Ever since I moved to NYC two years ago, I’ve relied heavily on Yelp to give me my eating options. Whenever I needed a place to eat, I could open up my Yelp app and be sure to find a new eatery that suits my budget and taste buds. There were countless reviews of countless businesses nearby, and I could filter not only by things like price, match, and rating, but also by WiFi, Open Now, and offering a deal. But here in Prague, it seems that Yelp isn’t so powerful.
Let me pause here. I think that Prague and NYC are two very similar, globalized cities. In my two months here, I’ve experienced little forced difference in my lifestyle because of the culture here. I thought that Yelp would work here because I felt so little difference between Prague and NYC. That being said, two months is also very short and I could be wrong.
Regardless of whether it is expected of Yelp to be present in these two different cities, I’ve noticed a big difference in the usage of the app. To be exact: a difference of 6,725 reviews. At the time of writing this, I did a simple search for “food” in “Prague, Czech Republic,” and another search for “food” in “New York, NY, USA.” The most reviewed restaurant in Prague has 146 reviews. The most reviewed restaurant in NYC has 6,871 reviews. Compared to this, the 146 reviews are nothing. Moreover, when I took a weekend trip to Budapest, Hungary, Yelp wasn’t even available.
From what I’ve learned in class here, the era of communism and censorship was not too long ago, and Central Europe has been in a long process emerging from it and catching up with the rest of the world. This is one reason that I would cite for the disparity.
However, the difference is probably more likely to be due to Czech culture. Most restaurants that I have been to have English-speaking staff who are accustomed to tourists. I think tourists usually leave reviews on travel sites like TripAdvisor. I have not witnessed many Czechs going out to eat in a place that’s not “touristy.” Restaurants in residential areas are smaller and are more functional. Thus, it’s not important to have reviews and customers don’t feel like they need to leave reviews.
I once stumbled upon a small Czech bar where my friends and I were the only tourists. In fact, we were the only non-regulars. Everyone who walked into the door was greeted by everyone already there. The chef drank and smoked and hung out with his friends at the bar. The dog, Harley, was also a regular. This makes me think that Czechs tend to stick to places they know when they go out, so they don’t need reviews and they don’t need to leave reviews.
Reviews in the US will usually point out the quality of service. I have read many scathing comments about how rude somebody was or how the atmosphere was unsuitable. Here in Europe, customer service is not something highly valued. One of my professors says that it is usually the customers who feel like they owe something to the shopkeepers when they’re shopping. I’ve also experienced it myself. Walking into Burrito Loco late one night with an indecisive friend, the employee very bluntly asked “So are you going to buy something or what?” The lack of customer service takes out half the incentive of reviewing a place.
Lastly and most likely, the difference is simply explained by the fact that Yelp is in a foreign market in Prague, in which it launched many years after it did on its home turf of the USA. Yelp was founded in 2004 in San Francisco but only rolled out to Prague in 2013. Given time and the right environment, I think that Yelp will grow in Prague.
Featured Image Courtesy of Chris Messina via Flickr