food biz, but in the online commerce world. Morehead, a former Dixwell alderman, a web design consultant by trade, and a competitor by nature, is jumping right in. With some financial backing from his father, a retired truck driver, he has designed the new QR (quick response barcode) based site, printed promotional brochures and table tents, and started reserving billboard space along I-91 and I-95. He has also retained 10 or so agents on commission to start fanning out to restaurants to sign them up for the site and purchase enhanced listings.

Any restaurant can sign up for free to have its address and web site listed in the directory. Also, Morehead’s crew will ask restaurants to place table tents that enable customers to scan a bar code into their smart phones and log instant reviews onto the web site. (Click on the play arrow above to watch Morehead walk through the process.) For a “premium” free the restaurants can have their menus listed along with biographical and other write-ups on their operations.

Over a lunch-hour chicken-cauliflower-tahini pita at the Sababa felafel joint on Whitney Avenue, Morehead, who’s 35, discussed how a professional R&B drummer and former ward politician (he represented Dixwell’s Ward 22 on the Board of Aldermen from 2009 through 2011) ended up taking on established national web-review giants like Yelp and Insider Pages.

He and his wife Shanah go out to eat often, he said. One night he was researching possible dinner spots when he was disappointed to find so few reviews and so little information about local options.

“Why can’t there be one place you can go” with information “in real time?” he recalled asking Shanah.

“Why do you start something like that?” she responded.

Morehead is always starting something. Infused with the serial entrepreneur’s non-stop energy, he is in the process of developing 15 inventions and obtaining patents, he said. He also makes money consulting on web design. He fits all that in usually at his Frances Hunter Drive home at night after his four sons go to bed, and when he’s not traveling to play R&B drumming gigs. (His most recent engagement: backing Brian McKnight and Case in Vegas.) He used to drive a Mobile Soul Food cart around town with his wife (when she wasn’t at her day job as a Yale registrar); then he found the operation took away too much time from the children.

So far his agents have signed up 82 restaurants to start the site going.

Customers who see the table tents at a restaurant can post their reviews right then to the site. Or they can do it from their phones or their computers later on.

They rate restaurants from a low of 1 to a top ranking of 5. Three-to-five-star reviews will appear on the site. One or two-star reviews will be forwarded to the restaurant owners to “follow up” on.

The Trust Factor

Paul Bass Photo Does that skew the results? Morehead was asked. Negative reviews show up on sites like Yelp.

Those negative reviews are often bogus, he argued; he claimed he personally knows of instances in which a restaurant’s competitor filed a negative review on a website in order to draw business away. Positive reviews are suspect, too, he argued: You can tell that the same person often files a slew of reviews under the guise of different names.

CT Best Restaurants will attack those problems in two ways, Morehead said.

He said he will block repeated submissions for the same restaurant from the same IP address.

“You can’t just sit here and scan this 50,000 times,” he said, holding up his smart phone.

And owners will have to show they’ve followed up on negative feedback in order to remain listed as one of the state’s “best” restaurants, Morehead claimed.

“We only list the best restaurants,” he said, and those restaurants will have to maintain that status through that follow-up.

“This is discussed with all the restaurant owners that sign up,” he said. “A restaurant thrives on good reviews. This is a way to get good reviews from customers and a way to filter out bad reviews.”

Whatever their system, sites like Yelp have come under pressure from businesses to filter out negative reviews. Yelp has been more aggressive than some other sites in hunting fraud, according to Ad Age.

Conversely, some people have questioned whether web customer-review sites present truly independent grassroots reviews or tailor results to obtain advertising revenue—or can’t control nefarious campaigns to skew results. An entire industry has sprung up of companies paying people to file positive “reviews” on sites. Authors and their friends and relatives are notorious for jamming Amazon with supposedly disinterested raves. Most recently The New York Times reported on an effort by Michael Jackson fans to sink the fate of a new expose on their hero through online reviews; they had success.

As he contemplated his first bites of the chicken-and-cauliflower stuffed pita at Sababa, Morehead was asked what kind of electronic judgment he would pass if the shop were listed on CT Best Restaurants.

“I would put a good review in there for them,” he responded.

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posted by: shadesofzero on February 5, 2013  3:28pm

Taking on enormous sites like Yelp, Urban Spoon, and Zagat is going to be no easy task.  Especially in a desire to stay CT-centric.

As someone who has written quite a few reviews for a competitor’s site, I’m not sure what I have to gain by re-writing them for a site which won’t even print my negative reviews and instead forward them to management, who could easily claim the problem has been solved?

It seems to me that the owner’s past experience as a restaurant owner has made him more likely to trust the owners than customers, but the truth is, it’s extremely difficult to effectively combat spam, malicious users, and also gave people an opportunity to express honest reviews.

Good luck with the site, however.

posted by: Greg-Morehead on February 5, 2013  4:29pm

The Title is a little misleading..

I’m not taking on Yelp, but I created the directory as a way for reviews to be in one central place.  Here is how it works.  Once a customer at a restaurant scans the QR code on our pre-designed table tents, a review form appears and they are able to leave a review.  Once they hit submit, their review(3,4,or 5 stars) gets filtered out automatically to the major review sites such as Yelp, Urbanspoon, and Insiderpages and also sent back to the CT Best Restaurants Directory.  If a custoemr leaves a 1, or 2 star review, that review gets sent back to the restaurant owner for Reputation Management. 
Restaurants thrive on good customer reviews, and this is a way for Restaurant owners to not only look after their reputation and follow up with their customers, but also to have good reviews being filtered out to the major review sites. 
So, in all actuality, I’m not taking on Yelp or Insiderpages, but helping restaurants boost their clientele with a unique review system.

posted by: robn on February 5, 2013  6:09pm

So Greg,

This is sort of like a reverse aggregator? You’re disseminating the reviews to other review sites to help build up their database?

posted by: Wildwest on February 5, 2013  6:14pm

yelp is BS period, they take down legit reviews. the business may really suck bad but if they pay yelp or complain enough the negative reviews get taken down or hidden. I hate yelp.

posted by: Greg-Morehead on February 5, 2013  9:37pm

@robn

The reviews get filtered to, 1st CT Best Restaurants directory and then to the review sites.
So, when a customer is searching on CT Best Restaurants, they will see the reviews from past customers to that particular restaurant.  So, the same review that is posted on our directory gets posted on the review sites and when someone is searching on the directory, they will see the same reviews instead of going to yelp.com, insiderpages.com and so on..  All of the reviews are in one central location, our directory..
As it has been stated, depending on who you are or how much you can pay, you can pay to have reviews moved around on some review sites.  That is bias..

Thanks though for your comment..

posted by: Edward_H on February 6, 2013  5:21am

My wife and I dine out and travel quite frequently. So far I don’t see how this website offers the end user anything you can’t find out from Tripadvisor. And I also don’t see any appeal in having negative reviews censored. I love the negative reviews on Tripadvisor because you can quickly tell when posters are serious or just have unreasonable expectations.

Also why would a restaurant pay a premium to have its menu hosted on this website when the restaurants individual description page has room for their webistes which usually have the menus listed?

posted by: Greg-Morehead on February 6, 2013  8:55am

@Edward_H

Please everyone, read the Advertise with us on our page here, http://ctbestrestaurants.com/advertise-with-us.html, before you post a “why would anyone want to advertise with us”, question..

Here are the main features on why restaurants become members..

We do all of the advertising for them(would cost them thousands each month).  We advertise via billboards, movie theaters, magazines, and coming 1st quarter, we will be advertising the directory on city buses.  We also provide unique table tents to each restaurant owner so that their customers can leave a review via QR code.  We also provide 1 month of Onpage/Offpage SEO for each restaurant FREE of charge if they are a member.  We rank their website for the first page of Google.  I know of other companies who charge $600-$700 per month alone for this service. 
There are other features, but please read the advertise with us page on our site to see why it would benefit a restaurant to become a member before you post “why” questions here…
Thanks

posted by: Edward_H on February 6, 2013  9:25am

Morehead
My question was direct and specific. There is no information on the page you listed that explains the value added to the restaurant when you duplicate the efforts they have already spent time and money developing. If a restaurant already has a website with a menu section what added value are they getting by you publishing the link.
And the table card idea is cheesy. Maybe it is a good idea for a chicken and burger place but I can’t see why any decent sit doen restaurant would put these on their tables.

posted by: Greg-Morehead on February 6, 2013  9:38am

@Edward_H

That is your opinion.  Are you a restaurant owner?  Other restaurant owners don’t have the money to advertise etc and use the directory strictly for that.  To say something is cheesy or you wouldn’t see why a decent restaurant etc is just your opinion.  I doubt that you speak for the over 11,600 restaurants in the state of CT.  Umm, I don’t think so.  When my agents go into various restaurants, not one of the restaurant owners said, O, I can’t take part in this because Edward_H said that its cheesy..

posted by: Threefifths on February 6, 2013  10:15am

This sounds like a Three Card Monte Street Hustle.


http://youtu.be/o2kO_5cNF5k

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