Feb 12 2013

Yelpers, Urbanspooners and Chowhounders, Oh My!


Now I don’t know about you but don’t you hate it when you try out a new restaurant and come out disappointed?  Or when you’re traveling and don’t know where to go to eat?  There’s something just wrong about wasting money on a bad meal so I definitely rely on online resources to help guide me.  The quantity and quality of information that you can find online always amazes me and it’s no different when it comes to eating out. I rely heavily on my personal network to find me great new spots, but the reach of online boards and communities like Yelp, Urbanspoon and Chowhound can be really useful.



While I have been food blogging for a while, it all started with reading and writing online reviews on Citysearch.  Over time I grew a bit jaded with Citysearch (way too many fake reviews) and found that Yelp was a much better resource, especially when traveling.  I have a rule about trying not to eat at hotel restaurants so finding good local restaurants was always a challenge and Yelp was consistently great at getting me to the right eats.  Yelp really makes you feel like a local and insider which is foodie awesomeness! Both the website and app are a nice mix of reviews and social networking, giving you the option of passively finding information or throwing questions out to the community.  The audience is skewed a bit younger, more single and towards a more urban setting which is helpful in my preferences.  And while Yelp peeps are mostly helpful, there is some level of online snarkiness depending on the urban hub, but Raleigh-Durham is relatively free of sarcasm and condescension.  The breadth and range of businesses and pictures on Yelp are fantastic, a great treasure trove of info that’s hard to find elsewhere. Overall it’s still the best restaurant resource I have if you’re willing to filter out reviewers with different interests. Another huge plus for Yelp is that they don’t only review restaurants but other small businesses like doctors, auto mechanics and more.



I also rely on Urbanspoon a bit which is similar to Yelp but focused solely on restaurants and dining.  Recently I just made “Urban Prime” which is similar to Yelp Elite and allows me to make edits/changes on my own, very cool! Urbanspoon gives you a mix of diner reviews, bloggers and professional reviewers which is nice.  They also give you a thumbs up or down for a quick snapshot rating.  From my experience, the diners on Urbanspoon are skewed a bit more towards suburban and young married couples.  People who are active socially but not quite as hip as Yelp.  Not a bad thing.  And the social networking part of Urbanspoon is limited, you can add friends but there isn’t much in the way of interaction which limits snarkiness.  Overall a solid resource but doesn’t quite have the reach and breadth of Yelp.



The last online resource I rely on is Chowhound and there are reasons why it’s last.  It’s focus is on message boards so it’s really all about social networking and interaction.  There are no business listings and little in the way of pictures which means limited details and usefulness.  The audience on Chowhound skews a bit older, I’d say the average age is 35 – 50.  What’s that mean?  Sometimes it means great experience and other times it means a heavier emphasis on old people restaurants, i.e. classics with good service and a more conservative ambiance.  But there are people here who have turned me on to very small, ethnic eateries that fall off the Yelp and Urbanspoon radar screen which is good.  The other challenge I see is the message board format.  Very Web 1.0 and the interaction means you do get some chest-pounding online and snarkiness. People I would call food snobs, because in the end, I don’t think money or price guarantees a great meal.  I limit my interactions here because I find there’s an old-school obnoxious component that I’m not fond of and yeah, I’ve had a couple of run-in’s which is usually rare for me.  Also due to the format, the same questions are often repeated which is relatively useless. Overall Chowhound is ok if you mine the information properly but I’m not a huge fan of the format.


Salt grains, photo courtesy of woodgears.ca


So there you go, some great online resources for foodies and diners alike!  Take all my statements with a grain of salt, it’s just one person’s opinion.  But I’ve included some demographic info on each board below from Quantcast which gives you an idea of the crowd on each board.  And the reality is there is some overlap. You’ll see one person on multiple boards if they’re a serious foodie which is sorta cool. I’m always appreciative of any insight and while I’m glad you’re here reading my food blog, there are always other resources you should hit up for the most accurate guidance for your dining dollars.  Rock on Yelp, Urbanspoon and Chowhound because you know what?  Even if you’re not perfect, you’re free and you can’t beat the price of free advice!


Quantcast Demographics for Yelp

Quantcast Demographics for Urbanspoon

Quantcast Demographics for Chowhound



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  1. Arthur in the Garden!

    Ha! Funny! My friends and I call trying new restaurants “checking it off the list” when we try a new one and would never go back. They have to have the right balance of price, good food, and enough of the food to make it worth our visiting. There are a few I love to go to because the food is good, the ambiance is nice, but the price isn’t worth it. I save those for special occasions! Others are just checked off permanently because everything was just bad. We then make bets on how long it will last. We are pretty good with predicting this stuff!

  2. Ron Wen

    Yep Arthur, I’ve got a ToEat list (in addition to my ToDo list but way more fun) but thankfully I rarely run into duds. But yeah, totally agree on the price, it’s not hard to deliver a great experience when you charge a lot but those gems that are reasonably priced? Awesome.

    Out of curiosity, what’s on your ToEat list and what’s on the “I’m never going back in a million years” list?

  3. Bukko Canukko

    Hey Ron, thanks for the perspective. I like Urbanspoon because it’s got a cleaner look to the pages than Yelp, and many of the people who write reviews seem more food-focused than Yelp. Reading Yelp reviews, I get the feeling there are a lot of participants who are mainly trying to show off their (wished-for) writing chops, or demonstrate how kewl their ‘tude is. Not to say Urbanspoon isn’t full of one-hit blunders spitting out a mouthful of sour grapes too. But the percentage of people with worthwhile things to say about a restaurant (especially the blogger contributors) seems higher on US than Y. I also appreciate the background on CitySearch and Chowhound, site of which I had little awareness. And I like to be aware of everything.

    I’m not one of those overlappers. I have a life and a job, and I waste too much time at during both of them on Urbanspoon. (I have so much slack when I’m working on the psych ward, especially on the 12-hour midnight shifts. I love my job!) Futzing around with more than one restaurant site, or a personal blog, that would eat up too much of what’s real in life.

    Let me add that I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of your reviews and comments on Urbanspoon. You remind me a of a lot of the smart, hip black dudes I knew when I was growing up in Maryland and other southern states where my dad got stationed on Army bases. Guys like you were always so much smoother than us “two-left-feet” honkies.

  4. Ron Wen

    Hey Bukko, thanks for checking out the post and yeah, I partially agree with you that some reviewers on Yelp are more about showing off versus reviewing but they’ve got so many reviews, you can normally find pretty useful info still. I do think Urbanspoon is a bit more consistent but in my area, they tend to be more suburban and less likely to review the restaurants that get me excited.

    Haha, first time I’ve been compared to a hip black dude but appreciate the compliment!

  5. Ln Chang

    Wow, I’ve always suspected that most Asians are obsessed with food, but the Quantcast Demographics on higher-than-average use of the sites by Asians says it all! We sure love our food!

    1. Ron Wen

      Haha, well of course Ellen! It’s pretty much above average across all those boards. We be skinny but eat like fat people…

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