Marketing and Customer Service

“Successful CRM is about competing in the relationship dimension. Not as an alternative to having a competitive product or reasonable price- but as a differentiator. If your competitors are doing the same thing you are (as they generally are), product and price won’t give you a long-term, sustainable competitive advantage. But if you can get an edge based on how customers feel about your company, it’s a much stickier–sustainable–relationship over the long haul. (via Small Biz CRM)”

Bob Thompson


Customer Relationship Management is a way to track and automatically measure marketing campaigns over different networks. Clicks, likes, emails, contest participation, phone call volume, web traffic, sales-based calls, and POS (Point of Sale) transactions are all ways that CRM can be measured and tracked. For Zankou, presently we focus solely on three of these to better track our information: POS volume and tracking which items are selling and which we need to tweak for better performance; emails and written requests from customers, and feedback on social media. I will get into the specific ways we are doing that later.

Written Goals

No one can get to a place there want to be faster than with a clear map, with set deadlines and guidelines about how to go about getting there, with intermissions and explanations throughout the process. This is how I would characterize any great CRM platform. It’s a great way to

  1. Take a great snap-shot picture of where your restaurant is at the moment
  2. Track year to year sales
  3. Compare your different locations and plan your marketing strategy accordingly (for example, if Hollywood is not doing as well as Anaheim a good question would be why?). You may have to dig deeper but ultimately you have to decide on what to do and there are various marketing tools that can help bring that store up to the standards of the other stores.
  4. Show if performance is going up or down, every month.
  5. Show strengths and weaknesses of the products being sold
  6. Illustrate a products life cycle (more on that later)
  7. Written Goals, partnered with clear CRM can help deliver financial goals per quarter and for the entire year. Something amazing happens when companies and people tend to write down written goals.
  8. Track competition (when said competitor is a public company, financial information is made public and can be tracked using 3rd party CRM applications and compared to your company)

The goal of any great CRM software system is to track, record, store in databases, and then data mine the information in a way that increases customer relations (increase the ARPU, and decreased churn). I will talk about what these terms mean soon, as they are important for you to know as a marketing expert and especially for someone that is leading that department, or if you want to learn about it and train everyone else in the organization, as is often the case.

CRM measures different interactions between you and the company in order to increase sales and profit using analytics and KPIs (Key Performance Indicator) to give the users as much information on where to focus their marketing and customer service to maximize revenue and decrease idle and unproductive contact with your customers. The contact channels (now aiming to be Omni-channel from multi-channel) use such operational methods as contact centers. The CRM software is installed in the contact centers, and help direct customers to the right agent or self-empowered knowledge.[2] CRM software can also be used to identify and reward loyal customers over a period of time.

So for example someone that calls a mobile service, their CRM “contact center” is somewhere in India or the Philippines where they pay low-income workers much less than the minimum wage in the US. These people then see on their computers, using CRM software that tracks your cell phone number, who you are, how much you pay the mobile phone company per month, and other details that can help them solve the potential problem you are talking about.

They are taught how to speak to you, to always calm you down, and to best serve you by whatever means necessary. This is only one kind of CRM

Average revenue per user (sometimes known as average revenue per unit), usually abbreviated to ARPU, is a measure used primarily by consumer communications and networking companies, defined as the total revenue divided by the number of subscribers.

This term is used by companies that offer subscription services to clients for example, telephone carriers, Internet service providers, and hosts. It is a measure of the revenue generated by one customer phone, pager, etc., per unit time, typically per year or month. In mobile telephony, ARPU includes not only the revenues billed to the customer each month for usage, but also the revenue generated from incoming calls, payable within the regulatory interconnection regime.

This provides the company a granular view at a per user or unit basis and allows it to track revenue sources and growth. (Wikipedia, 2014) 

For Zankou, the average revenue per user can be anywhere from $50,000 per year for our biggest corporate clients that use the catering menu every week (quite literally), to the average business man or woman that eats with us once a week.

If someone eats with us once per week, and assuming their average check is something between $10-17, let’s say for the sake of argument it is $12. This person eats with us at least once per week(usually it’s 2-3 times). That is 4 weeks per month and once per week which would be 12x 4= 48. For the entire year that is 48 x (12 months per year) = $576 per year.

That is a lot, even for a single customer, never mind the families, companies, and large corporations we serve every single day, every single year. So for a typical family just do that multiplied by 4, assuming it’s a family of 4 when usually its 4-7 or more. So a family might spend, on average, about $2,304 (4x $576) per year with us. And that’s supposing they only eat with us ONCE A WEEK, which most typically do and more. The point of all this is to say that these customers are all very, very important to us. Almost all of the marketing and leadership experts will tell you that gaining new customer costs 9 times more than keeping an “old” customer. The reasons for this are so blatantly obvious. People are creatures of habit, and the cost of TV ads, billboards, Facebook ads, and even just regular direct mail advertisement with menus are usually very high. The cost of keeping a customer happy is very low: usually replacing a meal if it was bad, being nice and polite, understanding their problems and issues, and usually just LISTENING to what they have to say. So many companies today are failing at LISTENING to what their customers have to say. Maybe it’s this computer culture we have now evolved into, where everything is solved via email, social media, and mostly electronic ways where companies have just succumbed to the notion that they do not have to listen to the customer.

Every time I call a company or have some kind of issue with a local business, it pains me to learn that they don’t even have a phone number listed to call anymore. Typically they will make you jump through hoops, ask you to go online first, where you will be prompted to go through a series of channels, FAQ’s, then be asked to send a form and will be given an electronic “ticket” after after you spell out a word so the computer determines that you’re a human being.

Or you call and call and now they don’t even allow the “0” to signal an operator anymore. They still want you to jump through more hoops. It isn’t enough that they hire low income, low skill workers in far away places but they want you to jump through hoops so that you can even talk to them. This kind of customer service is disgusting and highly aggravating. It is no wonder customer service and satisfaction is going down in almost every industry. I feel this is happening because many CEO’s are getting rid of variance. They all want to solve problems cheaply (outsourced call centers), routinely (they are always available because they work for so cheap), and there is no variation (they are given scripts on what to say to us). I, for one, hate this process and don’t consider this” evolving” at all. I consider it a path that corporations have taken as the lowest common denominator and that true customer service and even the human spirit has suffered as a result.

CEOs hate variance. It’s the enemy. Variance in customer service is bad. Variance in quality is bad. CEOs love processes that are standardized, routinized, predictable. Stamping out variance makes a complex job a bit less complex.

Marcus Buckingham

At Zankou Chicken, we realize we are not perfect and that we are (currently) a small family business. But we have big dreams to grow, but let me assure you right now that regardless of how big we get we will never, ever (so long as I am the Director of Marketing at least) use any

  • Automated answering system. If you call us at any of our locations, a friendly human being will pick up the phone and help you, on the spot and right away. There is no stupid answering system, there is no music or lame directions before you get to a human being. We just pick up the phone and talk to you. This is the way it should be.
  • We will not use automated email answering systems as the main and /or only source of getting back to emails. We may send out an automated email response, but a human being WILL get back to you if your question or concern is not addressed in our FAQ.
  • We will always treat you like a human being, with dignity and respect. We will do our best to serve you, and if we can’t serve you we will direct you to someone else who can (because after all we can’t solve every problem or issue). I have sent many, many customers to different businesses. In many cases these were other kinds of businesses, but in more than a few cases I have even sent people to competing places that can better solve the issue they were having (for example they needed a wedding hall…we are not a wedding banquet service, at least not now)…etc.

It is this kind of love and dedication to customers that people respond very well to. This is why we have such great word of mouth advertising. We are not the best at everything but we would like to think we are good at what we do, and we love helping our customers because they are simply the best fans and customers in the world. We owe them everything. Without the Zankou customer we would for sure not be where we are today. We owe it all to them! They simply are the best people on earth.

But customer service is not JUST about pleasing the customer. It’s about THRILLING the customer. It’s about going BEYOND the call of duty. Here are just a few of the things I have done personally for customers this year (2014) alone. Some of this was done through or Facebook and Instagram, a few were done through our Twitter, and most of it was done in person.

  1. Helped a woman that was stuck with a flat tire in our west Hollywood location. I called AAA, and personally helped her change her tire because she was late to her husband and they had to go to a school function in downtown LA.
  2. Helped a woman who as stuck on the sidewalk in Glendale. We physically pushed her car to help her be on her way (don’t worry we were not injured).
  3. Pushed a stranded vehicle beside the 405 by our restaurant in west LA to help them get off the road. It was a pickup truck (again we were not injured but man that was hard to do in the California heat).
  4. Helped an employee personally deliver a HUGE catering order to a movie studio in Burbank.
  5. Gave away over 60 free T-shirts to our best followers and fans on social media.
  6. Gave away Zankou coffee mugs, mouse pads, sweaters, iPhone covers, and 400 free wraps and over 100 family meals as a give away campaign on Facebook that has stretched for over 3 years now.
  7. Gave away invitations to the wonderful Magic Castle in Hollywood to a few of our best fans as a way to thrill their wives or husbands on a special occasion.
  8. Gave away limited edition, very hard to get (and for us to make) Zankou Zombie T-shirts to contest winners last Halloween
  9. Donated thousands of dollars to many local charities that have asked for our help and participation (their names will remain anonymous, but just check in at any local Zankou and you will more than likely be in the middle of a charity event that we help facilitate at least once a week or so.

The list goes on and on. I like to take pride in the fact that I have been trying to be more and more creative in how we thrill and fascinate our best fans. I truly love them because, I am telling you, our customers never fail us. They have always loved us and supported us throughout the years and through very difficult times. And just as they have been there for us, I would hope we would be there for them as well.

We cultivate the habit of serving I think by doing it often, making it fun, and getting into the mindset that the customer is king.

Consciously or unconsciously, everyone of us does render some service or another. If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger, and it will make not only for our own happiness, but that of the world at large.”

Mohandas Gandhi

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery


Three things to remember regarding CRM


1) Keep it simple. If you tell cashiers and chefs to do too many things in too many situations, they will easily get confused. The  POS system should be programmed to make customer service easy and rewarding for customers. There should be built in systems to make sure orders are not messed up, food is not overcooked, and that all to go orders are accurate.


Besides this there should be easy to read, automatic instructions that pop up for every cashier. For example with us, when a customer orders 2 whole chickens the POS system should be programmed to write out a quick prompt for that cashier immediately asking if the customer wants to upgrade their order to the “Big Family Meal”. The Big Family Meal  consists of 2 whole chickens, sides and bread with garlic. It’s a new item we created to cater to large families who love to get a great deal. At less than $40 they can get a package that would otherwise cost them a lot more if they ordered everything separately. Every time a customer orders 2 whole chickens this item should be able to pop up and alert the cashier that it should be offered. What item do you have on your menu you can use this strategy with?


2) Constant and never ending training. Train the cashiers, cooks, line item chefs and kitchen prep employees all the time. Make sure lines of communication are open between the kitchen and the cashiers, because as soon as this line of communication or trust is open you can expect wrong orders to climb and customers to leave. The kitchen guys and the front people should always be coordinating, talking, and working as a team. CRM is not just public relations. It’s the part of marketing that makes sure we take care of complaint issues before they arise. 


3) Create and maintain a line of defense when problems occur. We are in the business of keeping customers happy. Will we always be able to keep them happy? No. And the more successful you are and more customers you have, naturally, the number of possible mistakes will climb. There has to be an established system of dealing with angry customers. Can they email you or otherwise contact you from the company’s web site? They should be able to do so, and without having to jump through hoops.


Are the employees trained on how to handle a phone call from an angry customer? Have you given them the permission and, even better, the authority and responsibility to handle customer complaints when you’re not there? If you haven’t done these things, expect to lose customers. As owners we will never be able to be present in every location, all the time, as we often would love to be. The front line soldiers (employees) need the permission and blessing from you to be able to handle most matters effectively. Will it cost you to give away a free meal to an angry customer? How about a free side for a to go order that was messed up? Yes there is always a cost. But what’s the cost of a lost customer? Thousands of dollars more. Trust me it’s not worth it. Don’t be a stingy owner. Give your people the ability to handle issues while you’re away. They will be happy because they want to take care of the customers, and the customers won’t have to call you and bug you about it personally through the web site.


For larger businesses that have 20 locations or more, it might make sense to have a toll free number to call. But if you’re more of a small family business, as I assume most readers are, there are a lot of low-cost alternatives to a toll-free number and full time operator. Just have your contact information available, answer your emails at least once a day, preferably around 5 or 6 pm. This is when a lot of the hard, lunch time crowd has already come and gone. You can now handle a few complaints, write customers back so that they know you care, and offer most of them free meals or whatever else they need to stay happy. Remember this always: it costs  9 times more to obtain new customers as it does to keep old customers.

Notes and references :

 Notes from Wikipedia 

Churn rate (sometimes called attrition rate), in its broadest sense, is a measure of the number of individuals or items moving out of a collective group over a specific period of time. It is one of two primary factors that determine the steady-state level of customers a business will support. The term is used in many contexts, but is most widely applied in business with respect to a contractual customer base. For instance, it is an important factor for any business with a subscriber-based service model, including mobile telephone networks and pay TV operators. The term is also used to refer to participant turnover in peer-to-peer networks. Churn rate is an important input into customer lifetime value modeling, and can be part of a simulator used to measure Return on Marketing Investment using Marketing Mix Modeling.




Yelp-Talk—What Makes Us Want to Review?


Nostalgic, home-sick and God-sick, empowered and informed and enfranchised, constantly in touch with one another, we are a new kind of god-talkers …

—Phyllis A. Tickle, God-Talk in America

We live in an age of virtuous cuisine. Everything from our breakfast cereals, coffee and produce to our fruits, meats and ice creams is marketed with earnest taglines promising not just nourishment and taste but extra culinary excellence bordering on spiritual bliss.

It’s as if the citizens of the world’s only Judeo-Christian nation, who have traditionally loved talking about God and continue to do so in cyberspace, where eternal issues can be produced, reproduced, dissected and linked to ad infinitum, have found a new passion: Food-talk is replacing god-talk as the new American pastime.

“True taste, true nourishment, true nature,” reads the Autumn Wheat cereal made by Kashi, a natural-foods company named after India’s most sacred pilgrimage site. “Right livelihood is simply defined as ‘good for me, good for you and good for everybody who touches it,’” Steve Demos, founder of the Silk brand of soymilk and other organic dairy substitutes, told Elephant, an online magazine dedicated to a mindful life, in a 2008 interview.

Of course, food is the basis of life, and the act of eating has been something of a spiritual experience through much of human history. It’s not surprising then, that food and spirituality have come to occupy large chunks of the Internet. But of the roughly 10,000 food-related websites in the United States, there’s probably just one that approaches the discussion of food with almost religious fervor. That website is Yelp.

Yelp is widely acknowledged to be a potent business force. According to Alexa, a subsidiary of that monitors commercial web traffic data, Yelp ranked 48th among the top 500 food-related websites in the nation—far ahead of Groupon, Allrecipes, Livingsocial and the Food Network, which ranked 86th, 184th, 202nd and 232nd respectively.

Although Yelp reviews all kinds of businesses, restaurant reviews are by far the largest portion of its content. And the growth of those reviews in recent years has been nothing short of astonishing. In 2012, the year that Yelp was on the go in 49 U.S. states and 33 overseas markets, with a market value of slightly less than $1.5 billion, the website had posted more than 27 million restaurant reviews, nearly seven times the number of reviews at the end of 2008—and up from just 1 million in mid-2007.

It’s hard to believe that a company that has struggled with profits can boast such huge gains, coming as they did right under the shadow of the worst recession since the Great Depression. My theory for Yelp’s spectacular success with restaurant reviews in the service-business sector is that just like the post-9/11 baby boom, which is widely attributed to the prevailing atmosphere of existential anxiety at the time, Yelping Americans, whether hipsters, yuppies, hippies or just college students, found in food an escape from the nation’s financial woes. The big difference was that instead of filling up churches and synagogues, they crowd-sourced their way into restaurants.

Can it be that people review based not only on the act or reviewing a restaurant but that some chemicals are released in the brain as a kind of natural high when one completes the act of reviewing a restaurant or other business on Yelp? I would argue yes. Just like Pavlov’s dog, people come back to this site again and again, both to leave a review and to “receive their bone”, or their reward. What is their reward? Well we know a few things for sure that it is not.

It is not money, as they are largely unpaid for this work. And by the way it is a lot of work, because often these reviews involved very well thought out essays and poetry, some of which is better composed and put together than the latest novels or works of fiction. These people do not receive and therefore not motivated by money. What then, is their primary motivation? We would have to ask a few of the “Elites” to know for sure.

But my suspicion is that it’s a mix of the natural high, the endorphins the mind releases as a pleasure chemical once the review is completed, and the social factor. Think of the way they move up, slowly going up the stream as the reviews pile on. Eventually, if they review enough places and receive enough praise, they may become one of the “Elite”. Not only do the “Elite” get the privilege of being called by that name, they also get exclusive invitations to events that are by invite only, they also get to monitor the boards and have “overseeing” privileges of the reviews section. They monitor groups and also host entire cities. If someone wants to join the “Elite” these people have to oversee new members as well as the “Elite” group parties.

So the real reason people love reviewing on these web sites, particularly Yelp, is not just an inflated sense of “self” achieved by getting this “Elite” status but also the social and personal growth implications of being promoted on these sites. It’s almost like a video game; kind of like achievements on Xbox Live or like those medals you get on Angry Birds with Friends or the “social” games on Facebook and all the app games. Yelp goes a step above and beyond these video games because it’s rewarding people for actually going to these places and actually reviewing them; kind of like a real world Xbox Live Achievements. A mix of adventure, ego, and socialization all rolled into one fell swoop of online victory. It gives its users a unique sense of privileges and esteem that is highly sought after.


What did people do before Yelp? It’s worth noting that prior to online reviews, folks had to consult a paper-and-ink guidebook—or flip through a magazine or newspaper—for a restaurant review. The guidebooks, however, were the gold standard. Their popularity can be traced back to the 19th century, coinciding neatly with the advent of improved transportation, an increased and more even distribution of private wealth, and international travel. Guidebooks received a huge boost between the two world wars—a period of unprecedented automobile-aided mobility in American society. Adventures in Good Eating, a 1936 guidebook title written by a traveling salesman named Duncan Hines, was the most popular example. During the postwar period, popular guidebooks included the series published by Eugene Fodor and Arthur Frommer. In more recent years, four guidebooks have cornered the restaurant and hotel review market: Mobil Guide (licensed to Forbes magazine in 2009), AAA, Michelin, and Zagat (purchased by Google in 2011).

Michelin and Zagat guidebooks are an interesting contrast to Yelp, not least because their focus on higher-end restaurants essentially restricts their reviews to a tiny minority of businesses. First published in France in 1900, Michelin was introduced to the United States as late as 2005. Over the years, Michelin has cultivated a strong mystique—its writings are known to have driven French chefs to suicide. Further, its exclusive reviews of the finest restaurants are written by professional reviewers whom Michelin employs and who visit restaurants anonymously to get information for their reviews.

Zagat usually reviews relatively higher-end restaurants. But it also reviews a lot more restaurants than Michelin does—and it does so with the help of a large number of volunteers. Launched in 1979 by a lawyer couple by the name of Tim and Nina Zagat, who couldn’t stand their day jobs and decided to create a guidebook company, Zagat offers numerical scores on food, prices, services and ambience. Its reviews are heavily edited, although short quotations from some reviewers are retained.

Yelp is a wholly different publishing animal from Michelin and Zagat. Two friends—Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons—who were software engineers founded the company in San Francisco in 2004 at PayPal and who had made a small fortune when eBay bought PayPal. The Yelp creation myth is that after he left PayPal, Stoppelman was looking for a physician but had no idea how to search for a good one. So he emailed friends, asking for a recommendation, and then placed their feedback on a public website for all to see. Thus was born an email recommendation/review system, reportedly developed at a cost of $1 million, which one of the cofounders of PayPal, Max Levchin, gave to Stoppelman as seed money.

The emailed review system revolving around groups of friends proved to be something of a flop. But it revealed something important to Stoppelman, who realized that people were writing reviews for the sheer fun of it. The next stop for Stoppelman was clear: Create a site that allows just about anybody to contribute reviews of any kind of business that has a street address, and the bigger the crowds of reviewers, the better.

Yelp reviews were initially limited only to San Francisco—probably a smart strategy, given that Stoppelman and his buddy from PayPal could test the company in one city instead of spreading the system out too thinly across a wider region, state—or states. And although Yelp reviews included a variety of businesses, restaurant reviews were by far the largest category.

It was clear from the start how Yelp was different from snobby Michelin or equally snooty Zagat. But that didn’t stop Stoppelman from emphasizing the distinction—and putting a bit of typically American entrepreneurial spin to it. “Yelp just democratize the reputation of a business,” he reportedly said in 2007, a year after Yelp had a million unique visitors a month. “Rather than a single arbiter of taste, it’s hundreds of people saying whether they like the business or not.”

That’s what crowdsourcing is all about of course, even if it’s not too different from the rule of the mob. And while Yelp’s crowdsourcing worked well in it home base of San Francisco, there appeared to be a sense in the company that if it wished to scale outside Fog City and attract more users, it would have to adopt a different strategy to get people to feed reviews to the Yelp machine. So, as Yelp expanded into large cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Boston and Washington, it reportedly began paying people $1 per review. The practice of paying for reviews had been adopted by several of Yelp’s competitors at the time, including Judy’s Book, InsiderPages and Epinions.

But paying for reviews didn’t quite work out for Yelp. The company discovered fairly quickly that the paid reviews were often poorly written. In 2008, with about 4 million reviews under its belt (the figure would jump to more than 27 million by March 2012, when Yelp was active in 49 U.S. markets and 33 overseas), Yelp stopped paying reviewers, except in new markets where it needed to build basic level of content over a couple of weeks.

That’s when Yelp adopted a different strategy: It began to cultivate a core of reviewers who not only post reviews more frequently than others but tend to write reviews so engaging that they acquire a large number of online friends and fans. Yelp named this core group the “Elite Squad.”

Not only has Yelp’s Elite Squad been a vital part of the company’s expansion strategy, it has also been instrumental in addressing a crucial question that had been dogging Yelp: What happens when hundreds of (non-elite) Yelp reviews pile up on a single business—can readers make any sense of this information overload?

By focusing on selective—and qualitative—reviews by its Elite Squad, Yelp kept its users from being unduly overwhelmed, while avoiding criticism from them at the same time. And the company did this by pampering its elite corps of storm troopers in ways virtually unknown in the world of online marketing and advertising. Yelp’s elite got to periodically gather offline at cocktail parties and events centered on wine, costumes and art, in an attempt to get to know each other. The events are organized by Yelp community managers, who, in many cases are former members of the Elite Squad tasked with facilitating message-board discussions and boosting the egos of volunteer reviewers through comments about their reviews.

Kelly Stocker, a Senior Community Manager for Yelp in Austin, Texas, describes herself in her About Me profile as a “yelp evangelist, party planner, local business lover, KGSR DJ, karaoke fiend, social spider monkey.” On her Yelp page, Kelly identifies herself as a “Reverend,” evidently a reference to her role as evangelist for the company. She has been a member of the Yelp Elite consistently since 2009. “From A+ on my report cards to writing about bars. My parents are so proud,” reads a line under her featured photo, which shows her wearing a black lace dress, holding a gigantic jar of what looks like orange juice, her mouth open in an apparent exultation.

As of September 25, 2014, Kelly had 2,625 friends on Yelp and 1,310 reviews to her credit—106 of them so-called “First Reviews,” meaning they are the first reviews on Yelp of a particular business. She had offered 828 “Tips” (“This is a super fast dinner/lunch if you’re getting pho,” and “There can be a long line, so be prepared to wait”), which appear to have played no small role in earning her 421 in-house fans. Further, she had posted 5,701 “Local Photos” (the latest one shows a meat-based taco dribbled with an avocado-colored salsa) and submitted 1,052 events on behalf of various local businesses and organizations.

Kelly has received numerous compliments. No less than 2,994 people have thanked her, 1,262 have said she is “cool,” 659 have found her funny, and 651 “hot.” Not surprisingly, the things Kelly says she loves include: “Funny people, festivals, flip-flops, cheap sunglasses, glitter, red hair, dive bars, spontaneous traveling, costumes, cooking, reading constantly, singing often and tuft gloves.”

The list of things that Kelly loves is prominently featured on Yelp. Which raises the question: Why would an online organization devoted to the ostensibly dispassionate reviewing of businesses want to literally advertise the personal aspects of the lives of its elite reviewers?

The answer is that Yelp is not just a business-oriented website that caters to customers looking for the best deal or the best food in town. The truth is that Yelp is also a social networking site where its reviewers writings become the currency that allows them to meet strangers either online or offline.

Yelp undoubtedly owes its phenomenal success as an online business to this social networking strategy. How else would Yelp be able to solicit a greater number of reviews and attract more unique visitors than such formidable competitors as Chowhound, which also relied on user-generated content but did not offer any social rewards to those generating the content? Moreover, the metrics of Yelp’s reviews and UVs were reportedly far more successful than CitySearch, which followed the Michelin and Zagat philosophy of providing professionally written reviews of local businesses.

The social capital that comes with being a member of Yelp’s elite is undeniably why Yelp’ more plebian members keep slogging away on their reviews, hoping they’ll be invited to join the exclusive club some day.

Here’s how Ryan C., Yelp’s Community Manager in Orange County, California, wrote in November 2012 to invite Yelp member Vyvy “Batman” D. to become one of the company’s elite:

“Not to come off as a creep, but I’ve had my eye on you lately. In fact, the entire Yelp Elite Council has. You clearly embody the spirit of Yelp with your enthusiasm, positivity, constructive honesty and useful funny coolness, and we’d like to formally invite you to join the Yelp Elite Squad! As a member or the best and brightest on Yelp, you’ll be invited to exclusive parties, where you’ll rub elbows with some of our city’s most influential movers and shakers. Plus, you’ll get a snazzy badge on your profile so everyone can see you know what’s up!”

Not surprisingly, Vyvy D. rose to the occasion or fell for the bait—feel free to pick your metaphor. “I’m Yelp Elite, BITCHESSS!!!” she declared on her personal blog, adding: “I don’t think you understand how ecstatic I am … I’m so freaking excited.”

Other Yelp elite have been equally enthusiastic—without going overboard—about being accepted into the social club. Here’s how Weiward Girl describes her gradual evolution to elite status in a 2009 post:

“I Yelp. I’ve been doing it since October 2007. At first, I used Yelp. Our relationship was casual. There are so many great reviews and pictures from actual diners, people who share my love of good food and drinks, I searched and read and discovered great new eateries. As I dined around town, I was eager to write more reviews of my own, both good and bad. I wanted other diners to hear about my experiences. It became increasingly fun to get and give compliments on reviews, and I kept clicking the radio buttons to rate them: ‘useful, funny, cool.’ Soon, friend requests started showing up, and that’s when I realized: I’ve become a real Yelper! There was nothing stopping me from going all out now. The camaraderie felt real. All the regular Yelpers are really in the know about all things fun and tasty around the city. Before long, a Yelp ambassador sent me a message: ‘Would you like to become an elite Yelper?’ Boy, would I ever! I must have been doing something right to get such recognition so soon! Being an elite Yelper means a shiny new badge on my profile, and invitations to exclusive parties at the hottest spots in town! Just days after my promotion to the Yelp Elite status, I went to a party at a hip lounge. There were free-flowing vodka martinis. I was impressed. Yelp must be quite influential and have a generous budget to pulls this off! So many people welcomed me. They couldn’t wait to meet you!” the Yelp ambassador told me as soon as I entered. The music was loud. I was shoulder-to-shoulder with elite Yelpers. Cameras were flashing. Cocktail glasses were clinking. Everyone was laughing, hugging and having a good time. Nobody remembered it was a school night. I bet the lounge that hosted the party will be getting a lot more new business now that all the Yelp elites have been there. Good for them!”


  • Alexa Internet Inc. commercial web traffic data.
  • Business Times.
  • Food in the Internet Age, by William Aspray, George Royer, Melissa G. Ocepek, 2013 Springer Briefs in Food, Health and Nutrition.
  • A Social Strategy: How We Profit From Social Media, by Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, Princeton University Press, 2014.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Yelp Inc., Elite Event: Meet the Chef 7

Yelp Analytics

Yelp Analytics Paper

There are many papers and articles that have been written out there regarding Yelp and the analytics associated with getting more and better reviews, making the most of advertising, and whether or not any of this matters at all.  Depending on who you ask, there is no shortage of opinions about Yelp and how to best market yourself on this platform. Yelp was started by a few very excited and imaginitive young people with big hopes and dreams, and as often is the case in technology firms it had rough beginnings and nobody would have ever guess how big it would become from its humble beginnings.

Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons were part of the original PayPal founders who later became famously called the ‘PayPal Mafia”. They started Yelp when they were working in a business incubator, MRL Ventures, in 2004 after they sold PayPal to eBay.  What first began as an email information sharing platform became Yelp after Stoppelman caught the flu and had a difficult time finding an online recommendation for a good doctor in his area. I can relate, as there aren’t many good doctors around anymore, and since then we now heave I remember feeling the same way when I was looking for a good doctor in Glendale. I was battling a strange kind of flu that persisted for over 3 weeks, something that I had never before experienced in my life. I called so many hospitals and doctors, going through multiple variations of press this number for that department and “please leave a message for Dr So and So.” It reminded me how terrible or health care system truly is. We do have one good rule in the United States: don’t get sick.

Anyway, I finally found an Armenian woman doctor in Glendale and made an appointment. Now of course I would rather just have dealt with this myself, and I was, drinking Nyquil and Dayquil for 3 weeks straight. When I got to the office, it was crowded with sick people that were ALL coughing out loud as if in sync to some kind of strange virus infused orchestra. This woman doctor made me wait for over 45 minutes for an appointed I had made well in advance, and by that time I could take it no more and ran out the door as quickly as possible before I caught more viruses from her patients. Suffice to say I will never go back to her for anything. What if there was a web site that can help us determine how good a business is before we visit it. That web site is Yelp. 


It has a curious name, and the story of how that came about is different depending on who you ask. There are many theories and urban legends all over the internet about how this name came about. Instead of listening to so many others, though, since most of them are usually wrong, I found the true source of the name, answered on the question and answer site Quora by none other than the founder himself. Take a look:

Jeremy Stoppelman
Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO and co-founder of Yelp

“David Galbraith (a guy in Max’s incubator MRL Ventures who was helping us with Yelp in the early days) found it on his own. It was available for purchase from a squatter for 5k. Russ and I didn’t immediately like the name since it was “the sound of a dog being kicked” and I was strangely enamoured with “yocal” – a terrible name. Fortunately Scott Bannister (another guy hanging out in the incubator, who was also involved in the naming of PayPal) immediately loved it. He told us he’d buy it and sell it to us the next day when we came to our senses. In the ensuing discussion Jared Kopf (yet another incubator employee) put down his credit card and actually bought the domain. The next day it was transfered to the company (we paid back Jared) and the rest is history.”

Many people offer various opinions about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of Yelp. You will often hear a lot of hate being thrown around Facebook and Twitter by people who own business getting a few badly worded reviews. People can argue about different opinions all day, but people can’t argue with facts. Here is an undisputed fact: there is no web site on the Internet that sends us more people, more traffic, and more unique visitors per month than Yelp. On any given day, up to 80% of our web traffic on is coming from our Yelp review sites on each corresponding location, every day, consistently. Now of course advertising on Yelp and getting your ROI on that advertising is a whole different story. But the importance and validity of Yelp in terms of how vital it is to the restaurant industry can no longer be disputed. Here is another fact: Yelp is the undisputed king of review sites right now both in terms of users (over 60 million per month!) and reviews, as well as content generated on that site and web site leads to your restaurant. I know this because a simple Google analytics search consistently tells us Yelp is sending us more traffic than anyone else. So you would ignore Yelp and this entire chapter at your own peril. 

I have organized the information for this part of the chapter in a way such that those looking for this information can hopefully us it and benefit from it; this took weeks and weeks of research. It’s up to you wether or not you will end up advertising with Yelp or which of these strategies you will ultimately use. I can’t decide what to do for you in terms of where your marketing advertising and dollars will go, but consider this: your customers are already on yelp and are using it every day with or without your help and consideration. Also, many (in fact most) of the beneficial things you can do on Yelp as a registered business owner are free.

You owe it to yourself to at least study this material, as I have really researched this in depth for you and have done my best to put all of the relevant information in one place.  Many of this work you can do on your spare time as a business owner, little a time in the early morning or late night hours. So that being said, I would like to present all of the facts and figures I’ve researched on this subject, both in terms of academic research through all available books and articles as well as personal experience being a restaurant owner and having advertised with Yelp on and off for the last 5 years.

The TOP Ten ways to Advertise on Yelp with different Paid Ads

The Top Ten ways to Market your restaurant on yelp for Free

The top Ten Mistakes Restaurants make on Yelp

#1 Mistake.  The #1 mistake restaurateurs make on yelp is to create a new account and give your new business a positive review right away.

This, more than anything else, drives people crazy about Yelp.  You can’t just go and open a bran new account and market your new restaurant by giving yourself 5 stars as soon as possible. More than likely their software will detect this and delete your review entirely. Some people find this reason enough to hate Yelp and ignore the web site entirely. Take, for example, this situation with Forbes contributor writer Jim Handy. When faced with a situation where he was trying to give a positive review for a company he liked, South County Process Service, Yelp arbitrarily deleted it with no reason or explanation whatsoever, and when he wrote in to complain Yelp didn’t even get the dignity of a response.   In his own words,

…”To put things into simple language, don’t believe Yelp reviews. Who knows how many of them have been deleted or obscured according to some secret policy?  Would Yelp be a prudent investment?  It appears that the company is in a position that could well be undermined by a competitor with a more honest approach.”

By the way, as a side note, Yelp, Facebook , Google, and just about every other internet based web site or review company will almost always have a terrible or none-existent customer service department, as anyone who’s had an issue with these companies would attest. The reason for this is simple. These companies serve millions of people a day, every day. In the case of Google and Facebook they both serve over a billion people per day.  It is nearly impossible for them to give people customer service. The only way hey have any kind of personal customer service is when and if you are an advertiser. Even if you are a paid advertiser on Facebook and Google, they will deal with your issues 99% of the time through their FAQ and email. Rarely, if ever, will you get a human being on the phone. With Yelp, if you are a paid advertiser each month, you do get a sales rep and you can talk to them on the phone.

#2 Mistake : Ignore Yelp

Ignoring Yelp is the easiest thing to do, and I am sure 99% of small business in America, especially those with owners that are not as savvy with the internet or social media, choose this route. Why is it so easy? Because this is the route most take be default. Don’t do anything, and you are automatically thrown in this camp of business owners and restaurateurs who may lose business because they have chosen to ignore their Yelp reviews entirely.

Anne Philips is the president and founder of Go Green Gardeners. In her blog on The Huffington Post she asks a great question: what would happen to all the businesses that may go bankrupt because of unfair Yelp reviews? The answer is simple. Nobody would care. In this cut-throat business of the restaurant industry (and almost every other industry in America right now, unfortunately )your competitors would cheer if you lost business and ultimately had to close down shop due to bad reviews and word of mouth.

That’s why reading this book, going out there and doing your homework and research, and constantly watching your pages is so important. Nobody is going to do this for you; consider it like your little Zen garden. Every once in a while you have to visit your Yelp pages. You must kill the weeds and take them out (do your best to fight bad reviews, I will tell you exactly how to do this later), encourage good reviews, and make sure your menu, hours of operation, manager’s information and address are all up to date.

Anne Philips suggest in her article that Yelp not filter ANY reviews. Many business owners across the board have asked for this and pleaded for Yelp to go this route, but that may not be the best solution. You see Yelp’s “secret sauce” is their powerful and reliable filtering system. Reliable to them at least, lithesome and woefully inadequate to almost everyone else. Still, I can see Yelp’s point when they say their filter system is pretty powerful and that, although it is not perfect it is still much better than their competition. Consider, for example, Four Square. They do not have such a filtering system. If you post a review on Foursquare, unless you used unnecessary profanity or hate speech, it will stay up. Yet that web site and app are not nearly as popular for people to use as Yelp is. So for one reason or another, Yelp’s filtering system and web site have been deemed reliable by the general public.

Anne reiterates the case that many business owners feel, that by advertising with Yelp many of the positive reviews, the ones you see in that odd state of “limbo” where as the business owner you can see them yet they are filtered, somehow becomes magically visible after you begin an advertising campaign on Yelp. Of course Yelp disputes this every time it’s mentioned, but so many people say the same thing you just have to wonder if there’s any truth to that.

Anne puts it this way:

“You lose business because they filter out the good reviews and keep the bad ones. Another disturbing theme appeared — that Yelp will make sure that your good reviews show if you advertise with them. I really hope this isn’t the case.”

#3) Another mistake people make is to sue the actual PERSON that issued the review. A lawyer can easily subpoena that information and issue a letter to threaten a lawsuit unless the review is removed.

This is not hard for a lawyer to do as they know that process, or say, for example, a businessperson that has a cousin as a lawyer. We would advise against this unless a serious breach of Yelp guidelines and a PERSONAL attack is what is going on. Most reviews are not personal. However if your name, your character, and /or your good reputation is being assassinated you are well within your rights to sue or threaten a lawsuit.

Be careful to do this, however as you may incur the wrath of the public. In what’s known as the Streisand effect often times your threats to retaliate will incur additional negative reviews and bad press. This comes from the true story of how Barbara Streisand threatened to sue people taking pictures of her home, and in doing so more and more people decided to do this on purpose just to annoy her.

This already happened in the case of one wedding banquet hall and hotel business which threatened to levy fines on the guests. Specifically they threatened to fine the party $500 for every negative review ANYONE in their party posted online in ANY review site. Obviously this backfired when many people that heard about it as the story went viral, as it’s not hard to do nowadays. When people got wind of it more and more posted fake negative reviews. Even though Yelp erased most of them they just kept coming. Customers will fiercely fight any company or business that tries to silent their voices so be careful.

That article can be found here

The top Ten Alternatives to Yelp

(Place small decryptions of each)

#1) Foursquare

#2) Zagat Guide

#3) City Search

#4) Yellow

#5) Google Places

#6) Angie’s List.   (this is a great site for construction services and other contractual based services; restaurants not so much)

#7) Yahoo Local

#8) CitySearch

#9) Trip Advisor

#10) Urban Spoon

More apps and stuff to talk about (this is a different chapter…one we can write later..on the use and power of Restaurant apps)

Top 5 restaurant apps   (come up with 5 more) 

  • Grub Hub
  • Foodspotting
  • Google Local
  • Open Table   (this is a reservation app…highly recommended for sit down restaurants to ease service and placing tables in advance for customers)
  • Eat24

The Top Five (or more?) ways to Encourage Good Reviews

#1) Post links to your locations corresponding Yelp page directly on your web site.

This will encourage people to visit your Yelp page just after they visit your home page. More than likely these people will give you positive reviews. After all they are known fans and customers. This is especially true about some social media outlets. Which leads me to #2…

#2) Post your Yelp pages from time to time on your other social media outlets including Facebook and Twitter. You can even do small giveaways like T-shirts to encourage people to write reviews. People click on these links and check out your Yelp all the time anyway, so why not send your best fans there.

#3) Post a “Find us on Yelp” poster on the walls and/or windows. If you feel that’s too intrusive post a small flier or fliers by the cash register area. You can also put this on the paper menus. This will remind people to review you on Yelp!

#4) Host a “Customer Appreciation Day” event on Yelp. Go online and visit Remember to invite the “Elite” members and any possible influential bloggers or local area community leaders who may be influential with others. This is how positive word of mouth works. People with lots of friends and who influence heavily others can bring a lot of people to you establishment by coming to these events.

You can take lots of pictures, make it look great and post it all over your social media. You can also include it in your email campaign with something like “Check out the last Customer Appreciation Day” we held…Now talk about it and mention a few funny moments: how someone spilled their Pepsi all over their dress. How a few people were late but then it seemed like everyone arrived at the same time ..etc

Some people will feel left out, which is great because you really want them to WANT to come to the next event. You can even give away a few things that are inexpensive for us in the restaurant industry, like a free drink or a small free side. This is a small cost to you but would go a long way towards awesome word of mouth advertising. You can also give away mugs and T-shirts and other promotional stuff. Good luck!

#5) Do Yelp Deals. Yelp has a feature which you can host Yelp deals. First ask your co-owners if this is OK. Many restaurants still don’t like discounting their food at all, even for publicity on Yelp or anything else.

If that’s the case it’s OK. Offer to do a Yelp Deal everyone can agree on . Free drinks? An extra side? How about something that is not cheaper but just being more generous like buy one wrap get another free? This might encourage many people to bring their friends to your restaurant, and if your staff does a great job and the food is good guess what they will keep coming back! So pull don’t push the rest of the co-owners and see what everyone agree on doing. If they don’t want to do ANY Yelp deal, that’s OK too. Go down this list and do the other things.

#6) Offer deals on other check-in apps like Facebook or Foursquare. There’s a good chance that’s someone who uses one of these apps uses all of them, and if they use Facebook regularly and have synced their accounts their friends on Facebook and Instagram will see and hear about your restaurant. Encourage the use of hash tags. You can make one poster and just put all of this information smartly organized in one place (I recommend that actually to reduce clutter).

#7) Teach your staff to respond to Yelp reviews, positive and negative.

What this does is a few things.

  1. It forces everyone in the organization to see what actual problems may be under the surface. If managers have to go through reviews they will see what the staff is doing right and what they’re getting wrong and will hopefully react accordingly. They should immediately make necessary changes and re-train staff to better handle whatever situation occurred to garner 2 star or 1 star reviews.

Remember, all of us get these bad reviews from time to time (yes even us). So don’t be discouraged just train the staff to work on the Yelp account and respond to 3-5 people per day. A,ll they would have to do is scroll down and find the low scores, take a moment and respond accordingly.

I would say their name, repeat their grievance or issue, not verbatim but just so they know you have heard them out. And after doing this you can answer their call and provide them with excellent service by making up for the mistake staff made.This can be anywhere from 10-20 minutes and they can do it on their down time. You can even write the response yourself and just have other staff like managers or supervisors copy and paste some of your wording and message your customers. Remind them to never, ever argue with the customer and tell them they were mistaken when they gave you a bad review. If you feel like doing this trust me I understand, I have felt the urge to do that many times. And yes I am guilty once I did that because I just couldn’t take it anymore, and guess what this customer was even more pissed than she was before I addressed the situation.

We must all be professionals and not act like this. Take a minute and relax and come back before you click that send button because Yelp does not have a retractions for customer messages.

  1. Reward the best reviews by sending them a free T-shirt or offering to meet them and give them a free Family Meal once a week for the best review! Make it a tradition and keep doing it! This is great Customer Relationship Management.
  2. Consider framing and posting the very best review once per month in a great place inside the restaurant where people can see it. This will encourage them to do the same when they go home

#8) Post pictures of your staff doing great teamwork on the Yelp page. Make sure they’re smiling and look happy. Hopefully this will have some kind of emotional response and make people less likely to leave negative reviews. And by the way this is not funny nor is it a joke because many business have actually shut down due to bad reviews. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away you must address it head on.

#9) Add a Yelp QR code next to each location on the paper menu and make sure it will lead people directly to that location’s page on Yelp.

QR codes make it easy for people with Smartphones to just take a picture with their phone of the QR code and it will directly take them to that Yelp page their looking for. This will obviously make leaving reviews a whole lot easier. The QR code can be placed on menus and other areas where you think it would help.

#10) Add a Yelp link to the email newsletter as well as on your email signature. Since these are emails you are sending all the time anyway, why not encourage people to click on that link and review your location right away? The impulse will pay off even if only a small percentage of all the emails we send goes through .

#11) Add a Yelp Badge. You can go to the Yelp web site and on there they have badges you can proudly display right on your web site. One even has a 5 star review and one has 4.5 or more. If you are lucky enough to have such a highly trusted and rated establishment, you’d be a fool to not let everyone know. Yelp makes it easy by providing the codes to your graphic designer or web site programmer.

Click “Review Badges” from the Business Owners launch pad (provide photo for ease of use).

The Top Five (or more?) ways to Counter Negative Reviews

Before I talk about the ways to counter reviews let’s talk about what NOT to do:

Offer Free stuff in exchange for a positive Yelp can find out if business owners are offering free food or drinks in exchange for reviews. If this is happening it’s a violation of Yelp’s rules and guidelines, and even though you never have to sign up on yelp to be part of their process like at other web sites, it doesn’t mean you can ignore all the basic rules.


Don’t ask SPECIFICALLY for positive reviews. This is especially true on written materials like menus. If you are considering this right now is a good time for a change of heart. You can do this morally and legally without getting yourself in trouble. Simply doing all of the other stuff I already talked about and will talk about will almost GAURANTEE you more positive reviews, so please don’t ask people to give you positive reviews on any official restaurant promotional material. Especially coupons and such. I mean never mind the fact that it can get you in big trouble with Yelp (if they decide to drop the nuclear bomb and remove your location entirely you will be guaranteed to lose business. Think of how cheesy you will look to the public if you’re begging for positive reviews. It just doesn’t look good.


Buy Yelp Reviews: Web sites like Fivver offer reviews on Yelp. Yelp hasn’t sued them yet although I’m sure that’s not far off into the future. The problem with buying reviews is threefold

  1. You pay them good money (up to $35 or more per review ..cheapest is $5) and if Yelp removes their review giess what…they still keep your money.

Take that hard earned money and go buy pigeon food and feed the pigeons in the park instead.

  1. It can get you in big trouble with Yelp and also the Better Business Bureau if you’re a member.
  2. Last but not least it looks fake. These people that get paid for doing reviews are not very gifted writers. They’re just teenagers making a few bucks to pay for books. Later on it just doesn’t look sophisticated. And besides, every time you see it you’’’ remember it’s fake and it will annoy you. That’s assuming Yelp will allow it to stay up at all.

They’ve now hired people that go through and read reviews to spot fake ones.


Yelp has an augmented reality feature called Monocle. Monocle were those old-school single round lens for one eye that helped people see. You might remember it from old movies. Anyway this easter egg is discovered by shaking your phone 3 times while your Yelp app is activated. Once you do this, you can point in any direction and based on your phone’s GPS and the direction you’re pointing the camera (phone) you can see all the businesses that are classified and rated on Yelp instantly. It’s a cool little toy Yelp built in for free; so if you’re somewhere with friends and family such as Disneyland and wish for a few moments of senseless amusement feel free to give it a go.

Many business owners still hate on Yelp, and many due to this have resorted to always speaking against it, not buying stock on Yelp, and advising customers to stay away.

Consider two of the anonymous responses posted under a recent (Success Magazine) article on Yelp:

“Oh Brother “……………………• a year ago   (he calls himself or herself “Oh Brother “

C’mon give us a break. This is just a puff piece with a bunch of comment spam that is falsely positive, my humble opinion.

Everyone knows that Yelp has 700 FTC complaints recently shared that talk about bogus bad reviews, extortion and more.

Even Yelp’s review on it’s own site is just a 3 out of 5.

Leaving online reputation up to a monopoly is very dangerous for American Business. There’s also websites about Cointelpro and how domestic spying and harassment of citizens take place through Yelp.

People will find new places to go, besides Yelp. And their Elite? Just a squad of mediocre writers and online trolls incentivize to help the advertisers and hurt the rest. There’s too many complaints of fake reviews to think otherwise.

He does have a point, but for us that want to be on Yelp and get more business through their users, and yes there are thousands of them that come our way every single day, it’s hard to say no or ignore this powerful web site. It feels like these business owners just kind of got frustrated and gave up, versus trying to figure out the game and how to play it.

Business Owner • a year ago   (He or she is calling himself, simply, “Business Owner”)

As a restaurant owner, my advice to people who take a lot of stock in Yelp (and others like it) is to not take too much stock in it until you’ve tried a place yourself. My restaurant received three awards in 2012 and yet it has only three stars on Yelp due to the filtered reviews that are hidden. Most Yelp users don’t know about the filtered reviews. When I called Yelp to question why they don’t show all of the reviews, their answer was “not everyone can be that good”. Really!? It’s not fair to a business owner for the people of Yelp to decide which reviews to post. While I’d like to provide excellence in customer service every single day, it doesn’t always happen. In that one instance, not-so-perfect service might anger someone enough to write a scathing review which really isn’t fair. And then there are the reviews by competitors who want to sabotage a business. So while social media can get your name out there it can also hurt it if someone doesn’t take it for what it is and give a place at least one try.

Citysearch got sued for posting false reviews and asking for advertising dollars afterward, Yelp will be next.

But not all posts were negative. Consider this post

Hurrah Jennifer! I couldn’t agree more with this article. I’ve been a member of Yelp for years, although have not been posting many reviews for some unknown reason. Yelp is my first resource whenever I am in a new area, or looking for a new service in my home city. I even found a new vet clinic on Yelp!

Businesses really need to pay attention to “the little platform that could”, which has given foodies and consumers a home where they can share the best and the worst of their experiences.

Web sites

Find at least another 20

The Goal is clear. At least 50 pages on Yelp, give or take. It very well might be the most important and best researched chapter of the book, as it should be

We can do the editing later. Better to have more than less. 

Teams—Not Money—Make the World Go Round


The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.

—Phil Jackson, Coach, Chicago Bulls 

Everyone knows what a team is. As in the definition of a carpool lane, a team traditionally refers to two or more individuals who work together toward a common goal. Every team has a leader (or a driver, in the carpool analogy) who sets clear-cut goals, precise processes of achieving them, and a method whereby all team members can communicate with each other (or at least make their grievances known to team leaders).

That’s the conventional definition of a team. Outstanding teams differ from this standard in one important way: They always perform exceptionally well in terms of the three things that customers want—quality, efficiency and price. In fact, these three pillars of customer satisfaction—let’s call them QEP for short—cannot be delivered without superior teamwork.

Superior teams understand and consistently provide quality, efficiency and price by behaving differently from traditional teams in one fundamental way: They are always focused on pleasing the customer rather than the team leader or someone else who does not understand the importance of customer satisfaction in meeting the goals of a business. 

In the restaurant business, members of outstanding teams collaborate to provide customers quality and efficiency. And although quality and price are inextricably linked—as they should be—price is an issue that is usually decided by team leaders, whether they are restaurant owners or managers or both.

What’s the Price?

The two biggest costs in a restaurant are labor and food. Many managers and owners have a reasonably good idea about their labor costs. But a lot of them are not familiar with the concept of food costs. 

Effective managers—and smart owners—know down to the last cent exactly what it costs to prepare every item on the menu. Yet it’s surprising how many managers and owners are essentially clueless about food costs. Ask a typical manager or owner what his percentage of food cost is compared to total sales and he will likely will pick a number, such as, say, 38. Ask him if that’s good or bad and he might say something to the effect that the restaurant’s food cost percentage has always been 38. But that’s not what the question asked. The question was: Is it good or bad? And to answer it you have to know what you’re measuring food cost against.

Every restaurant owner and manager should have a clear idea of his actual and ideal food cost. The actual food cost can range anywhere from 30% to 40% of sales. But the ideal food cost measures what you might call the perfect price of food—perfect from the point of view of both the customer and the owner. And even then food cost and profit are always part of a bigger picture still, that of the EBITDA. This acronym stands for “Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization.” We will devote an entire chapter to this later because it’s a very important number to know by heart, especially later as you grow and would like to possibly sell your company one day or bring in investors and grow exponentially. The one number they will really want to know is the EBITDA. There are many different ways of increasing this number, the magic number you will need to focus on. And the entire team, in fact, needs to focus on this number. 

This brings us to the role of restaurant managers. Ask yourself what your managers know and what they don’t know. Get a clear sense of their responsibilities, scope and functions. In some restaurants, managers perform a lot of administrative work or function as accountants. There’s nothing wrong with that—if you don’t care how your restaurant is operating. 

A manager needs to be on the restaurant floor as much as he needs to be. He can’t spend time in the office paying bills and also watch what his team his doing in the restaurant—how the food is being prepared, and whether or not customers are getting the best product and service possible. It’s a manager’s job to make sure that products come into the store. But it’s not a manager’s job to receive calls from vendors, or place calls for any number of nickel-and-dime things, or make sure that invoices are paid. Those are accountants’ jobs. Managers are already faced with the serious responsibilities of checking inventory coming in and make sure that the owner isn’t being overcharged, making sure employees take breaks and do so on time, reducing overtime pay as much as possible, and taking care of most disciplinary matters with employees. They usually have their hands full.  

The challenge for managers who are freed up from administrative or accounting work is that now that they have more time, what are they doing with it? In many cases, that’s a process of uncovering, discovering and discarding those things that don’t work. Some managers have never been taught certain aspects of restaurant management. Many managers don’t know how to interview potential employees.

Managers ought to be familiar with issues revolving around hiring, employee relations, training, terminating, coaching, and team building. Managers should know how to effectively delegate tasks. There are a lot of different ways to get things done—but not all the methods are equally effective or desirable. The managers who haven’t had the right training or experience tend to be the ones who are curt and hardcore taskmasters. But the “my way or the highway” approach only goes so far—under certain circumstances. Usually, subordinates rebel against it.

“Once employees feel challenged, invigorated and productive, their efforts will naturally translate into profit and growth for the organization.” Ricardo Semler

A good manager holds employees accountable for a host of tasks, including organization, product holding, restaurant cleanliness, personal appearance and guest relations. Fast food restaurants usually cannot afford to have employees interact with guests because of the sheer pace of the business. But at more upscale restaurants such as Zankou, interacting with guests is perfectly possible, not to mention a crucial part of customer satisfaction. Such restaurants are also able to pay employees better and tend to have a lower employee turnover.

‘Turbulence’ in the Workforce

The workforce in America and much of the world has never been as historically unique as it is today. Gone are the days when people sought careers. Today’s workers seek opportunities. It’s no longer a case of workers asking employers, “What can I do for you?” Instead, we live in times in which workers, especially those from the most recent generations, have an expectation that would have given Henry Ford a heart attack. It’s as if they’re asking their employers, “What can you do for me?”

Before understanding the causes behind this dramatic change, it’s important to note that as many as four generations represent today’s workforce. Sociologists and labor experts refer to them as Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Exers and Millennials. Let’s take a brief look at each generation and what it means in terms of the workplace.

Traditionalists, born before World War II, are known to have a strong work ethic. They are loyal, respectful of authority, and conservative with their finances and lifestyle. 

Born between 1945 and 1960, Baby Boomers are the largest generation in history. Like the generation preceding them, boomers tend to respect hierarchy but at the same time believe that anything is possible. They are inherently competitive, materialistic, independent minded and favor consensus-based decision-making. 

Generation X members are born between 1961 and 1981, during a period of heightened and unprecedented globalization. The children of often-divorced two-career parents, they are wary of corporate structures and are more inclined to cultivate relationships in collaborative work environments. Although flexible by nature and driven by job satisfaction, this is the first generation to favor a balance between work and life.

Also known as members of Generation Y, millennials are born between 1982 and 1997 and are the second-largest work group next to baby boomers. These are people who have grown up with technology in virtually every aspect of their lives. Many of them have never seen a telephone with wires and can’t imagine going on a cross-country road trip without GPS. Raised by helicopter parents in an atmosphere rich with praise, they are the products of the ongoing self-esteem movement. From smiley faces for good work at school to summer camps that cost thousands of dollars, there’s a reward for just about every millennial effort. Like Gen Exers, millennials favor team collaboration and a balanced life, replete with rewards, recognition and constant feedback.

Harnessing Generational and Cultural Diversity

Entrepreneurs and managers have much to gain from understanding the diverse backgrounds and talents of these workforce groups and their expectations of the marketplace. By being creative, management teams can hope to not only expand on the available pool of candidates instead of falling victim to stereotypes, they can also match personalities with jobs.

Research shows that teams that are diverse in terms of gender, age, personality, education, experience and functional expertise tend to perform more effectively than teams that are homogenous. And the reason for that is somewhat counterintuitive: Diversity promotes conflict, which fosters creativity, which eventually results in improved decision-making.

No discussion about employees is complete without the issue of ethnic, racial and national diversity—at least in the United States, where the civil rights and women’s movements of the 1960s have forever changed the workforce landscape. Just about every large organization has goals, initiatives and training devoted to increasing diversity.

The best evidence on the issue of cultural diversity suggests that it tends to interfere with team processes—at least in the short term. Teams that are culturally heterogeneous appear to have some trouble in learning to work together and solve problems. The good news? Problems among team members tend to disappear in about three months as they learn how to resolve their disagreements and different approaches to problem solving.

How important is diversity for the restaurant industry? From a purely practical point of view, it makes sense to have a restaurant staff that is at least as ethnically and racially diverse as the restaurant’s customers. It is also important to have bilingual cashiers and cooks in the greater Los Angeles area. In our business, we have many Persian, Armenian, Arabic, and Spanish speaking customers. It would make sense, then, that employees that speak any of these 4 languages in addition to English are a huge added bonus to the team, particularly when things go sour and speaking to a customer in their language and dialect can offer quick help.

Hiring the Best Employees

Probably the most important thing to remember when hiring employees is that there are many federal and state laws regarding what you can and cannot ask while interviewing them. Basically, you wouldn’t want to ask closed-ended questions that limit the responses of a potential employee. An example of a closed-ended question is, “You don’t mind cleaning the bathroom, do you?” Such a “leading” question immediately suggests to the interviewee that you want him to clean the bathroom at work—and that therefore he’d better answer in the affirmative if he wants the job. By contrast, an open-ended question would be: “Around home, do you have any chores?”

Asking closed-ended questions could result in discrimination lawsuits. Some questions are plainly off-limit. For example, you can’t ask a person’s age or date of birth (although you can ask if they’re over 18 years of age, which is the minimum age for full-time hires). Nor can you ask their gender—if they are married or if they have children. You can’t even ask if they have a car to get to work. On the face of it, that sounds like a logical question. But here’s how it should be phrased to avoid legal trouble: “Do you have a reliable means of transportation to get to work?” 

It’s always a good idea to create an employee handbook that potential employees can read before their interview. Then they can be asked if they have a problem with any of the contents. 

How to Tell a Good Hire From a Bad One

Besides requiring potential employees to undergo a (criminal) background check, it’s almost impossible to interview people and say with any great degree of certainty what kind of person they are—whether they’re ethical, hardworking, team players etc. That’s because most interviewers are not professionals—they can ask questions until the cows come home and not be any wiser about the results. The only way to be reasonably certain about people’s personalities is through psychological evaluation done by professional psychologists. 

A psychological evaluation of potential employees usually entails nothing more than a written multiple-choice personality or psychometric test. These tests are usually de rigueur for management-level employees but they can also be given to entry-level employees. And the good news is that these tests can be outsourced: A restaurant owner can make arrangements with a professional testing company to give the tests to potential employees.

Entrepreneurs who have a tighter budget and can’t afford professional testing companies can take advantage of a variety of psychometric tests that are available online entirely free of cost. These tests screen for everything from business aptitude to personal integrity. One example of a company that offers customized as well as general psychological testing online is PsychPress (, based in Australia. Psychology Today, the respected longtime American magazine, also offers an array of free aptitude tests ( 

Interviewing Tips

  • Know who you are talking to: Let’s say someone walks into your restaurant and asks for a job. Have them fill out an application form before you talk to them. Then ask them if they have a resume. 
  • Ask open-ended questions—and let the applicant talk: Remember, an applicant doesn’t care what you sound like. But you do care what an applicant sounds like. Besides, the more you open your mouth the higher the likelihood that you’ll say something you might later regret, especially in court. 
  • Observe the applicant’s mannerisms: Some applicants, especially if they’re young and inexperienced, are bound to be nervous in an interview setting. You should expect this—and while you should try to put such applicants at ease you should also watch them closely. Are they making eye contact? Are they fidgeting too much with their hands? Are their hands out of view, under the table? (If so, their palms might be sweaty and they don’t want you to see them wiping off the sweat.) Do they stall when you ask them a question? (That’s not necessarily a bad thing, given that some people pause to think before they respond, but then again the applicant might be trying to figure out how to lie.)

Tips For Motivating Employees

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Those words, by the French writer, adventurer and entrepreneur Antoine de Saint-Exupéry are probably the best advice on the fertile subject of motivation. It makes much more sense to subtly encourage an attitude in employees that makes them more engaged, efficient and effective at work than to demand that they become paragons of customer service. And the best way to do that is by personally setting the right example.

In other words, talk like you walk and walk like you talk. You can’t tell people to do one thing and then do another. For example, you can’t say you really value employees and then yell at them for doing something wrong an hour later. Remember, words wring hollow if they aren’t backed up by action. Generals lead their troops. Good leaders don’t ask their subordinates to do something they themselves wouldn’t do. If you want to be a great example of hard work, show up early at your restaurant and often be the last to leave. We’re not suggesting you have to do this every single day, but nothing shows employees how much an owner cares about their business as much as personal care and attention does. And when you do show up don’t mess round, wasting time fidgeting around with your cell phone or reading the newspaper or books. This is not the place for leisurely study, this is the jungle-like work environment of a restaurant. Come with your A-game on, dressed sharp, well-rested, and ready for action. You can always give a short, positive 5-10 minute motivational speech before any kind of big day like those that contain huge catering orders. This will hype up your team and yourself as well. They can then foster the energy to get through the difficult day with flying colors. 

However we all know—instinctively if not through experience—that not everyone is motivated by the same thing. Yet there is no dearth of organizations that routinely offer financial incentives to employees—as if money truly makes everyone in the world go round. The truth is that the world is full of people who do what they do because it’s important for them to do it. Money is not their prime motivator. These tend to be the kind of people who metaphorically beat themselves up if they do anything wrong at work—even if what they did really wasn’t a big deal.

Research over the decades clearly suggests that money rarely if ever improves employee performance or satisfaction in the long run. If anything, financial incentives tend to have the opposite effect—and they are effective largely in situations where employees perform repetitive tasks, such as in manufacturing lines or commodity services. 

Financial rewards don’t work for the simple reason that they are a form of payment for past performance. While such rewards might make employees feel worthy and committed to the organization—in anticipation of future rewards—the net effect on employees’ productivity and efficiency rarely increases.

So what motivates people to do their best individually and as a team? Instead of offering financial rewards, recognizing the good work of employees—through sincere verbal compliments or other methods—is by far the greatest motivator of sustained team performance. The difference between these two strategies is especially stark in the restaurant business. We all know that waiters in more upscale restaurants make a substantial amount of money through tips. Yet if you ask the owners of some of the finest restaurants about the weakest link in their business many will point to waiters. Not for nothing are waiters in many cities such as New York and Los Angeles deridingly referred to as actors who can count. Waiting on tables is not a way of life for them but a necessary expedient.

Once you know what motivates people, figure out how to use it appropriately. Remember, motivation is a balance between expectation and reward. Never behave in a manner that sets up false expectations among employees. And try not to get employees into the habit of expecting rewards—because when they don’t get those rewards for whatever reason they will be disappointed. For example, don’t offer them free pizza or donuts on a weekly basis. Instead, give it to them when they do an outstanding job—or when you feel like it.

At the end of the day, it’s important to recognize that teamwork is not everyone’s cup of tea. Many people—not just loners and narcissists—just aren’t cut out to be team players. Fortunately for talent hunters, there are three tried and tested qualities of team members.

Open and honest communication appears to be the first quality, followed by the ability to confront differences and resolve conflicts. The final quality of a team player is the capacity to sacrifice or sublimate personal goals for the good of the team—challenging as this is for some people.




 “Super Teams: Using the Principles of Respect to Unleash Explosive Business Performance,” by Paul L. Marciano and Clinton Wingrove, McGraw Hill Education, 2014.

“The Talent Selection and Onboarding Pocket Took Kit: How to Find, Hire and Develop the Best of the Best,” by Erika Lamont and Anne Bruce, McGraw Hill Education, 2014. 

“Generational Differences in the Workplace: Personal Values, Behaviors, and Popular Beliefs,” by J.W. Gibson, R.A. Greenwood and E.F. Murphy Jr., Journal of Diversity Management (Third Quarter 2009).

“Cultural Diversity’s Impact on Interaction Processes and Performance: Comparing Homogenous and Diverse Task Groups,” by W.E. Watson, K. Kumar, and L.K. Michaelsen, Academy of Management Journal (June 1993).

“What Makes a Good Team Player? Personality and Team Effectiveness,” by J.E. Diskell, G.F. Goodwin, E. Salas, and P.G. O’Shea, Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice (December 2006)

Photo credit: Ajay Singh

Chapters for the Book

These are the chapters we hope to include in the book. In the next 12-18 months we will be posting at a rate of about 30-40 pages of content per month.

The Goal is, Ultimately, to have a great book that is so useful and fun to read that even the owners and associates at Zankou Chicken (and many other food establishments) can refer to it over and over again for reference and also for motivation and story (spiritual contentment is as important as the analytical. Remember the windshield method developed by Brian Tracy: left brain right brain, left brain right brain. People seek the analytical as much as the story, the numbers fascinate as much as the metaphysical aspects of business. Both are important; one does not negate the other.

That being said, a lot can change in 18 months. We can expect chapters to be added, sub-chapters to be added, and much to be stripped away. My goal is to have 400+ pages of content by 18 months. And then, after the 18 months are over, to add and take away little at a time. I refuse to launch a book that is less than 350 pages. I expect about 50 pages or so to be stripped away, but I also expect last minute, important content to be added as well as more than a few celebrity endorsements and interviews to be included in the book, much to our delight and to the delight of the readers. I expect no less than to exceed all readers’ and our own expectations for this book. Like I said I want it to be as useful and fun to read as it is exciting, analytical, and resourceful both for restaurant owners, students, and the general public that is curious about our industry.

Here are the subjects I hope to include as of August, 2014. They are not in any order (totally random). The blog posts are meant to be small chapters within each chapter that will later be expanded, edited, and made into the book. Obviously I am writing the chapters as we go along so the further we go the more convoluted it will seem on this page. It will all be better organized later.

1) Employee Training manual creation

2) Customer Service and Exceeding Expectations

3) CRM (Customer Relationship Management)

4) Getting Funding for your new Restaurant

5) Combating Youth Obesity

a) America’s Obesity problem; the abundance of food alongside the malnutrition of our youth, a study in contradiction. State reasons why, and solution to the problem. Post many solutions that are not focused ONLY on our restaurants. Should involve schools, their lunch program, and youth education on what to eat at home; leading by example.

6) Leadership: the 12 styles of Leadership. Which is best for the restaurant industry? Are we all a mix of one or two styles? Which is best? Which is best suited for your personality and how to find out?

a) include possible personality test

b) Link to 3rd party personality test profiles

c) include possible coupon to use online and get results of the test for your own leadership needs

7) Management and how to lead your managers in order to allow for growth.

8) How to motivate teammates, management, and employees.

9) How to motivate customers to spend, and spend more.

10) How to generate the best advertising of all time: Word of Mouth

11) How to create a Business Plan

a) the elements of a great business plan

b) How to conduct meetings and determine the business plan without fighting

c) the use of a professional meeting coordinator and where to find one

d) How to maintain the business Plan, making it a living and breathing part of the organization for ages to come

12) Strategic Marketing

13) Location Location Location:

a) How to Negotiate the best lease

b) The legalities of the lease (conduct real estate lawyer interview) for this sub-chapter

c) How to write an exit strategy for when things go sour (and sometimes they do)

14) Ethical Sourcing

a) why fresh from the farm is important

b) why not using a freezer or microwave is important

c) why the ethical treatment of animals is important for the health and well-being of customers

15) Risks and rewards in the Training of employees

a) why booth are important

b) Industrial studies conducted by Harvard Business Review on how to incorporate rewards and punishment; what works and what doesn’t

c) why simply watching and conversing with employees daily can bring about positive results.

16) How to set up the business

a) sole proprietor

b) partnership

c) corporation which is best for you? Pluses and minuses listed of each

17) Social media marketing done right for your restaurants

a) Instagram

b) Pinterest

c) Email Marketing

d) Linked IN and its uses for employers and employees finding jobs in the restaurant industry

18) Facebook and the importance of having a great business page for your restaurant

19) Twitter and why talking to your customers all the time is so important

20) Sales and Advertising

a) what works and what doesn’t

b) the use of direct marketing campaigns

c) the use of coupons and its psychological value to customers

d) Billboards; the can’t ignore form of advertising

e) Television ads: the 1980’s method that never gets old

f) The use of TV spots and IN-MOvie advertising done on the Big screen and television series; these are subliminal advertising that can’t be ignored. Mention that old case where it was once banned by the US government to use visually placed “one-frame” ads on television; talk about how we still do this, why it’s legal, and why it works

18) Personal experiences and information from the Family

a) interview with family members over the course of 18 months; usually one member for each month and typically 1-2 interviews each

19) Strategic marketing (interview Vartkes)

20) Food and the importance of cooking it just right (Interview with Steve)

a) spices

b) recipes

c) the importance of experimentation

d) operations in the kitchen

e) how to not overcook the kabob

f) what makes a perfectly roasted chicken?

21) How to create a employee Handbook; also, how to create a Rule book besides the handbook that is not just about legal stuff; how to make it so useful we would WANT to use it all the time; making it a perfect reference and guide

a) rules

b) cooking temperatures

c) recipes

d) mediation clause

e) expectations and guidelines

f) ways to legally protect the owner

22) Yelp and its importance

a) the Yin and Yang of Yelp

b) why people are spiritually drawn to leave reviews on Yelp

c) It’s importance to restaurants as a landing page and leading page

d) how to “game” their review system

e) how to unblock positive reviews


23) The 4 P’s of Marketing (research and see what they are now calling the 7 P’s)

24) Strategic Marketing (Vartkes Interview)

25) The Food (Steve’s Interview)

26) The Facebook Business Page (Interview someone from Facebook)

27) How to Attract and Keep the best Employees

Human Resources interview an expert (conduct interview with Ara for later use as well; he has to be included in the book)

28) Advertising and why it’s different from Marketing

29) The importance of having the best Location possible (Glenoaks story)

30) Ethical Sourcing

31) Information is NOT free(good information…this should be prelude and before chapter 1)

32) Showing up is NOT 80% of success


33) Negotiating 101: A few Negotiation tactics to use on suppliers and others before signing any contract or business deal.

a) Do your homework

b) Know your cards and your position in the game; have and maintain a strategy from the first move

c) Always be willing to walk away; if you are unable to walk away you must at the minimum project the ability to be able to walk away

d) Negotiate as if it’s a game; because it is

e) Negotiate as if you are working for someone else, with no chips in play

f) Know how to give and take; guard positions, and strike when the moment arrives just like in chess


33) Twitter and the importance of maintaining a lively conversation to customers; how to listen in on conversations ALREADY happening about your brand on Twitter

  • Ethical sourcing


  • The importance of having the highest quality raw materials


  • Information is not free


Cheap information is free. Valuable information is expensive, secretive, and hard to acquire.

It takes time, energy, and execution in order to obtain and act on valuable information.


  • The customer is not always right


  • Showing up is not 80% of success

34) Interview with mom (Rita Iskenderian). Her take on the family story, the family business, and what happened.

Her take on top 3 tips Families can do to stay together and work effectively together.


Her 3 tips on what NOT to do. Incorporate this into the family tragedy story as well, and make the rest it’s own chapter and title it by Rita Iskenderian


35) References

36) Recommended Reading (a list of the top 20 books we both love and have used during the creation of this book). They don’t necessarily have o be about the restaurant industry.

Also, we may include a few poetic books and a few books in fiction that can somehow help a business person navigate the ship through rough waters.


37) A Chapter on additional motivational quotes, arranged by order of category, such as the best quotes on teamwork, the best quotes on leadership, the best quotes about the quality of food and how important food is in our lives, etc


38) ADA compliance and its importance: How to avoid expensive penalties.


39) Health Code compliance: Thinking ahead and avoiding headaches : Why You should never get less than an A


40) How to set up an Advisory Board. Top 10 to do and top 10 not to do.


41) Food Photography: How to make Food looks Delicious and Make people Salivate


42) Video killed the radio star: How to make and market Viral Videos to help spread the word about your Restaurant and why radio ads won’t work anymore


43) Direct Marketing: Get them where they live.

The Customer is Not Always Right

It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.

— Henry Ford

If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.
— Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon

Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile industry in the United States, and later much of what he did, in terms of automation, was copied all over the world in places like Japan and Germany. Ford was right when he said our customers pay or wages.

He was able to start and run a huge car company in Ford by not only putting the customer first, but also training management and employees to do so as well.

Walmart’s creator Sam Walton said it best: “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” To this day it’s Walmart’s practice to put customer as king, maintaining the lowest prices by paying employees very little. An organization can write whatever they want in their bylaws and vision statements, but the market and customers will decide in the long term if that organization is fit to survive or not. Customers are always going to by the kingmakers, and they will always be the ones to find greener pastures and walk away from an organization when that organization stops listening.

But is the customer always right? The answer is no. The customer is not always right. I will give three examples when the customer is wrong. I will also talk about 3 situations where I have personally asked certain customers to leave. When customers are threatening the safety and happiness of your own person or that of your crew, you are well within your rights to kick them out of your establishment. But I will also dig a bit deeper and explain why this mentality that “the customer is always right” not only lowers morale in many employees of the fast food and fast-casual industry of which we are a part, but it also threatens to lower quality standards. So without further hesitation, here are three situations where the customer is not right at all:

  • When the customer is rude to your staff, managers, or the owner. If I walk into an establishment, and I am faced with the privilege of meeting the owner, that in and of itself is not only a privilege but an opportunity for me to be behaving in my best self. After all, I am in his or her house of business. I am on their property, and often it is rare to come across not only management but the owner. Most owners are very nice to their patrons and go out of their way to be pleasant, accommodating, and gracious to their customers. I have met hundreds of people at our stores over the years, and I can say that about 99% of our customers are truly some of the best people in the world. I have given away free T-shirts, mugs, free sides and sandwiches, free drinks, and so on. Not because people can’t afford it and not because I wanted to make a big deal out of giving away promotional materials of trivial value, but because I truly love and care for our customers. Plus it’s fun and sporadic, often making people laugh and smile, and always people walk away with a greater impression of me and the brand I represent.

Unfortunately, however, every so often I will come across some extremely rude and disparaging individuals that have personally been rude to me. In one case I was in our Glendale branch a few years ago when a woman walked into the store. I was standing beside the cash register, speaking to one of our friendly cashiers about the menu. As soon as she came in, she asked if I was the owner. Now I hate this question for many reasons, not least of which being that I feel that some kind of complaint or some other negative reaction or question might come next. I also don’t like being called “the owner” because well, I am not the only owner. We are a family business, and as such, it has many owners. My mother and brothers are the owners as well. Plus I feel that, in my heart, and while this may not be true technically, I’ve always felt that the managers and employees are part owners too, because at the end of the day we are all in this together and this is the home for all of us. We all get bread from this one sacred place, if you will. And so for these reasons and more I hate when someone asks,”Are you the owner?” It also usually follows with silly questions about trademarks and franchises and such that I usually don’t like talking about.

Of all created comforts, God is the lender; you are the borrower, not the owner.
— Ernest Rutherford

Anyway, I was polite to this lady and I said said, “Mam I am not the owner but one of the owners, how can I help you?” And this lady preceded to just yell at me and try to embarrass me in front of the customers and the employees. I asked her to calm down. What was the culprit of her anger towards me? She said that the air conditioning inside was too powerful and that it was directly on the cashiers, and that they were freezing. Now right away, having been doing this for over 25 years, and often being on the cash register myself I immediately knew she was wrong. You see, the cashier area is directly adjacent to our shawerma grilling machines, which are vertical broilers. As anyone that has ever worked near these spits knows, the temperature within the direct vicinity is usually very hot. We keep the air conditioning running most of the time, even in winter, to help keep the cashiers cool.

But none of this was her concern anyway, she was a customer, not a health inspector nor was she my supervisor. When she would not calm down and kept yelling, almost to the top of her voice, I calmly asked our cashiers to refund her money, and before she could take her roasted chicken home I took the food back. I politely asked her to leave, and I also asked her to please not return. She was immensely disruptive, rude, and that kind of behavior is not only bad for business but is bad for morale as well, and not just for me but also other employees.

In the second situation we had a situation in Anaheim. I was at our Anaheim store when a male customer in his 40’s approached. He too, was yelling at the top of his lungs, complaining about one particular food item he deemed too expensive. I kindly asked him to lower his voice, and when he did not I asked him to leave as well. Because you see, often it is the market that determines a lot of our food prices. There are many determining factors, such as drought, of which there is a huge one in California right now the likes of which has not been seen for generations. Now can we take the ocean water and use desalination plants? Sure we can, and Saudi Arabia has already been doing that for many years. We have (supposedly) better technology then them, so why are we not able to do the same? The answer is we can, and on a larger scale, using clean technologies like solar power to heat the water. Because as you know, we have plenty of sun, plenty of water in the ocean. Anyway that matter is best left for a completely different kind of book. But to get back to the point food costs can skyrocket when there is a heavy drought. Food costs are also highly susceptible to competition costs, the cost of gas and fuel, stability and sustainability within the poultry and beef industries, the cost of grain …etc. What we do is boil all of this down, look at what the competition is doing as well, factor in all these costs and do a price that is usually not too high, but not too low.

My philosophy always has been, and will continue to be, to do our best for a certain kind of customer. I truly believe at Zankou Chicken, or goal should not be to try and attract everyone. Our goal, and your goal, should be to find our target audience and specifically (and only) cater to that niche. Our niche happens to be upscale families and individuals that love fresh, healthy food that is also convenient. Our customers are not the kind of people that care about price as the determining factor that weighs most heavily on where they take their families to eat. I’ve always argued for this because I truly believe that huge companies like McDonald’s and Taco Bell will always beat us in price.

Why? The answer is simple:

  • Economies of scale. McDonald’s serves around 70 million customers daily in 119 countries across 35,000 outlets. We can’t beat that. We should not even try to beat that because we are not the same food genre as them and we don’t cater to the same kind of consumer.
  • You should know your target audience. For us serving our clientele better is a top priority. So in that sense, if someone comes in expecting to pay $2 for a taco and we don’t have that item, or they expect a sandwich to cost $3 and it doesn’t, well that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing because it gives us more room, more time and efficiency to keep cooking the world’s best quality Mediterranean food for the customers that are willing to pay for it. A shorter line and better service for these customers is a great thing for us.
  • 99% of your problems come from 1% of your customers. This is true for almost any type of business. If you are reading this and you run a trucking business, a factory, or an accounting business you know this is also true for you. 99% of our headaches almost always comes from about 1-2% of our customers. These are the customers that always complain about price, always seem to have something wrong with their plate or sandwich, and /or they just always seem to be unhappy for some reason.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying the occasional bad service or bad food won’t happen, because of course it does. Fixing those issues and keeping customers happy is not only our job, but ultimately it’s the right thing to do. But imagine if you have a situation where you have a customer, let’s call him Nick.

Nick comes in every Monday and orders a half chicken plate. While he is ordering he makes some crude remarks about woman, brags about sleeping with prostitutes (out loud so that everyone can hear him), and he wants free drinks. If he doesn’t get a free drink he complains and wants to eat something (anything) free. He complains about the price, then he complains about the food not being cooked right. He does this every Monday. Every Monday. What would you do in this situation?

If you said you would fire Nick as a customer that would be correct. You have to fire Nick as a customer because not doing so will lower morale. Your cashiers will feel unhappy, uncomfortable, and that may ultimately effect their performance due to their stress level caused by Nick (or other like-minded customer). Firing bad customers is good business. It gives you the freedom, power, and ability to serve your awesome customers that love you and are happy to pay you what you deserve.

The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle and named after the economist who developed it, recognizes that in any group, 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the participants. In the restaurant business, that means 20 percent of customers account for 80 percent of sales, while another 20 percent account for 80 percent of headaches and issues. I have simplified that in the example above by saying 99% because for us and in our business, it’s not 20% of the customers but about 1-2% that can be skimmed off the top. Again, most of our customers are the best in the world. And Zankou fans are world-world-renowned for being so loyal and awesome, so in my opinion they are the ones that will benefit most from this “culling”. Our time and effort can be spent on them; as it should.

Here are two more situations where the “Customer is not always Right.”

  • When the customer has a fight with another customer. This is both funny and sad, but a quick YouTube search and you will find many altercations in fast food establishments that occur between patrons. You have to find the culprit and make sure they don’t return. The safety of your customers takes priority.
  • When the customer is not a good fit for your business. Imagine a customer that comes in and asks for tacos. You calmly state you don’t have it. They come back and ask for it again and again, and when you’d decline they take the fight to social media…etc. There are people out there that just don’t take no for an answer. And this is in every industry. I am not talking about minor changes or additions that fit in with your company’s mission statement and value’s statement. I’m talking about a radical change that could alter the way you do business. You don’t have to do any such changes, and you certainly don’t have to take crap from people that know nothing about your business or industry. It’s well within your right to fire that customer.

Poisonous people do not deserve your time. To think otherwise is masochistic.”
― Timothy Ferriss

Firing these bad customers, the worst 1-2%, if you will, creates room for the organization to serve the best customers, making their experience all the better. Faster food, roomier dining area, cleaner bathrooms, and an overall better experience per visit will occur when you fire your worst customers. In addition to all this, your best customers, you know, the ones that will happily pay you what you deserve for the amazing product or service you are providing them, will have to wait in shorter lines and have an overall less stressful experience.   It is essential to create the best experience possible for your high paying, high value customers. For all these reasons and more, it is essential to us to be proactive in firing our worst customers. If you are reading this book right now and you feel the same way, even though you don’t own a restaurant and are in some other field, please realize this applies to you as well. Whether you are a motivational speaker or you fix refrigerators for a living, this great philosophy will serve you well. Take it with you, and may it be in your arsenal of great philosophies and traditions you live by for the rest of your life, and just as it has served me well it will serve you will, I promise. Besides all this remember that the worst customers are bad for morale and decrease overall cost of the businesses they visit while increasing deficiency.

My Hiroshima

While I’m good at remembering a few very specific things in my life, I am otherwise very bad at recalling dates. I often forget people’s birthdays—along with their names—although I fortunately have a detective’s talent for remembering faces. It’s as if my failure to remember dates has something to do with my desire to make our collective life here on earth a little less painful and closer to heaven: It is said time does not exist in Paradise. After all, if God created the universe, as Christians believe, surely his kingdom must be timeless—”a treasury of everlasting life,” as Shakespeare called it. There are no clocks or watches there; an hour may be a thousand years or an eternity.

And so I have never attached much importance to keeping chronological records of my family or personal life. I find such details ephemeral in the grander scheme of things. It’s as if the image-laden memories of all the cities, landmarks and outdoor vacation spots I have visited with my parents, siblings and friends are effortlessly etched in my brain—without a trace of the corresponding year, sometimes even the decade. There is, however, one date that will be etched forever in my mind: January 14, 2003. On that Tuesday, precisely 17 days before the dawn of the Chinese Year of the Black Sheep, my father, along with his mother and sister, perished in a dreadful tragedy.

January 14, 2003 is my Hiroshima. Just as millions of Japanese and international peace activists every year observe the world’s first atomic explosion over a civilian population on August 6, 1945, I find myself pondering questions of human cruelty and justice at the beginning of every New Year.

My father, Mardiros Iskenderian, had terminal cancer. He was an immigrant from Lebanon whose life read like one of those self-made business success stories politicians like to dish out on campaign trails. He founded Zankou Chicken, one of Southern California’s most successful and recognizable brands in what some experts refer to as the “slow-cooked fast food” restaurant sector.

My father had been battling cancer for about two years when he died. But it wasn’t cancer that killed him. He killed himself. And he didn’t kill just himself. He also killed his mother and sister.

The bluest sky tends to turn to ash when I think about that fateful morning. My mother and I were standing around him in our house in the hills above Glendale. He was dressed in a white-colored silk suit that he hadn’t worn in 20 years—the weight loss from his cancer allowed him to finally fit into the costume. He seemed unusually radiant, as if he had swallowed three Red Bulls. “I am going to meet with my sister and mother,” he announced. It had been months since he had gone anywhere, so I asked him if he needed a ride, but he declined. I kissed his hand, wished him goodbye and drove off to the meeting.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was saying goodbye to my father for good. For unbeknownst to any of us, he had packed a 9-millimeter pistol into his waistband and a .38-caliber revolver in the pocket of his coat. He drove straight to the house where his sister and mother lived, about seven miles away, and knocked on the door. A housekeeper led him into the dining room on the second floor, where his 45-year-old sister, Dzovig, was standing. She offered him a glass of lemonade and they chatted about family affairs for about half an hour until their 76-year-old mother, Margrit, arrived.

According to the police and the housekeeper’s accounts, my father’s sister sat across from him on the dining table, his mother to his right. The three spoke in calm voices, although not much was said, which wasn’t surprising, given that my father had not met his mother or sister for more than a year. About five minutes into the meeting, just as something resembling a conversation was getting underway, my father pulled out the Browning 9-millimeter pistol from his waistband, reached over the table and fired a single shot into his sister’s head.

The bullet lifted her off her chair and deposited her facedown on the granite floor. Then my father turned to his mother, who was screaming and running toward the nearest door. He sprinted in the same direction, overtook his mother, and stood in front of her, gun pointing to her chest. “Don’t shoot—please,” she said in our family’s native Armenian language. “Please don’t shoot.”

The first bullet caught my grandmother in the chest. She reeled backward and fell to the floor. My father stood over her and pumped eight bullets into her body. Then he walked to a couch nearby in the living room, sat down, pointed the gun at his head, and pulled the trigger.


A few hours later, while I was working at our restaurant in Pasadena, I got a call from my mother, who asked me to come our house immediately. “Your dad is dead,” she said to me frantically in Armenian when I got there. My three younger brothers were all standing there, looking utterly stunned and lost. I instantly thought our father had killed himself to end his medical suffering. And then my mother said, “He killed his sister and mother, too.” My lips twisted into a weird smile, which gave way to a short but distinct burst of laughter. In hindsight, it was the only way I could cope with what my mother had told me. The full reality of what my father had done came to me quite a bit later—after I had stepped off the mental roller-coaster ride that the horrible news had induced inside me.

What could possibly have prompted my father to take the life of his own mother and sister? I thought such things only occurred in myth or medieval history—and even there it was usually sons killing fathers for power or as part of some inescapable curse. But the truth, psychologists tell us, is that a deeply ingrained capacity for murder lurks inside all of us—even those we deeply love and who love us. In fact, people who are close to each other are often capable of harming each other more than those who aren’t emotionally intimate. It’s strange how quickly love turns to hate—a universal theme that can be found in literature and the daily news alike.

It didn’t take me long to figure out the reason for my father’s extreme actions. Throughout the nearly two years that he had been stricken with cancer, his mother and sister hadn’t come to see him. Not once. Nor had they inquired about his welfare. Although my father never said as much, he felt badly betrayed by his mother and sister. He seemed to feel that they wanted him to die. He was particularly vulnerable to such feelings because I’m increasingly convinced that he was also suffering from bipolar disorder, although he was never diagnosed with the disease. Besides, not long before the tragedy, something had transpired that had possibly turned their hearts to stone: In a family meeting, my father had disclosed his illness and announced that he would leave his restaurant empire to his four children—me and my three brothers, the youngest of whom was 17 years old at the time.

Instead of asking my father what kind of cancer he had or what the prognosis was, his mother questioned the wisdom of leaving Zankou to me and my brothers. It was a fair question, given that my father regarded his sister’s two sons as his own. But the question’s timing couldn’t have been more wrong. It was clear to my father that his mother didn’t care for him. All she seemed to care about was the family’s fortune.

In many ways, my grandmother was the backbone of the family business. She was a natural-born chef, with a God-given talent for cooking great food. Her arias pita—bread with ground beef, tomatoes and jalapenos baked in an oven—was so good that people couldn’t help stuffing themselves with the dish. I once ate so much that I got sick—it was so good I couldn’t stop.

She worked at Zankou every single day of the week, except Sunday. She loved the crisp cold mornings of Los Angeles and early every day, she would go out to our restaurant in Hollywood—the first of our 11 branches. There, she would prepare Zankou’s signature garlic sauce. It was she who taught our chefs how to slow-cook the chicken that the Los Angeles Times has hailed as “the best in town at any price.” If it weren’t for her, it’s fair to say, the French restaurant guide Zagat might not have applauded Zankou as one of “America’s best meal deals.”

That’s not to say my father wasn’t hardworking. Far from it. If his mother tinkered with the spices, it was he who tweaked the menu. If his mother cooked from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., he was the one who traveled to every single restaurant every day to personally ensure that customer service was top-notch. He counted the receipts, did the payroll and made sure that the accounts were all in order.

My father wasn’t just a hard worker. He was a good man. He donated a lot of money—hundreds of thousands of dollars—to local non-profit institutions, most of them backing Armenian cultural and humanitarian-based causes. He also gave to schools, starving artists and dance troupes. In fact, he was so generous that a cartoon in a local Armenian newspaper once showed two doors leading into Zankou—one for food, the other for philanthropy. At his funeral, we found out that he had paid to have an Arabic teenager put through school and college. But he never told us about it.

He also donated his time—and our time. As kids, we hated it, but he used to force us to go to the local church, St Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church in Pasadena, on Colorado Boulevard, and make a soup we call “Jidabour” in Armenian. Jidabour is made with minced meat, delicious spices, and grain. It’s an awesomely tasteful soup, but making it requires hours of strenuous work. He would make us stand around a kettle and turn large wooden spoons for hours. It reminded me of the old witches in black-and-white movies, making some sort of magical concoction. By the time the process is complete, the meat becomes so soft and chewy it practically melts in the mouth. Delicious. But when you’re a teenager you don’t want to be making soup at church all day, especially on a Sunday.

Instead of working in a soup kitchen, I wished we went hiking instead, or walking or sailing—anything. Now all that—even my reluctant soup-making on Sundays—is gone forever along with my father. He was like a lion teaching his cubs. He taught my brothers and I how to survive in life’s jungle. But more importantly, he also taught us how to be kind and compassionate, as if to remind us of other people’s struggles and our own good fortune in life. That was the thing about my father—he was a great man and a respected person in the Armenian community, even if he wasn’t very close to his own family. He didn’t spend much time with us because he was always at work—just like anyone who has a successful career. And although he did love playing with us, he rarely spent time with my younger brothers, whose adolescence coincided with the expansion of the family business from a single restaurant in Hollywood to branches as far off as Anaheim and Van Nuys.


My father’s life was a business success story, full of lessons from the front lines of entrepreneurship. He was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in a region that was was full of Armenians at the time. He grew up there, in Beirut, the Paris of the Middle East, where his parents had opened a tiny hole-in-the-wall drive-thru chicken restaurant in 1962—at a time when nobody had heard of the concept. It was the family’s first Zankou. Every morning, his mother put on her apron (she was always in an apron, even when she met her terrible end) and whipped up a garlic paste that would later become a legend in America. My father helped turn the chickens as they cooked.

One evening in 1979, Beirut’s brutal civil war put an end to the family’s thriving business. My father was sitting outside one his family’s storefronts, which they had bought with profits from the restaurant business, when two masked men on a motorcycle sprayed dozens of bullets from an AK-47 assault rifle at him. My father was hit by 16 bullets. Miraculously, he survived, and I have wondered if, in some strange psychological way, the attack was linked to what he did to himself and his mother and sister.

From Beirut, the Iskenderians emigrated to California. Although they had plenty of cash, the family settled in Glendale, which has the largest population of Armenians outside Armenia. One of the first things my father bought was a Thomas Guide map of Los Angeles. He loved maps—not least because he found a connection through them to his ancestral homeland. “These Thomas brothers, what geniuses!” he exulted to my mother one day, describing how they had taken a sprawling megapolis such as L.A. and made sense of it in a may accessible to any foreigner. Armed with the maps, my father drove around the city in rented cars, logging hundreds of miles a week. He was in no hurry. What he was looking for was a suitable location to open a restaurant.

His parents, however, were opposed to the idea. They didn’t want to set up any Zankous in America, preferring to go into the dry cleaning business instead. But chemicals made my father sick. And so he traveled to Hong Kong with his father to check out that city’s legendary trade in men’s suits. For some reason, father and son decided against that business, too. Meanwhile, my father kept driving across Los Angeles—and the more he did so the more convinced he became that the restaurant business in America’s second-largest city was right for him. Where else, after all, were there so many Middle Easterners—without a decent Middle Eastern restaurant that served their cuisine in a manner that was fast, delicious and affordable.

With the grudging consent of his parents, my father picked a small store next to a Laundromat in a mini mall on the corner of Sunset and Normandie. There, he installed a blue-and-red sign with 13 letters: ZANKOU CHICKEN. It would prove to be a magnet not just for L.A.’s ethnic Arabs, Persians and Armenians but also for Mexicans and thousands of office-goers in the busy area.

And so it is that food has a special place in my family’s memory. Unfortunately, however, when we went out to eat as a family, my brothers and I would often argue with each other or our father would be in a bad mood, almost as if he really didn’t want to be there. I think this is why, to this day, my siblings and I have a really hard time just spending time with each other. Obviously, some of that is because of the extremely difficult and stressful roles we all have at the family business: It’s hard to separate the family from the business and not talk about work when we go out. But I do blame my father for some of it. He really did not set the best example of spending good, quality time with the family.


None of that is to say I didn’t love him or appreciate him as a father. But I do wish my brothers and I didn’t argue and bicker as much when we went out with him. The sad part is that now that he’s gone, we will never again have those opportunities.

My father was brought up by his father, an alcoholic who died of a heart attack at the age of 62 and whose own grandmother was a hardcore alcoholic. Although I never met my great grandparents, I heard they were really messed up because of the Armenian Genocide. And for many of us Armenians, that’s what it almost always goes back to—the government-sanctioned program of the Turkish Ottoman Empire to eliminate 3 million Armenians living in western Turkey and steal their land.

Understandably, my grandfather was not very loving toward my father. I remember that at my grandfather’s funeral my father showed little or no emotion. My grandmother, on the other hand, was crying and wailing. I think she was faking it—and that brings me to the role that she played in our family’s emotional turmoil and in my father’s wretched end.

My parents’ marital relationship was considerably strained—and the one person always stood in the way of their love was my grandmother. She was terribly possessive of my father, perhaps because she herself got little or not love from the man in her own life—her alcoholic husband. Still, you wouldn’t think that a man’s mother would begrudge her own son to be happy in marriage. But you would be wrong in my grandmother’s case. Not only would exploit every opportunity to make my parents fight with each other, she was often very jealous of my mother.

A whole book—or three—could be written about my grandmother’s complicated personality. She was the kind of person Freud probably had in mind when he made the sweeping, prejudicial statement that after years of studying the human mind he still couldn’t figure out what it is that women want.

My grandmother didn’t just ruin my parents’ relationship. She also poisoned my father’s ties with his sister. I’m convinced that after my father was diagnosed with cancer, he felt bad about how his mother had exploited him against his own wife and his sister, robbing him of close intimacy with them. He realized that his mother was the source of all his marital troubles. But it was too late.

Looking back, the best thing my father left me and my brothers was an opportunity. He did not leave us a lot of money. He left us four stores. We now have eight (plus three others that are owned by my slain aunt’s family, with which we don’t get along). We have an opportunity to take Zankou Chicken from a relatively small family chain to a large legacy business.

We also have an opportunity to honor our father’s memory by doing three things. Because he hated it when his sons argued and fought with each other, we would do well to try to get along. That, to my mind, is the most important thing we can do to pay tribute to our father. The second thing we can do is to take good care of our mother, the one woman among many in his life who stood faithfully by his side until the bitter end. Finally, we should work hard and take our family business to the next level.


I have taken the liberty to go through the YELP FAQ and someone customized it with my own answers to business owners and more specifically, restaurant owners, to help you figure out what this all REALLY means.

This of course is meant to be taken with a grain of salt.

It is by no means the definitive advice on all things YELP, nor is it legal advice OR the advice of a YELP professional. The YELP logo and their web site are copyrighted and this is meant for educational purposes only. For additional services or stats on your restaurant’s visitors and to increase leads you have to advertise with them and they can help you figure out according to your budget, how best you should market your restaurant on YELP. IN fact for certain businesses I HIGHLY recommend that you DO advertise with YELP. But not ALL restaurants should advertise with YELP. I will create a post in the coming weeks that will detail 5 types of restaurants that definitely SHOULD and 5 that SHOULD NOT. Stay tuned for that …

Having said that I hope this helps some people. Enjoy. And if it clears with the good people of Yelp I may re-word this and include it into my book when it comes out in 2016. 


Note: My tips are in BOLD


Example: (I answered the first I will write the other ones later )

Common Questions

One of the reviews for my business is missing. What happened?
There are three possibilities:
    1. The person who wrote the review may have deleted it. This doesn’t happen very often, but you’ll typically see it when someone closes their Yelp account.
    2. The review may have been removed by our User Operations team. This only happens if the review violates our Content Guidelinesor if the reviewer violated our Terms of Service.
    3. The review is not currently being recommended by Yelp’s automated recommendation software. The review is still accessible to users on your business page beneath the recommended reviews, but it doesn’t factor into your review count or overall star rating. This is a routine function of our automated software and affects every business listed on the site. You can read more about the process below.
REAL ANSWER: Yelp robots more than likely removedyour friend or relatives positive review because it picked up the fact that they were times too close to be relatively unrelated. Yelp software automatically filters reviews it deems to be from the owners or the owner’s relatives or friends. 


Yelp’s automated software often removes reviews that are positive for first time reviewers. This sucks if you’re a new restaurant owner and simply asked friends and family to rate your food. Even if their review is fair and unbiased, first time positive reviews are often filtered. You may want to ask them to give an average rating to another company, then another company, and review you third of fourth. This will trick their mindless robots into accepting (and leaving online) their positive reviews of your new establishment.


Good luck!


Why does Yelp recommend some reviews but not others?
We get millions of reviews from our users, and we try to showcase the ones that best reflect the opinions of the Yelp community. The remaining reviews are accessible from a link at the bottom of each business’s profile page, but they don’t factor into a business’s overall star rating or review count.
This approach is very different from other sites that tend to feature rants and raves from anyone and everyone. We do our best to nurture a community of users who actively contribute reliable and useful content.


Yelp used to allow advertisers to feature their favorite review. I used to post my favorite review from people that were hardcore fans and not only gave us an awesome review but also happened to be amazingly creative writers. Some people leave reviews on Yelp that can only be characterized as poetry. It was great fun and a wonderful way to showcase some of our greatest products by the most talented of Yelp writers.


Then Yelp pulled the plug on this feature because they were hit with a huge lawsuit by businesses claiming that advertisers were being given privilege over non-advertisers. I thought this was the stupidest thing I had ever heard. Of course they do, they are supposed to give some amount of privilege to advertisers! After all they are a business not a nonprofit organization. Ever since you can’t “showcase” your favorite quote and/or review I have been less reluctant to advertise with them, for reasons you clearly see.


How does Yelp decide which reviews to recommend?
We use automated software developed by our engineers to recommend reviews from the Yelp community. The software looks at dozens of different signals, including various measures of quality, reliability, and activity on Yelp. Most of all, however, it’s looking for people who are intrinsically motivated to share the wide range of rich and detailed experiences they have every day with local businesses. On average, our software recommends about three quarters of the reviews that are submitted to the site.


So we can safely read this answer to assume up to 25% of reviews are being detected and deleted by Yelp robots and employees. This means thousands, perhaps millions, of reviews. That is a fairly high number. The onus is on us, the business owners, to do everything we can to ask people to give us positive reviews, respond to negative ones, and do our best to give consistent, good customer service because no one at Yelp will help you with your score. It’s up to you to do your homework and play the game and win, netting your business the higher score and raves it deserves.

Why would a review not be recommended?
There are a number of reasons why a review might not be recommended. For example, the review might have been posted by a less established user, or it may seem like an unhelpful rant or rave. Some of these reviews are fakes (like the ones that originate from the same computer) and some suggest a bias (like the ones written by a friend of the business owner), but many are real reviews from real customers who we just don’t know much about and therefore can’t recommend.



Read this answer to mean that Yelp software detects your user IP. The user IP is your ID online, what every computer has to help detectives and others locate and find people in the online world. Changing your web browser from Safari to Firefox, for example, will not change your permanent web IP. Yelp software will know it’s you and not allow you to rate or review your own business. What they mean by “less established” is that if you are new to Yelp and signed up ONLY to give yourself a positive review, that review will automatically be filtered out.


Instead, use a different computer, from a different location, under a different user name. This can be done to offset fake reviews your competition is placing on your page (which, for some reason, their robots almost always let slip through.)



Do Yelp advertisers get preferential treatment?
 Our recommendation software treats advertisers and non-advertisers exactly the same. You’ll find plenty of Yelp advertisers with negative reviews, and plenty of non-advertisers with five-star ratings across the board.
Furthermore, there is zero relationship between the timing of when a review gets recommended and when a business decides to – or declines to – advertise: reviews can be recommended or not recommended days, weeks, or even months after they were first posted, and your friendly Yelp sales representative doesn’t have any influence over when that might happen.
In short, there is no relationship between reviews and anything having to do with Yelp Ads or the Yelp Ads sales process. Period.




Yelp advertisers do still get preferential treatment, even if that is not directly linked to reviews. Yelp makes sure the people that work in sales (the people that call or email you asking you to buy ads on Yelp) and the tech guys that are in charge of reviews work at completely separate offices and don’t know each other. They are not allowed to contact each other. This is done for the obvious reasons of reducing corruption and any possibility that a high-paying customer that buys ads for multiple locations still not carry any weight with the review department.


This does not prevent you from telling your ad rep about a fake negative review, however this ad rep unfortunately has no real power to change that negative review.


Here are a few of the benefits Yelp Advertisers get:


  • No ads from the competition on your locations page. This can be huge for big-ticket restaurants. Imagine if you own a high quality seafood establishment in Malibu and some shmuck decides to advertise his/her own business directly on your page. Actually they don’t do this on purpose, Yelp does it for them! And now imagine if this competitor owns a cheaper seafood place down the street, they can quite literally be stealing customers that’s searched online for you, by name. Being an advertiser stops that from happening.
  • Yelp shows you how many people clicked your ad, they also show how many clicked without the ad so you can see comparative charts and analyze whether or not paying for your ad makes sense. The decision to continue or not then rests on you, however Yelp gives priority deals to businesses that sign up for longer service. They ultimately want you to sign contracts for a year or more and discourage month-to-month advertising, making the one year or more deals a much higher value and savings to their customers. I once cancelled such a contract and had to pay a few thousand dollars, practically once month’s worth of advertising, just to quit. So be careful what contract you sign with them and make sure it will work for you, speaking to everyone in your organization first. My advice is to not sign long-term contracts and do little at a time, monitoring your progress as you go.
  • You can move the pictures in the gallery. This means you can move those shitty pictures someone took with a bad cell phone all the way to the last spot on the line for pictures.
  • You can have a rotating, larger photo gallery. If you get the ads that promote this feature be sure to have high-quality, high resolution photographs of your food first. Buying this feature and not having great shots of your products is like buying a Lamborghini and not washing it or showing it off, it doesn’t make sense. Do the homework first and have amazing shots of your food that you would WANT to show off, that people would love to see.

These shots should make people salivate, even if they just ate. They should be glorious, colorful, with fantastic backgrounds and garnishes. Consider hiring a professional photographer as well as a “food stylist”.


Food stylists are specialists that deal specifically with food photography and video. They come and spend a lot of time washing, cutting, spraying a glow solution, rinsing, and slicing to make your food pictures truly stand out. The money we pay them is well worth it because this effort you make will only be done once or twice, but the pictures may last many years. We have taken some professional shots that we have used now for over 14 years, so much so that it’s time we re-take some of them (I’m in the process of doing 2 new photo shoots as I write this for our web site and regular menu).


The photographer should use a professional camera (Cannon or Nikon, high grade lens cameras are the industry norm), and have at least a few professional lighting instruments and at least one umbrella backdrop they bring along. Ask to see their previous work, make sure you have them sign a copyright release form giving you full rights to all images before you pay them (in many states photographers own the rights to the pictures they take, even if you paid them for an exclusive shoot). Some photographers charge extra for this up front.


#5) Your restaurant or other business may be featured on COMPETITOR’S pages, which is what you want.


What should I do if someone writes a negative review about my business?
You can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time, no matter how hard you try. Negative reviews are an unfortunate — but entirely normal — part of doing business. We get them too.
While it’s important to look for patterns in your reviews (e.g., people keep mentioning that the bread is stale or that a particular employee is rude), you shouldn’t read too much into any one review. Most Yelp users are looking for a consensus among all of the reviews they read rather than accepting the gospel of any one review, so you should do the same.
Of course, you can always contact the reviewer or post a public response, but be forewarned that responding to criticism with criticism of your own will almost always work against you.


This is not always true. If the review is from a competitor, and you can prove that, publically shaming them is perfectly OK with me. They made the decision to come to your page and spew their filth and lies, we should be able to retaliate accordingly. Publically mention that this is a fake review, go over to their location or Yelp page and post a negative review there, then email, call, fax Yelp and do whatever is necessary to have that negative review removed. But even if it’s not removed people should be able to know that this review was fake and left by a personal enemy of your business, not a valid reviewer. Yelp will never fight for us, we have to fight for ourselves.



What should I do if someone writes a review about my business that isn’t true?
We don’t arbitrate disputes, so your best bet is to contact the reviewer or post a public responsein order to clear up any misunderstandings. If it is clear on the face of the review that it violates our Content Guidelines(e.g., the reviewer admittedly describes a second-hand experience or uses a racial slur), you can flag the review to bring it to our attention.


The reason they don’t arbitrate disputes is because if they did, they would have no time for anything else. This isn’t eBay where money is being exchanged and they act as a referee. It’s more of a glorified Yellow Pages type business that doesn’t want to get involved in fights and disputes, it just wants to print money and have business owners fend for themselves.


You can flag the review and respond as well. I have done this several times with people that were clearly out of line, making personal attacks against me, by name, and/or calling our employees names and racial slurs. I have had many reviews removed this way, by being diligent and not standing for it. You can do the same.


I once had a woman who I shall not name that probably had a mental disorder. She gave us a two star based on the fact that we currently don’t show nutritional facts. I told her I understood her concern and that we are indeed working on including nutritional facts very soon on our web site, as soon as they become available. In California you must post nutritional facts after you have 20 locations or more (check this fact online.)


After my response she was even more enraged. She wrote me an email calling me a liar, saying we were cheap and didn’t want to spend money, and that she would never come again. She even lowered her core from a 2 to a one star. It just gives us all pause and makes us wonder if we should respond to people at all….


However I did not take it personally, even though she posted my first and last name and called me stupid names like some kind of angry 6th grader. Anyway, I flagged her review and ultimately had it removed because it was bordering on threatening.


Should I ask my customers to write reviews for me on Yelp?
No, you shouldn’t ask your customers to post reviews on Yelp.
For one thing, most businesses tend to ask their happiest customers to write reviews, not the unhappy ones. These self-selected reviews tell only part of the story, and we don’t think that’s fair to consumers. We would much rather hear from members of the Yelp community who are inspired to talk about their experiences without a business owner’s encouragement.
As a result, you shouldn’t be surprised if our software fails to recommend the reviews that you’ve asked your customers to write. Your best bet to get high quality and unbiased reviews about your business is to provide a memorable and amazing customer experience – it has nothing to do with asking your customers to post on Yelp.


Yes, you should ask your best customers to write reviews for you on Yelp. I don’t know who wrote this, but I am sure they probably never took a marketing or business class.


Of course you should ask customers to review you! Many businesses do so indirectly by placing Yelp stickers and posters all over the place. And remember, posting a link to your Yelp page DIRECTLY on your web site is another way of indirectly asking many of your best customers and fans to post positive reviews. If you gave a customer exceptional service, went out of your way for them, simply ask them to give you a positive review on Yelp as a way of thanking you. That will go a long way since that may be a long, permanent thanks to you the whole world will see and also will slightly up your Yelp review. So please don’t listen to this advice on their web site and ask ask ask! Like the Bible says, “Ask and you shall receive. “ (find verse here)



Yelp seems like a place for people to vent about bad experiences. Aren’t most reviews negative?
We crunched the numbers, and here’s what we found (as of December 2013). As you can see, only a tiny fraction of the reviews we recommend are less than three stars.
  • Independent researchers at Harvard and Boston University similarly debunked the myththat Yelp skews negative by showing that Yelp recommended far more positive than negative reviews.



While this is true some of the scathing negative reviews are so personal, they really hit home and actually hurt a lot of business owners. Don’t take my word for it, just do some research online and see how damaging some really bad reviews have been to many business owners and their overall income could very well be impacted.


Your ultimate response to this must be fanatical and assertive! Don’t take their shit lying down! Fight back and fight back hard. First try to be nice tot hem, offer them something free. Don’t even ask them to change the review, just be nice to them. As nice as possible, and do whatever it takes to make it right. Often a person is willing to change their review without you even asking for it if you simply right the wrong your employees did. As owners we can do this, and it is in our power to fix most of these problems and situations customers encounter. Not doing so probably makes us deserving of the shitty reviews. So get on your feet and make it right! Remember, every 1 that turns into a 5 star will amazingly up the average!

Why are so many of the positive reviews for my business not getting recommended?
Here are some possible explanations:
    1. Some of these reviews may have been written by people we don’t know much about, so they aren’t ranking high with our automated recommendation software. This is entirely normal, and it affects all businesses on the site and all types of reviews, whether positive or negative.
    2. Some of these reviews may fit a pattern that is different from what we typically see. Our automated software is trained to detect these anomalies, and even though there may be a good explanation, the software sometimes errs on the side of caution.
    3. Our users write more positive reviews in the first place, so you would expect to see a higher proportion of them being both recommended… and not!


   Keep getting more and more positive reviews. Do Yelp deals, ask people to check in and give them a free drink, and make sure cashiers are always offering service with a smile!


All of these together will up your score!

Why are different reviews recommended on different days?
Our recommendation software runs on a daily basis, so the results can change on a daily basis. You’ll sometimes see situations where a review is recommended or not recommended days, weeks, or even months after it is initially posted. For example, our recommendation software might pick up new information that makes a reviewer seem more trustworthy than was initially assumed. The reverse also happens. Sometimes, the information we have about a reviewer grows stale or is incomplete, so the software can take that into account too.
The important point here is that our recommendation software routinely produces different results on different days based on the information that feeds it.


Finish your profile and also fill in all relevant information to counter this. Make sure you post a few relevant reviews so their software and other users can trust you more.



How did my business information end up on Yelp?
We license basic business information from third party data providers who gather this type of information from public records and other sources. We also get business information from our users, who are helpful enough to correct the info we have, or let us know about a new spot that just opened down the street. Please feel free to let us know if our information is out of date!

Often times Yelp and other review sites like Zagat, Four Square, City Search, and Google Places will get your business operations days and/or hours wrong. So please remember to go to all of these sites and fill out a user form, then let them know you are the owner. Yelp has a different log-in for business owners. Then fix any mistakes and while you are there, be sure to upload the professional pictures I asked you to take from earlier.


Also, arrange the photos in a nice order, with the highest selling items first and least selling items last. I will tell you why we do this in a later chapter.


Besides the hours and the times also be sure to upload your menu, catering menu, business card, and /or any other promotional materials each of these sites allow like fliers for a promotional item (etc).



Can I have my business listing information removed from Yelp?
Consumers have the right to talk about what they like (and don’t like) about a meal they ate, a plumber they hired, or a car wash they visited. We don’t remove business listings, so your best bet is to engage with your fans and critics alike, and hear what they have to say.


You can let them know when you close down a store. Often no one will tell them and that location can stay on for months. This is not good for your reputation or your brand for people to be constantly reminded that one of your restaurants was shut down (for whatever reason, and I am sure you had a valid reason.)


Will Yelp remove or reorder bad reviews if a business pays for advertising?
 You can’t pay us to remove or reorder your bad reviews — it’s just that simple. It’s worth pointing out some additional checks and balances that we build into the system: among other things, our sales team doesn’t have the administrative privileges that might allow them to remove a bad review for an advertiser; similarly, the folks who do have those privileges don’t have anything to do with sales and aren’t compensated on the basis of sales performance.


This might be true but they might have your ear a little closer if you are a good advertiser. Even though they purposefully made their ad department and review department in separate office space, the review people may take your complaint more seriously, especially if you can prove it’s made by a competitor as is often the case or a mentally unstable individual that did not change their review no matter what you did (as was my case).




Can reputation management companies help me with my reputation on Yelp?
There are many “reputation management” companies that claim to work with Yelp to remove your negative reviews or otherwise boost your ratings… for a fee (of course!). If you’re wondering how these companies can make good on this offer, the answer is simple: They can’t. There’s never been any amount of money one can pay — to Yelp or any third party — to manipulate reviews. If you’ve been contacted by someone offering something along these lines, we’d love to get the details so we can prevent them from preying on others. Please contact usto send us the details. Finally, as we’ve said in the past, the best strategy for reputation management is to provide great customer service, and respond diplomatically to your reviewers.




Instead of paying these companies just find people in Fiverr who will do the same thing for $5. Usually they are reliable, just check their reputation on that site. Remember, Yelp does not remove bad reviews, even if it’s from competition or from people that have proven themselves to be unstable individuals, so that might even the playing field.

Does Yelp allow paid advertisers to move bad reviews to the bottom of their page?
Absolutely not. Review order cannot be manipulated and is determined by Yelp Sort, our default ranking methodology that presents the most useful reviews to users. For example, the first review displayed for a business will be one that reflects the average star rating of a business. This methodology is applied to all businesses, sponsors or not.


“Yelp Sort” uses methodology nobody, not even the people that work at Yelp, exactly know about. The reason for this is simple. They are running programs that are using randomly fielded data that bring about inconsistent, unreliable results. It’s kind of like a slot machine. You can put the money in and roll a good spin, or you can come up with an empty dud.


The great reviews on Yelp are now being pushed down by their software, whereas just a few years ago you had the option of putting your favorite review on top. Thousands of people stopped advertising with Yelp since they made this change.



Where does Yelp get its “business attribute” information (e.g., how expensive the business is, whether it’s good for kids, and suggested attire)?
These subjective attributes are voted on by users who have reviewed the business. They can change over time as more people review the business and cast more votes. The more objective attributes that we show in the business listing (whether the business accepts credit cards or is wheelchair accessible) can be set by the business owner if he/she has signed up for a free Business Account.


Use stickers and posters throughout your restaurant letting people know it’s “Family Friendly” and pretty soon many users will get the picture.



How can I get my menu or price list displayed on my business page?
Yelp displays menus and price lists for businesses when we have the data. You can send us a copy of your current menu via the contact form, and we’ll make sure that it is updated. You can also contact our partnersLocuor SinglePlatform which provide menu and price list data to Yelp.



Make sure that you use relevant and up to date menu information. Many restaurants use menus without prices, which is efficient since they won’t have to update it as much. If you choose to upload a menu that includes prices be sure to update it immediately when prices go up, or else you can get in trouble for misleading advertising.



How can I get a “People Love Us on Yelp” sticker?
“People Love Us on Yelp” is a program that provides a sticker and a letter of commendation from Yelp’s founders to businesses that qualify based on their history and rating on Yelp. The stickers are sent out once per year to all businesses that qualify. Whether or not a business advertises on Yelp has no impact on their eligibility to receive a “People Love Us on Yelp” sticker.
If you have not yet been selected for this award, but would still like people to know you’re on Yelp, you can request a “Find Us on Yelp” sticker with this form.


You can make your own “People Love Us on Yelp” sticker. Yelp is using your business to promote and make money from their web site. You should be able to use their name to promote and make money at your place of business. It’s only fair.



I’m considering legal action — what are my rights?
Nobody likes to get a negative review, and it’s even worse if you think it violates your legal rights. But a good lawyer will tell you the truth: defamation suits are notoriously expensive and difficult to win. Worse, they are very public. We can point to countless examples of ill-advised lawsuits that hurt the business far more than it ever helped. Nor will you get far by bringing Yelp into the dispute since Yelp merely acts as a forum like any other where people can share their views. (The law is well settled on this point, but you are welcome to ask your neighborhood internet attorney to confirm.) There may be rare cases when it’s appropriate to take legal action, but in most cases, you won’t get what you are looking for by suing someone who gives you a bad review.



This is the one answer I wholeheartedly agree with. Unless you have a really crazy situation like a group of people stalking your page, leaving repeatedly negative reviews because they are a team from the competition, or some other likely scenario where you have a crazed individual threatening bodily harm to you or your employees, assume Yelp will take action eventually.


Just calm down and report them, and report them repeatedly. Have your friends and family report them. Have your best customers report them. After a while they will believe you. If they don’t, and it is a serious case, no one would be angry with you if you did take legal action.

What’s the Scariest Thing That Ever Happened to You?

I’ve been asked this question a few times, what was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?

Well a lot of scary things have happened to me, some of them I have deliberately caused due to my own mistakes, sins, actions, and failures. I will readily admit that much, since I am no longer a youth, it gives me some amount of pleasure to look back and think of all the wild and sometimes stupid things I have done and seen in my life.

Among them:

I have kept off a cliff deep inside the Angeles Crest’ mountains just north of LA county. When I landed in 8-10 feet of water I realized that this shallow water was not enough to soften the blow to my feet and back upon impact. I nearly broke my back and severely hurt my foot. Thank God I did not break a bone or permanently injure my spine or back. I was very lucky.

I’ve been pulled underwater by a parasailing mishap in Mexico that nearly killed me in the summer of 1999. I will write more about that incident later in the book since it brought me a lot closer to God.

I’ve been involved in several fist fights in my youth, many times making friends with those same guys later in life. I’ve also had some trouble with the law. I’ve been chased by helicopters once and sped away in a BMW 850 (they don’t make those anymore), which had a top speed of 170 mph. It was a heavy car so it took me about 20 seconds to get there, but I did get there. I got away that time.

But not in Pasadena, when I was involved in another police chase and this time, because I had some friends with me that were afraid, I did pull over and later I got probation for it. Once I was at a mansion house party in South Pasadena and there was a gunfight that broke out where bullets and chairs were literally flying everywhere. For some reason when you are young, you think you’re invincible. So while we were a bit scared we were more amused, thinking we were in some sort of cool film or something. And just walking away while the cop cars and helicopters came just made it seem so cool. I once did a small stint in Twin Towers for cheating on the LSAT (long story).

I am not proud of these things but they did happen, and today, as a mature businessperson (at least I’d like to think that I am), I am very thankful to God that He kind of watched over me and made sure I survived all of these things, and many more things that are probably not fit to be written inside a business book.

But none of these things really scared me. There was only one time in my life where I was terrified. There is only one incident in my entire life where I felt as though even the word “terrified” could be used. And that was the result of a house fire.

Our house in the Glendale Hills was burning, probably because my younger brother Ara either left a candle or a joint lit in the room and closed the door behind him, not knowing that the small flame could ignite the entire freaking house.

All I remember is someone yelled. “Smoke, fire!” Now most people would just exit the house to safety. Not me. For some reason adrenaline kicked in and I ran into the smoke downstairs in some kind of Superman-like stunt in order to stop the flames and save my house. Now I would never, ever ask you or anyone else to do the same thing because this is very dangerous. You can easily pass out due to smoke inhalation, and all your brain needs is 5 minutes without oxygen for you to a become a brain dead vegetable for the rest of your life. So I don’t know why I did that; probably because I was both scared and excited and I just didn’t think and jumped into action right away, something like a reaction not an action that God has put in all of us when we’re confronted with emergency situations. Fight or flight kicks in and we become like passengers to our own built-in auto pilot responses in conditions like this.

Anyway, I ran downstairs, into the smoke, and holding my breath and with my eyes burning, opened the glass door downstairs and walked out, all of the gray smoke following me. Outside I found the small room that was on fire, which was adjacent to the beginning of the pool: it was the smallest room of the house. Now believe me when I say I was not just scared, I was terrified. Terrified of these flames and that someone would be injured, terrified of losing my house, and scared about the smoke going upstairs or hurting someone else in my family. I was hearing yells and screams from upstairs but I could not make out what it was. Later I discovered it was my mother and father yelling our names, making sure we were all still alive. I did not answer because naturally I was busy fighting this damned fire.

I took the garden hose, turned on the water as fast as I could and started fighting the fire. First I wet the walls from the left, then the ceiling, the upper wall to the right, then to the right, and finally the bed and mattress. Right as I was doing this the window to my right blew out with a loud “Booof!” sound, just like in the movies. I was blown back a bit from the heat and the impact of the explosion, but thankfully none of the glass or shards hit me. I continued to put the flames out. Now one thing about me, I love fire, I love flames, I love fireworks, so I have always been drawn to the fire. I’m somewhat of a pyromaniac in a lot of ways, I enjoy playing with fire, doing magic with flash paper, and things of this sort. But nothing would ever prepare me for the terrifying power a large fire has over our life and death. I remember thinking, even in that moment, “Wow, I have never been this scared in my life.”

After about 22-25 minutes I put the entire fire out and the room was safe. The only flames I could not extinguish were those underneath the mattress. Down the mattress stuffing proved to be a lot of fuel for the fire, which was made up of the mattress itself and the blankets. They did not seem to want to stop burning, but by then the brave guys from the Glendale Fire Department showed up. They had gas masks on and fearlessly walked into the room after preparing themselves to do so for about 5 minutes, with gas masks and axes. Luckily for them (and for us) I was able to put out 95% of the fire before they got there.

Say what you will but when your own house is on fire, you really want to fight it. You think of the pictures, computers, clothes, memories. Everything that is in the house that makes it not a house but a home. We fight for that. By then we had one guy from the news outside nobody wanted to talk to, and we had about 3 insurance company agents which specialized in helping get us money for the fire damage.

In that moment I thought of them like vultures surrounding a dead prey. We were all in no mood to talk to them. Later, though, I was very thankful they were there because one of them helped us get a lot of money from our insurance company. This was the money we needed to repair the damage that the insurance company would otherwise not have given us.

We used the insurance money to fix the damage, and later we were also able to get a nice house 2 homes up from that location. What I learned is that everything happens for a reason. When you’re in a fight with a fire that is threatening to consume your home, your family, and your life: fight and fight hard. Never give up. Help is coming.

The Yin and Yang of Yelp


There’s no denying it, so I’ll say it without any hesitation: As of right now, Yelp is the most important website for restaurants and restaurant owners. It’s more important than Facebook, Google, and, chances are, more important than your own website.

Yelp generates more customer traffic for us at Zankou than any other source. No less than 70% to 80% of the leads to our restaurant website come from Yelp. Often users will find us on Yelp and not even bother to look for us anywhere else. Such is the importance of Yelp. It is a tremendously useful and reliable resource for consumers to look for, find, and become hardcore fans of their favorite types of restaurants.

A 2013 study by the Boston Consulting Group showed that of the 4,800 small businesses that had profiles on Yelp but did not advertise on the site still generated average revenues of $8,000 from Yelp every year—“a kind of passive halo effect,” in the words of the consultancy. What’s more, companies that actually advertised on Yelp experienced an average upsurge of more than $23,000.

However, just like every rose has its thorn, Yelp comes with a lot of problems and issues. It’s not very different from a beautiful girlfriend who you know will give you trouble later. That is precisely the relationship many restaurants, bars, and hotels have with Yelp. In fact, the entire service industry seems to be hanging on a thread—Yelp’s thread.

A 2011 study of 328 San Francisco restaurants by two University of California economists, Michael Anderson and Jeremy Magruder, found that just an extra half-star rating on Yelp can increase a restaurant’s chances of selling its dinner seats by 30-40%. The study also found that restaurants with an extra half star that had less than 500 consumer reviews on Yelp were likely to have 20-30% less reservation availability from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. than restaurants that had more than 500 reviews.

For all the positive effects of reviews, two issues continue to dog Yelp. The first is that restaurants have a built-in incentive to generate fake reviews, although Yelp has lately begun to use software that helps identify such reviews. The second issue revolves around the fact that advertisers on Yelp appear to have more favorable reviews than non-advertisers, which might suggest that either there’s some hidden payoff for advertisers or that some reviewers are being influenced not by the quality of food or service at restaurants—nor the décor or atmosphere—but by the advertising itself.

Zankou Chicken has been advertising with Yelp for years. Which is why what you’re about to read might come as a surprise: Advertising on Yelp makes little to no difference in your rating. At least that’s been our experience at Zankou. Thankfully, each of our restaurants has consistently achieved 4-5 stars. Some of our locations rate better than others, which may have more to do with consumer tastes, trends, and the level of service on a particular day for certain customers.

There are seven things you can do to increase your rating of Yelp—without advertising. Almost all of them are free or very cheap to implement. All’s that’s required is some time, good employee training, and some advertising money on posters and other promotional material.

Here are the seven tips—ranked from ethical to borderline unethical, although all are fully legal (because everyone’s budget and morality compass is different, only you can decide what and what not to pursue):

Tip #1: Train your employees well. The most ethical and obvious thing you can do to increase your Yelp rating has nothing to do with marketing but everything to do with service. Train your employees well, make sure the food is hot and fresh every time, and give them the tools to address customer grievances in your absence.

No matter how much you may want to be present at your restaurant, especially when things go wrong, the truth is nobody can be available all the time. And that’s all the more impossible if you happen to have more than one store. But that doesn’t mean an owner’s ethos cannot be ever-present. That doesn’t mean your employees can’t be trained to keep customers happy, as much as possible, every single time.

Think of all the things that can go wrong in our industry. A customer can be served food that is not as hot or fresh as he anticipated. The food can take much longer to prepare than a customer expects or is used to. Your employees may not be as nice or kind to a customer as they should be. That’s why it’s imperative that employees get a high level of professional training. Only then can they hope to handle consumer complaints.

Here’s what you should tell your cooks and cashiers to do: “As long as a customer’s problem is less than $20, fix it. Just keep customers happy. Give them what they want—the way they want it.”

You might think $20 is too high an amount. What if every customer asked for $20? The owner would go bankrupt in no time! But that’s almost impossible. As much as 95-98% of our customers at Zankou never request their money back—not even when they say they didn’t find the food satisfactory and wanted it replaced.

Always remember that as a restaurant owner you have go to do whatever it takes to bring customers back. Don’t do it to better your Yelp rating—do it for yourself. Do it for your business. Remember that if each customer visits you once a week and spends $15 (which they usually do), $15 x 4 weeks is $60 a month, which is $720 a year. So, is sacrificing one $20 family meal worth getting $720 extra all year from a given customer? You bet your left eyeball it is!

Think of the opportunity cost of not helping customers. Opportunity cost is the loss of potential monetary gain from other options when one alternative is chosen. When an entrepreneur misses the best alternative, he loses the value that would have come with it. More often than not, the best opportunity—or alternative—for any business is a customer who returns. And for that to happen, a customer must be happy. It’s good to remember that it costs nine times more to get a new customer than to keep an existing one.

Tip #2: Put a “Yelp us” poster on the wall of your restaurant. In addition, tell your cashiers to give customers a small gift if they can show you they gave your restaurant five stars. The gift could be a free drink or a free side order, neither of which costs much. This strategy is especially beneficial to a new restaurant or bar trying to make a name for itself in a tough neighborhood or hostile business environment. Imagine a bar that displays a sign that says, “Have a shot on us—just show us a 5 star review on Yelp!”

Tip #3: Put a link on your restaurant website that corresponds to your restaurant’s Yelp page. For example, on our web site,, which I developed over the course of two years, I put the Yelp location review page link directly on that location’s page on the website. This makes it more likely that our customers will review us, and sending them to Yelp will help increase our ranking. After all, more often than not, it’s your loyal customers who tend to visit your website, and they are the ones—your the hardcore fans—you would want to get Yelp reviews from.

Tip #4: Offer small giveaways in exchange for Yelp reviews. How about promotional T-shirts? You can also give away mugs, caps, shoes, ties, pens and key chains. People love these little things. You can have them placed right next to the cashier area, with a small sign that says the giveaway—or a small discount—can be had in return for a 5-star review on Yelp.

For example, let’s say you own a BBQ ribs restaurant—the kind of place that sells mechanical bulls people love to ride. Chances are you would also be selling some cool hats, T-shirts, and other such memorabilia. Why not give customers 10% off those purchases? All they would have to do is flash their iPhone and show the cashier a 5 star review that they posted.

Of course, all these tips represent something of an ethical gray area. Basically, you are giving customers a reward for giving you 5 stars on Yelp. It’s bribery, albeit legal. But who cares. If you and your restaurant are benefiting, by all means go for it.

Tip #5: Spend time on Yelp, and go fishing for all the 1 star, 2 star and 3 star reviews. These are the reviews that are messing up your score. Especially the one stars. Remember in school how that one stupid F ruined your entire GPA? The same mechanics apply here. Yelp features your average score—and the one star scores are similar to a zero score.

At Zankou, we respond to people not to increase our rating but because the rating is a sort of barometer of a business’s well being. Think of it like the low oil warning sign in your car: If your Yelp score is less than 3 stars, you are doing some very wrong things to your customers. You need to pull over, go and get an oil change—you need to change the attitude of your employees, make the food better, or just rethink your strategy and/or rules and guidelines entirely.

Try to contact everyone who gave you a one star. Go down the list and respond to all the 1-3 stars and the next day see what they said. Invite them back for a free meal, tell them you will give them a free meal and a free T-shirt. In fact, go ahead and tell them you will give them an entire family meal.

Yelp allows businesses to contact about five people per day from the owner account associated with your location. Contact one person at a time—and be patient. Then try to win these people over—and get them to give you 5 stars. Your score eventually will go up. The difficult part of this strategy is that it can take hours every day to follow up with people. Even when I did nothing more than copy and paste my responses to the 1 star reviewers, it always took me a long time.

Sadly, Yelp has no easy notification system, such as an email, which alerts you when people respond to your messages. You have to go back and individually check what happened to your response to their criticism. Did they respond to your response? Remember that no one is under any condition to even respond to you, so you have to be very nice.

Tip #6: Incorporate Yelp into all your social media and email advertising. From time to time, post links directly to your Yelp page on all your social media. This will route your best fans there, giving you a higher Yelp rating. Be sure to stamp the Yelp page of your business on all your email correspondence.

I will show you how to automatically timestamp your email so that people can click right through to both your web site and your Yelp page, the two most important marketing places of your business online. This always automatically promotes your Yelp page—and your business—every time you email somebody. It’s effortless, effective marketing that truly works.

One site you can do this for a small fee is WiseStamp. They are an awesome Firefox app that lets you timestamp all that cool info with amazing graphics.

Tip #7: Pay people for positive reviews. Obviously, this one is in the gray area. Yelp has automatic software that filters all positive reviews they believe are fake. I can teach you how to go around this.

There are three ways Yelp filters reviews. I know how they do this despite the fact that they never say how they do it. It’s their secret formula. And besides, of course they don’t want to tell people about it because then everyone would cheat and beat their system.

So here are three ways you can beat their system:

1. If you want to rate your own restaurant once, open a different account on Yelp with a different email and picture. Use a different computer than the one you used to register as owner (the Yelp computer robots memorize your IP and automatically would know it’s you, thereby blocking your review). If you use a different computer, different email, and different account, there is a good chance that your positive review will stick and stay on the site, never to be removed by their annoying robots.

And by they way, their robots are completely arbitrary. The process they use is not fair at all. It is not transparent and infuriates many business owners who see positive reviews, which also happen to be hundred percent legitimate, completely erased for no reason at all.

So I do not see this as cheating. I simply see it as a way for business owners to even the playing field, given the abysmal nature of Yelp’s customer service.

2. Ask friends and family to rate your establishment. Just make sure they do not all do it at the same time or even on the same day. Make it sound legitimate. Ask them to actually visit. It would serve you that they do try your food, or drinks or hotel and that their review actually helps people and isn’t just a B.S. paragraph they wrote for you. Those don’t help your business anyway. So just take the time to do this, do it the right way, and it will work. Give them a meal free if that’s what it takes. Just make it happen.

3. Pay people to rate your restaurant. Again, this is a gray area and is a violation of the YELP TOS. If you are caught doing this you can get in trouble with YELP so we can’t wholeheartedly RECOMMEND doing this we are only listing it as an option, albeit an ethically questionable option. Still, if for your business it can prove to be an equalizer if your competition is lambasting your site with fake negative reviews and YELP is not removing those, we can see where this my be a viable alternative to ignoring the site altogether, as many have accustomed themselves to doing. Fiverr ( is a web site that specializes in people doing exactly these sorts of things for a small fee. Remember, there is no guarantee Yelp won’t erase their review. So you are taking a chance. But for $5 that chance might be worth taking.


Copyright 2014, Dikran Iskenderian. No version of this blog may be reproduced in any form without the author’s written consent. This blog represents the author’s views only and may not necessarily represent the views of Zankou Chicken, its board, its associates and employees, managers, or customers. Please do not reproduce without permission. Thank You.