There are certain things you only trust based on word-of-mouth. Boyfriends. Restaurants. Hair stylists.
But recently I decided that I was being ridiculous on this last point.
I'm a busy woman, I thought. Surely, there has to be a closer hairdresser to me rather than trekking up to see the man near Columbus Circle who has given me perfect color for many months now. I mean, it's just blonde. Blonde isn't hard. Blonde is as basic as it gets. If you can't do blonde, you've probably moved on to another profession by now.
I opened up my Yelp app, and I looked at hair stylists close to me. One location in particular stood out for a consistently five-star rating. "Great customer service." "Great at color." "Great at cuts." Perfect. This was going to be my new place.
The next day when I arrived at the salon I met my stylist. I showed her pictures of what I wanted the color to be like and she nodded and agreed and started mixing colors. I zoned out and played on my phone while I thought about how spectacular that very first 48 hours is when you have brand new spanking color -- your cheekbones pop, your skin glows, everything just seems a little better.
I was taken over to get my hair washed at the sink, and I enjoyed the massaging fingers in my hair. I love getting my hair done. Sure, I only get it done every three or four months, but when I do, it's such a relaxing treat. Then, I lifted my head up and saw my face in the mirror.
"Oh my God," I said. "You dyed my hair...what color is that even? Gray?"
The hairdresser smiled sheepishly at me and kept saying, "Blonde" over and over as if that could will it so.
I looked at my hair horrified, and I swore to never trust Yelp again. After I ran out of the establishment, I went online, and I saw story after story about Yelp reviews being completely unreliable and small businesses getting shakedowns in order to get good reviews.
When I finally saw my normal hairdresser to apologize for cheating on him, and who I will never abandon again, he actually told me that he has been contacted by Yelp to pay for advertising on the site. He has not. And what do you know -- none of the excellent reviews that his customers tell him they have posted show up on the site. Conversely, when I went to post a bad review on the salon that I went to, the algorithm did the opposite. Because I suppose this place did provide Yelp with whatever they were demanding, and their five-star rating remained in tact.
I called up some friends of mine who also own small businesses and everyone seemed to tell me the same story. Users that had never even been to their establishment wrote these long-winded novellas on the site. One person even told me that he was trying to join the class-action suit against Yelp.
I have no idea what is making the site rotten, but I think it's gross that essentially businesses are getting a phone call saying, "Hey we can make this problem that we created go away with some money." That sounds very extortion-y to me.
I'm now using CitySearch alternatively, and I will never take a five-star review on Yelp to mean anything more than, "I know how to spend advertising dollars."
Overall, my favorite part of the whole getting my hair dyed vomit-y blonde experience, I have to say, was when the errant hairdresser started to lecture me that it was in fact my fault.
"It's your hair," she said.
"My hair? My hair is the problem," I repeated.
"Yes," she said. "Your hair."
I wanted to dye her hair vomit blonde as revenge.
Instead, I was able to salvage it thanks to my usual hairdresser, and ended up spending more money than I ever intended in my effort to save both time and cash by going somewhere closer and cheaper. Lesson learned. Be paranoid about hair.
"Is my hair the problem?" I asked Frederico as he fixed the gray and turned it back to blonde.
"Never," he said, and he smiled brilliantly.
I would write a glowing review about this whole experience online -- but you know what?
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.