Julian Guthrie, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
(01-26) 18:17 PST — The negative online review came in a week after Doug Washington opened his third restaurant, Anchor & Hope in San Francisco. He felt it was malicious and made no sense. So a fired-up Washington tracked down the reviewer at his office nearby and confronted him.
The red-faced diner, surrounded by curious colleagues, apologized. But since then, Washington says, “I’ve put down my guns. If you try to fight all these reviews, you’re asking to be Sisyphus.”
Restaurateur Chris Hemmeter, founder and CEO of the E&O Trading Co., has another approach to the ranks of self-appointed restaurant critics: Follow everything that’s written every day.
To do this, he has enlisted the help of a Mountain View company called BooRah, which today will launch a new “reputation management” service for restaurant owners. The 2-year-old firm, which started as a restaurant search site, is expanding to create summaries of everything that’s being written about a particular dining establishment. It uses technology developed in-house to analyze the sentiments in online reviews and then generate scores, rankings and summaries.
“Restaurateurs are more focused than ever on keeping customers happy, especially in these tough economic times,” said Eric Moyer, the CEO and co-founder of BooRah, which takes its name from boo for bad and rah for good. “One way for restaurant owners to differentiate themselves is by heeding and responding to online feedback, and our reputation reports and review tracking services make it much easier to do that.”
The reports, which will be available to restaurateurs for $14.95, will detail top review sources, overall ratings and top sentiments among reviewers, and track trends over six months. It also summarizes percentage ratings for food, service and ambiance. The site (boorah.com) has a database of some 600,000 restaurants across the country, and has identified more than 2.5 million reviews.
Moyer, who describes himself as an established techie and aspiring foodie, added, “While restaurateurs have historically been focused on professional food critic reviews, many have little experience with blogs, consumer review Web sites and consumer-generated content.”
As user-generated content about businesses large and small has proliferated, questions have been raised about when freedom of expression in public forums becomes damaging. Two recent lawsuits have involved the popular site Yelp, based in San Francisco, from business owners claiming libelous reviews.
To Hemmeter, whose E&O Trading has restaurants in San Francisco, San Jose and Larkspur, knowing what’s being said “gives us an edge.” He has already contracted with BooRah to receive regular alerts every time his business is reviewed. He says receiving a summary report will make him “feel safer.”
“More and more, people are using user-generated reviews to make decisions about where to eat,” Hemmeter said. “You have people who write fictitious things because they couldn’t get a table. And then you have people who write because they had a genuinely nice experience. All restaurant operators have to figure out how to get in on this online trend.”
But for Doug Washington, who has been in the restaurant business for decades and is a co-owner of Salt House, Town Hall, and Anchor & Hope, there’s nothing like a few good words from close friends.
“There’s a real down side to the public, open source forum,” Washington said. “I’ve had ex-employees and competitors write all sorts of negative things. Your choice is to either be a Sisyphus and run around like an idiot, or let it go. I feel like you don’t need to get information from a million anonymous sources that have a million different opinions. Talk to your friends and associates. If they like it, go.”
E-mail Julian Guthrie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page D – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle