Please Yelp Me: How Restaurant Reviews Have Grown Considerably Thanks to the Digital Era

Out of the last 40 pictures on my IPhone’s camera roll, 30 of them are of food.  While this may sound excessive to some, it’s actually normal for my phone to have this many food pictures.   To some extent, this is because I am a self-proclaimed foodie, defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a person having an avid interest in the latest food fads.”  This also, however, is due to the ever-changing shift in food culture.  Today, food stands as a global centerpiece, sparking not just the conversation at your dinner table, but also across the digital interface.


Food reviews date back to the 1800s.  In the 19th century, the first book of restaurant recommendations was created by the quintessential first foodie, Grimod de La Rey.  In order to write, “L’Almanach des Gourmands,” Grimod invited chefs  to cook for him as well as twelve of his luckiest friends to try and rate different meals.  Once finished, Grimod compiled all of their opinions into a concise restaurant review and published it for the world to read.  Grimod’s remarks sparked an ever-growing conversation about food, and expanded the power of word of mouth.  Over the course of eight years, Grimod published eight works–  detailing his experiences to his readers, while making or breaking the reputations of restaurants in his town.

Fast forward over 100 years, and American companies began to respond to the trend.  In 1957, The New York Times was the first newspaper in the United States to publish a restaurant review section, and in 1980 Zagat became the first restaurant-review system to focus on customers’ experiences.


While the NY Times and Zagat reviews seem fairly similar to the work of Grimod, the era of food-reviews greatly expanded in 2004 with the creation of Yelp: a website created to connect consumers with local businesses based soley on people’s opinions and reviews.

How does Yelp Work? After going to a restaurant, Yelp enables customers to rate and write about their experience. Because of this, restaurants can no longer prepare for a food critic’s visit.  Yelp reviews keep restaurant owners on their toes, as they are forced to treat every customer as if they were a restaurant critic.  As little as one bad review can have detrimental effects on a restaurant’s image, as a result of the growing social network.

In addition to this, the strategies restaurants use to target customers has completely changed.  In 2014, Yelp introduced Yelp Elite, a selective program that offers their best commentators invitations to try new restaurants in exchange for writing a review.  Through this program, new restaurants are given the opportunity to invite Yelp Elite reviewers to try their food and write about it online.  The premise of this new program is to expand new restaurants’ networks and to grow their reputations for future customers on


In addition to Yelp, other social media platforms, particularly Instagram, have shifted the way restaurants connect with their consumers.  See the examples below to find out how restaurants are doing this.

1.  Many restaurants are incorporating social-media directly into their stores by having features that encourage customers to post about their expeimg_8909.pngrience on their personal accounts.

The Magnum Ice Cream Shop located in New York City is a perfect example. As soon as you walk in your eyes are met with eye-catching design, which includes four social media booths made specifically to take a picture of your customized ice-cream bar.  By simply making the process of taking an Instagram-worthy photo easy for customers, the Magnum Ice Cream shop has capitalized on the digital age and created a relatively free advertising campaign.  It can be found under the hashtag, #MagnumNYC, that the Magnum Ice Cream shop has had over 12,390 Instagram posts taken from their store– and those are just the posts that have no privacy settings.


2.  Restaurants collaborate with popular Instagram accounts to publicize special, limited-edition items.

Popular dessert store DŌ (known for their scoops of gourmet, edible cookie dough in New York City) recently worked with the Instagram account @new_fork_city on their July flavor of the month “The Frosted Fork.”   Under this collaboration, DŌ and @new_fork_city created a contest to incentivize customers to purchase and post DŌ’s flavor of the month.  Through this collaboration, DO was able to target @New_fork_city’s 853,000 followers, prompting many of them to try out the new flavor before the month was up.

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3. Restaurants sponsor food accounts to post pictures from their restaurants to attract customers, especially on national food holidays.img_8910.png

The well-known mexican restaurant, Dos Toros, paid @nyceeeeeats to post a picture of one of their tacos for National Guacamole Day.  By doing this, Dos Toros was on all of @nyceeeeeats 330,000 followers’ news feeds, strategically making them crave that exact taco (pictured to the right) on their way home from work.



Personally, I have seen the influence that Instagram has had on the restaurant industry through my food Instagram account @food__city that I manage with my friends.  Often when my friends and I post a photo, followers tag their friends in the comment section with responses such as “@jillian next stop!!” (see below) Through the simple act of posting a picture, the restaurants we post from gain new customers when followers simply scroll across our feed.   In addition to this, I can attest to the fact that whenever my friends and I look for new restaurants to try, we always scroll through our favorite food accounts to gain inspiration and recommendations.

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On another note, this past summer my friends and I were able to learn about the growing trend of Instagram sponsorship when the company Social Native emailed us to collaborate on different advertising campaigns for products such as Hershey’s Chocolate and Lay’s Potato Chips.


It is safe to say that through the door of our seemingly small food account, our eyes have been opened to the new age of digital marketing.

While you initially may have thought that the amount of food photos on my phone was crazy, I hope you now can understand why I have more pictures of food on my phone than I have of my friends.  With every food picture I take, I do so with the motivation that our food account will continue to grow to one day be at the level of accounts such as @new_fork_city.  Now, more than ever, people rely on social media for opinions on where they should eat, and @food__city is joining in on that trend. We may only have 2,250 followers to date, but I am confident that one day @food__city may turn my passion for food into a part-time career.






  1. britt_hopkins4 · ·

    I love this post! I am an avid follower of @new_fork_city and am totally guilty of half of my Instagram explore page being food. I even wrote one of my college essays entirely on chocolate souffle. I had no clue about the history behind restaurant critiques and that it went back so far. I was definitely entertained and intrigued throughout the entire post. Followed your Instagram and I’m looking forward to seeing the posts!

  2. clairemmarvin · ·

    This was a super interesting read, especially because one of my cousins just recently posted on Facebook that she was invited to become a part of the Yelp Elite! I love food Instagram accounts and admittedly have gone to several restaurants solely based on photos of the food that have popped up on my feed. You are so fortunate to be able to be able to start seeing the business from the other side too and can understand the true incentives and work that goes into creating that candid-seeming food Instagram post. I wish you the best of luck with your account and hope to see a featured post pop up on my newsfeed from you soon!

  3. mattwardbc · ·

    I am definitely a foodie as well, and I love how through social media food is another way to connect with people with various interests. One person who I always think of as mastering Social Media and food is Rapper Action Bronson, who started a web show that has developed into a TV series and he just released his first book. He really has developed a career beyond rap based off of food.

  4. sherricheng5 · ·

    I loved this post! As a foodie myself, I am an avid follower of SO many food accounts on Instagram. If I am visiting a new city, I always turn to Instagram for some food inspiration. Yelp is also one of my most used apps on my phone. It’s great whenever I need a new restaurant to go to with my friends and family, or if I am trying to look for something specific to satisfy my cravings. I think social media and digital business has definitely impacted the food industry! Businesses are turning less to traditional advertisements and more to social media platforms. Good luck with your food account- I’ll be sure to follow it on Instagram!!

  5. Hilary_Gould · ·

    I really liked this post!! I was surprised to learn that Magnum ice cream has a whole section of its shop dedicated to people taking pictures of their custom treats– but maybe that’s why I’ve seen so many pictures of my friends ice cream! To me, it seems like-at least to a certain extent- the presentation of the food is becoming even more important. Obviously, restaurants hope that you are posting and writing positive things about their restaurants and I know for myself the ones that are displayed in a unique way definitely catch my attention. Sometimes I do wonder if the taste is being sacrificed or even just discounted when I’m scrolling through some food posts. I guess it’s an interesting concept because you’re “eating with your eyes”, but the hope is that you’ll be tempted to try to actual food. As someone who loves looking at food pictures and relies heavily on sites like Yelp, Zagat and Trip Advisor for restaurant reviews, I really enjoyed reading your post!

  6. kaitlinardiff · ·

    I love this post! I also have a food Instagram and have always thought it was so fun to post the pictures and see which accounts will reach out. A local bagel store in my town always offers me a free bagel sandwich whenever I post a picture, and I can definitely say it’s one of the perks. I think restaurants are really into targeting the college demographic, also. I’m a part of Spoon University, and multiple restaurants, such as Boston Burger Co. and Pressed Juicery, have reached out asking us to write articles to increase publicity for them. During our time in college, there’s no better time to reach a network of people than when we’re constantly surrounded by fellow students. A fun experiment might be to post a picture on Instagram to see if that would snag a deal for when it’s your turn to bring snacks!

  7. juliabrodigan · ·

    Love this post! Food Instagrams are my favorite accounts to follow. They are so fun! I always find new restaurants and food places to go from Instagram. If I see a picture of a food item that looks delicious, I will send it to all of my friends and say that we NEED to go there. Also, I think that Yelp! plays a large role in the success and popularity of a restaurant. If I am going to a nice restaurant, I always almost look up Yelp! reviews and pictures before I go. If the reviews are not great than I tend to change my reservation and go somewhere else. Yelp! plays a large role in many businesses popularity.

  8. Nice post. The use of food images on social media has been both a positive and a negative (i.e. the critique on Twitter is that “why do I need to know what someone had for lunch.”) Yet, the Tasty videos from a year or so ago showed that people do like food images and videos.

  9. Anna Copman · ·

    Great post, Alyssa! Thanks for the brief history of restaurant critiques- I thought that aspect of the blog was really interesting. Very fascinating to see how much the restaurant review process has not only changed in an of itself over the years, but how it has completely changed the way restaurants have to market themselves. Like you mentioned this is a fundamental change on all levels- from management to attention to customer service to, most relevantly, how the food looks. Due to instagram and blogger influence, restaurants actually have focus on the aesthetic of the food just as much (if not maybe more so) than the taste. Pretty disruptive.

  10. Yvette Zhou · ·

    The post is already an ad I think! Now I just want to follow your food account on Instagram ! The brief history of restaurant critiques is very interesting and the introduction of different digital marketing methods used by restaurant blowed my mind. No doubt that social media has made restaurants think about new marketing strategies and attract new “foodies” more easily. But the last method that restaurants sponsor food account is risky for that if the food is not good in the restaurant, customers might doubt the food account and transfer their unsatisfactory to the food account from the restaurant. (cause they might forget the restaurant very quickly but they have followed the food account for a long time). I have heard several comments about Yelp saying that the reviews on Yelp are less accurate than before. In the end, hope your food account will get more and more popular!

  11. This post was very enjoyable! First, I really liked how you talked about how reviewing food is nothing new. I think people often forget that although the internet is fairly new, the things it does (or facilitates) is not. Secondly, I really liked how you gave first hand experience to something I see everyday. You really added a lot of insight and kept the blog very interesting!

  12. How do you feel about times when people use reviews as a political tool, when people aren’t necessarily commenting on the food itself?

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