The Old and the New: An Empy Restaurant and Yelp

The other day I was confronted by competing social signals: one old and one new.  I was visiting Santa Barbara with my family and, due to a comedy of errors, we ended up not having found a restuant at dinner time.  Needing to find one quickly, we looked on Yelp and discovered a four star restaurant, with a significant number of reviews, nearby.

When we drove up to the restaurant, however, we questioned our choice.  It was 7:30 on a Friday night, but the restaurant was completely empty.  No one was inside, except for the staff.  That did not seem like a good sign.  Still, given the lateness of the hour and the 4 star review, we decided, with some hesitancy, to sit down.  The waitress assured us that they had a great chef.

We realized that we were facing two conflicting signals.  The old signal was the number of people in a place.  If no one was there, it was likely to be a bad place.  The new signal was the rating on Yelp.  Four stars suggested the food was good.

How did things turn out?  The food was great.  Much better than we expected.  Our faith in the internet and the new information technology was confirmed.  At the end of the meal, after complimenting the food, we asked the waitress where everybody was (as we were still the only customers).  She had no explanation.  She just didn’t know.  Nor did we.