According to Seamless, a cheap Chinese restaurant called Friend House has the best food in midtown Manhattan with a five-star ratingafter nearly 1,200 reviews.
According to Yelp, Friend House is one of the city’s worst restaurants with only one-and-a-half stars after 27 reviews.
This kind of discrepancy is fairly common, and it’s widely agreed that Yelp has better ratings. That’s because Yelp, a crowd-based guide to local businesses, requires users to post a review along with a rating and analyses those reviews to weed out fakes, while Seamless, a restaurant delivery service, allows ratings not accompanied with reviews and generally seems behind the curve in spotting fakes.
Ratings on Seamless and sister site GrubHub (which bought Seamless in 2013) are so unreliable that savvy users know to cross-check them on services like Yelp.
“Do not be fooled by the seamless reviews,” Yelper Jane C. wrote about Friend House in February. “The food is edible, but barely…I didn’t experience the food poisoning but I really wish I took a peek at the yelp reviews before ordering from here.”
“Yeah this was not good. Serves me right for trusting Seamless star rankings instead of Yelp,” Yelper Abby B. wrote about Friend House in December.
Even on Seamless, most of the actual reviews are negative.
“How does this place have such great reviews?,”
Melissa A. wrote on Seamless in February. “I’ve tried ordering twice — both times it took an hour and a half, and the food was greasy and mushy and tasteless.”
We first wrote about bad Seamless ratings in 2012 after flagging the strangely high ratings of Shinju III, which Seamless communications director Kelsey O’Neal Flittner said were “suspicious” and would be reviewed. Three years later, however, this Brooklyn sushi joint still sports a 5-star rating based on hundreds of anonymous ratings.
Reader Alex V. emailed recently to complain about ratings in the Financial District: “Looks like Seamless did not fix anything. This is still a problem and looks like it’s done by predominantly Chinese run businesses (most of the Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese and of course Chinese places on Seamless).”
The highest-rated options in his neighbourhood include Famous Sichuan, Aki Sushi 2, and Accord Asian Cuisine, all with 5-star ratings based on around 1,000 mostly anonymous ratings. Those same restaurants are rated much lower on Yelp at 3.5, 2, and 1.5 stars.
Yelpers have commented on these discrepancies, too.
“Really terrible sushi and it was kind of expensive too,” Elite Yelper Yoonie Y. wrote about Aki Sushi 2 in August. “I have no idea why the reviews on Seamless are so great, but I would not order from this place again.”
“My boyfriend ordered from this sushi place for the first time — beware on seamless it has great reviews for this sushi place BUT it was HIS mistake for not checking in with YELP! HELLLOO doesnt he know to always double check — it would have warned him never to order here with the 21/2 star!” Yelper Liz S wrote about Aki Sushi 2 in April 2014.
Despite their crappy rating system, Seamless and Grubhub are growing rapidly, currently filling around 200,000 orders every day in America. For young urban professionals with more money to spare than time, online ordering is so much easier than calling, not to mention cooking, that they are willing to deal with the flaws of the system.
Seamless claims to be fixing its ratings. Since the company merged with GrubHub, only users who order from a restaurant are invited to rate it, which wasn’t the case previously, according to public relations director Abby Hunt. Additionally, the company has launched investigations into suspicious accounts.
“We take this very seriously, and if we determined there was fraudulent activity that would be misleading to diners, we would close the account,” Hunt said.
For reasons the company couldn’t explain, some restaurants currently have different ratings in different places on Seamless. For instance, Akimoto Sushi had 5 stars on the regular Seamless website; but only 4 stars when appearing in search pages on a newer version of Seamless that has rolled out to some users; and only 3 stars on the restaurant page on the new version of Seamless. This pattern, which we saw multiple times, could be viewed either as another way Seamless ratings are screwed up or as evidence of an incipient shift to a better system.
Even while Seamless develops a better system, it may be a while before its ratings are trustworthy.
“If they’re just loading new verified reviews in a system that already has sham reviews, then it’s still a problem and it might take a while for the verified reviews to eclipse the sham reviews,” says online consumer behaviour expert Bill Tancer, author of “Everyone’s a Critic: Winning Customers in a Review-Driven World.”
For now GrubHub Seamless users should be on the lookout for shady reviews and be ready to cross-check them with a better ratings source like Yelp or even old-fashioned worth of mouth.