Finding A Place To Eat In The Tech Bubble

Observations March 7, 2014 9:02 am

Yelp recently published a ‘Top 100 Places to Eat‘ in America list, with a small local seafood shack in Hawaii, not a top-rated, five star restaurant stealing the headline.

On first glance, the list looks refreshing and new- places people actually eat! Entrees under $25! The quirky local haunt! Yelp pats itself on the back for its data analysis:

How’d we make a list so all-encompassing? We dug in to our wealth of rich data to see what the numbers told us about which places Yelpers really love. Engineers on Yelp’s data mining team used a technique based on the Wilson Score to compile a list of highly rated places to eat. This method takes into account both star rating and number of reviews to reveal which spots not only have top notch ratings, but also which are most popular in the Yelp community.

Most popular in the Yelp community. Although Yelp has been an extremely successful startup, taking a closer look at the restaurants on the list shows just how insular that community really is on a national scale:

Nearly half of all of the top 100 restaurants are in California, and only 19 states in total are represented. Not surprisingly, Yelp was started in California. This next chart will give you a clue as  to where Yelp is headquartered:

Only fifteen cities on Yelp’s list had more than one top restaurant make the list, and by Yelp’s standards, San Francisco and New York are decidedly the best cities to grab a bite to eat in the United States. I’m not arguing that isn’t true- San Francisco and New York do have their fair share of great restaurants, but their #1 and #2 rank on the list highlight Yelp’s stronghold in tech-forward cities. If you take a look at other restaurant rankings like those by Zagat or Travel & Leisure, cities like New Orleans, LA, Charleston, SC, or Atlanta, GA are heavily featured as great foodie spots. But on Yelp’s list, not a single restaurant in any of these states are listed.

Austin’s rank as the 3rd best city on Yelp’s list further validates this point (hello SXSW), and highlights the relatively small impact Yelp has had outside of the tech community. Just like I wrote a few months ago (ironically for a SXSW pitch), more people are likely to have watched American Idol last week than know about your startup if you’re not in San Fran, NYC, or Austin.

If you live in NYC, San Fran, or even Austin, and work in advertising or tech, it’s hard to remind ourselves that we live in a bubble. We’re tapped into the latest innovations and trends (and for some, like me, it’s a full-time job), but we need to remember that this isn’t a way of life for the majority of Americans. Something that seems so ubiquitous as Yelp to us hasn’t trickled down to less tech-forward cities yet, and probably won’t for a few years.

Yelp’s Top 100 Restaurants List is a great reminder of the extremely long runway new services and products face before they are adopted as a household name. Now to find a place to eat in my  hometown of Florence, SC…

*combined to account for San Francisco restaurants + South San Francisco restaurants

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