Yelp may be best known for crowd-sourced reviews of restaurants and other local businesses, but the site welcomes “Yelpers” to weigh in on all sorts of other destinations—including national parks, colleges, government agencies, border crossings, the local DMV, and beyond. In theory, the idea of reading firsthand opinions from everyday people is wonderful. Then again, you’ve probably heard some variation of the quote comparing opinions to a certain body part, with the point being that both are known to stink. Here are a dozen things you probably didn’t know are being reviewed on Yelp.
It’s not like prison residents (i.e. inmates) have much choice in where they’re locked up. So understandably, many of the reviews seem written not for the sake of the incarcerated, but for visitors going to see loved ones behind bars in places like New York City’s Rikers Island Correctional Facility. The place smells “like body odor, bleach, and beefaroni,” a one-star review of Rikers warned. Even more so, Yelp reviews of prisons seem written by pranksters for laughs. “Employees rude and taze you on occasion” one reviewer wrote of California’s San Quentin State Prison.
The country’s most beautiful and breathtaking national wonders are subjected to Yelp reviews–and perhaps inevitably, some individuals occasionally give them one-star ratings. Saddest of all, the reviews don’t appear to be goofs. One critic of Badlands describes the scenery as “basically washed out hills of 50,000 year old mud.” Acadia National Park in Maine was bashed because “Baxter State Park is far, far better.” Even the Grand Canyon—one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, mind you—has gotten some one-star Yelp reviews. “”Whoopity do, Grand Canyon. You are a giant hole in the ground,” writes one grump. Another gave Grand Canyon one star because there are only a few things that a visitor can see in one day, and “We can watch all of the above on IMAX.” There are also reviews of iconic outdoors destinations like the Appalachian Trail, though for the time being at least the AT has a five-star rating (based on only three reviews).
It might seems strange, and perhaps a bit unfair, for a patient to review the work of a surgeon, or an immense, complicated facility like a hospital, the same way a restaurant customer casually rates his experience at a taco stand. Yelp not only welcomes reviews of hospitals—which might focus on the ER, a specific doctor, questionable billing practices, the cuisine at the food court, and more—but it is supplementing reviews with hard data on things like average ER wait times, and hospitals are increasingly concerned about boosting their ratings. The Rush University Medical Center in Chicago has an overall three-star rating at Yelp, based on a mix of raves and one-star haters who bash things like “the most unscrupulous billing practices.”
“Having heard a lot about this place from friends, we finally decided to try it for ourselves,” one Yelp review states. “Luckily they were open on a holiday. Man, was it busy! There was a two hour wait to get in — they don’t take reservations.” Instead of focusing on a trendy restaurant like you’d expect, this joke review is about the Pacific Highway U.S. Customs & Border Protection crossing in Blaine, Wash. The majority of reviews, though, are quite serious, many with rants about long waits or unreasonable customs officers.
The Town Dump
Yes, some reviewers write raves of their local “Trash Transfer Station,” a.k.a., the town dump. “Oscar the Grouch was only in a perpetual bad mood because his trash can wasn’t at the Fort Trotten Transfer Station,” one five-star review of the Washington, D.C.-area dump states. “I never thought I would be reviewing a dump, but wow what a great experience!” says another. “Best dump ever!” One review of the transfer station in Winchester, Mass., states dryly that, well, “it’s a dump.” A reviewer of yet another dump, in Honolulu, advises all visitors to “bring a mask or something to cover your nose or to help not breath in all that junk.”
Federal Agencies & Congress
In August, Yelp announced a new agreement in which government agencies would officially respond to reviews on their Yelp pages. This may be particularly surprising if you weren’t aware that federal agencies like the TSA and the Department of the Treasury, as well as post offices and even members of Congress have Yelp pages. In these cases, reviewers are often using Yelp as a platform to raise political issues, like when Republican presidential contender Carly Fiorina bashed the TSA on Yelp this past summer.
As with border crossings, reviews of the DMV might seem a little pointless because these places are unavoidable. We suppose such reviews are useful at least in that they clue people in about what to expect beforehand, and perhaps they help folks choose one DMV over another, assuming there are options. In some cases, individual roads, such as I-5 in Los Angeles, as well as state road agencies like the New Jersey Turnpike Authority are subjected to reviews by Yelpers too.
If you are ever curious about what everyday tourists think about New York City’s Times Square, the Hollywood Sign, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and other world-famous sites, Yelp is the place to go. Just be aware that, unsurprisingly, the opinions of some tourists will be uninformed, superficial, and just plain silly. We have to admit, though, that the one-star reviews of these places are amusing. “I think I’ve driven this bridge like twice,” one reviewer wrote of the Golden Gate Bride. “HYPE!”
While most reviews of churches comment on the quality of sermons, the choir, or the architecture, others are basically rants about something specific—say, the parish’s wedding coordinator or how annoying the bells are to people who live nearby.
Our annual “Best Colleges” report ranks more than 700 schools based on a wide range of criteria like graduation rates, average student debt, and early career earnings in order to give families a sense of what colleges offer the most value for the money. If, on the other hand, you want to read random people weigh in on a school’s architecture, administration, or tuition costs, head to Yelp for reviews of colleges like University of Oregon and Kansas State.
It wouldn’t be very sporting of Yelp if it refused to allow reviewers the right to rate and review Yelp itself. So Yelp should get a little pat on the back for having a Yelp page where the masses can offer their opinions on the site’s service and business practices. On the other hand, Yelp has a middling 2.5-star rating based on 7,100+ reviews. Mind you, Yelp has attracted 7,000+ other reviews that are not “recommended” by Yelp for various reasons, and after sifting through them it appears the vast majority are quite negative. So Yelp’s overall rating would be even lower if it included these reviews too.
Yelp’s guidelines stipulate that reviews be based on one’s own personal experiences. “We want to hear about your firsthand consumer experience, not what you heard from your co-worker or significant other,” the site explains. Based on that, perhaps only a dozen “consumers” should really be reviewing the moon—because that’s how many men have walked on it in history. Regardless, a couple dozen bored people have gone ahead and posted their own goofy reviews of the moon, presumably for the amusement of themselves and others. “As celestial bodies go, the Earth’s moon is pretty solid,” one reviewer observed. “Its changes are predictable, so you know what you’re getting each night.”