Depending on where you live, you may have come across that restaurant, tavern, or coffee shop that seems to be challenging the rules around COVID-19 mitigation. Perhaps they are letting people sit inside when only outdoor dining is allowed. Or maybe they’re being very lax about mask usage among patrons, or even staff.
Most of us likely shrug these observations off. Maybe some of us make a point to dine elsewhere. Perhaps others would like some way short of calling the police to hold these establishments accountable.
Beginning last week, Yelp has stepped in with a solution. The reviews site is applying crowdsourcing to identifying how well businesses are complying with COVID safety guidelines. Yelp wants to allow consumers to look for COVID-safe businesses just as they might look for spots that are “kid-friendly.”
In a company blog post, Yelp wrote the following.
“Starting today, Yelp will display if users observed, or did not observe, the enforcement of social distancing and staff wearing masks. We know many businesses are prioritizing the health and safety of their customers. This new update further highlights how businesses have adapted to keep their customers safe, and aims to instill confidence in consumers to continue supporting local businesses.”
In addition, Yelp has made it possible for merchants to feature new health and safety offerings like “heated outdoor seating,” “1:1 sessions available,” and “disposable or contactless menu.”
A Balancing Act
Yelp has a balancing act to play here. It needs to give consumers tools to choose which businesses are safe to patronize. It also needs to show merchants that it supports them as they struggle to keep their doors open during a pandemic that has decimated small businesses.
The company does appear to be sensitive to the potential for criticism that it’s making things tougher on businesses. It notes in the post that it has removed about 4,000 reviews since it imposed new rules last year on what reviewers can say about a business during COVID. Prohibited content includes the following. Accusing a business of spreading COVID. Complaining about masking and other safety requirements. Pointing out that a business is not maintaining its pre-COVID schedule.
It will be interesting to see how much consumers lean into policing COVID safety measures on Yelp. We imagine it will vary based on the current local severity of COVID. Not to mention it will depend on how stringent local regulations are regarding masks, indoor dining, and so on. Finally, it may vary based on the local political climate or the level of pandemic fatigue.
Unafraid to Take a Stand
Yelp has been showing us lately that it is unafraid to wade into current events and take a stand. Last year, the company provided a reporting mechanism for businesses engaging in racist or discriminatory behavior. This move, made in the wake of a summer of unrest over police violence, also ran the risk of upsetting merchants fearing unfair accusations. Or, perhaps, fearing accurate ones.
After all, an accusation of racism could potentially destroy a business. An accusation of poor COVID safety practices could be similarly damaging. So it’s very important that any accusation be true. Thus far, the racism policy doesn’t appear to have been misused. So perhaps we should have confidence this will also be the case for the new practice around COVID safety.