How Race influences Yelp Reviews

A recent study by Sharon Zurkin, Laurie Hurson, and Scarlett Lindeman at CUNY examines the language of Yelp restaurant reviews in gentrifying neighborhoods. The study finds that race factors heavily into user’s perceptions and descriptions of businesses. More than 7,000 restaurant reviews in Bedford Stuyvesant, and Greenpoint were examined. The sample set was selected consisting of trendier restaurants that have opened since 2005, along with the “top ten” best reviewed restaurants in the local area.

The authors focused on 1,056 reviews that mention the neighborhood: 720 Bed-Stuy and 336 Greenpoint. Reviews of the “trendier” restaurants were three times as likely to contain some mention of the neighborhood itself. The uneven breakdown lead authors to conclude that reviewers draw attention to neighborhoods when the majority of the residents are of black race.

Reviewers also tend to describe Greenpoint’s ethnic restaurants in a more positive light than they do historically black restaurants in Bed-Stuy. Polish restaurants in Greenpoint are described as “authentic” and “cozy,” while those in Bed-Stuy are described as “sketchy.”However, trendier restaurants in Bed-Stuy include more positive reviews.

Authors conclude that while reviewers want to preserve Greenpoint’s ethnic white restaurants, Bed-Stuy’s case is “discursive redlining” that contributes to gentrification.

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