Yelp has never exactly been seen as a friend to the Bay Area restaurant community so much as a necessary evil they've begrudgingly had to live with for a decade and a half. So it's no surprise that a well-meaning but arguably tone-deaf effort to automatically launch fundraisers on businesses' behalf — a partnership between Yelp and GoFundMe — which they then have to opt out of is inspiring some passionately negative responses.
Yelp rolled out this program three days ago, as the company announced, in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, pledging to match donations up to $1 million from the Yelp Foundation. This follows a somewhat opportunistic move by Yelp on March 20 offering a $25 million relief fund to "eligible" restaurants struggling during the coronavirus pandemic — with eligibility requirements including those who are already paying for Yelp Ads campaigns, and offering free trials of Yelp Ads to those that aren't.
But Eater reports Friday that bars and restaurants including DNA Lounge and Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters are now noticing Yelp's imposition of "Donate" buttons on their Yelp pages, and they are none too pleased. Some received notifications from Yelp that these fundraisers were being launched, but businesses had to "claim" fundraisers to either opt in or follow further instructions to opt out. And some likely see the "Donate" buttons on Yelp as bad PR in a time of crisis.
To quote longtime DNA Lounge owner Jamie Zawinski, speaking to Eater, "I don’t really have a lot to say about this. Fuck all of these people entirely... Really, get all the way right up in there and fuck them."
And to quote another local restaurateur who remained anonymous: "Yelp is fucking scum. Do they honestly have time to fuck with this shit right now?"
For those who aren't aware of the background when it comes to Yelp, their history in the Bay Area is replete with stories of Yelp Elite members acting way more entitled than they ever had a right to be, and stories of aggressive ad sales tactics that many called extortion, but ultimately an appeals court just called aggressive. (The company was accused of manipulating ratings and burying good reviews for businesses that refused to pay for Yelp Ads, while boosting good ratings for those that did. A three-judge panel on the 9th Circuit concluded in 2014 that Yelp's tactics, which were said by plaintiffs to be doing economic harm, were just "hard bargaining.")
Holding businesses' hands to the fire and making them choose between paying Yelp and allowing negative reviews to bubble up a little too often was never looked on too kindly in these parts. So a seemingly altruistic effort to launch fundraisers — something that many restaurants and bars already did last week to help out their staffs — isn't being embraced or trusted here in SF, with good reason. DNA Lounge, by the way, has its own Patreon you can give to, and there's a space on DNA's homepage to make a one-time donation as well.
Yelp gave a comment to Eater saying of the Donate buttons, saying "we have paused the automatic rollout of this feature... [because] it has come to our attention that some businesses did not receive a notification with opt-out instructions."