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Pete Wells Probes Yelp For Help, He Says

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He’s a restaurant critic at the Times

Yelp Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

Pete Wells, restaurant critic at the storied Times, absolutely thinks user-generated review website Yelp is a useful way to examine restaurants. Despite Yelp’s reputation in the culinary world as being filled with misinformed amateur critics, Wells says in a personal tech column at the Times that he looks at the site a lot because he’s “convinced there’s valuable information in there.”

In fact, people posting reviews to restaurants serving Asian cuisine might be the food experts Wells relies on as a starting basis of information. It’s not that Yelp isn’t without its issues, he notes, but he finds some of the reviews helpful for his work as a restaurant critic at the paper of record.

The basic problem is that Yelp was built to reward frequent posting rather than knowledge or insight or expertise. And yet there are people on Yelp who know a lot about food and eat around and have a pretty solid basis for comparison. I find that Yelp is most useful with Korean, Chinese and Japanese food, because, for a number of reasons, there tend to be a lot of Yelpers who know those cuisines pretty well.

In the column, Wells also notes his job has become easier since people started taking photos at restaurants. Now, he’s less self-conscious about snapping his own food porn for note taking. And although the internet makes it very easy to find his photo online — just Google “Pete Wells” — Wells says most of the time he’s recognized, it’s because somebody recognizes from previously serving him. “I don’t get caught by technology; I get caught by human memory.”