20 July 2019 has drawn restaurateurs' ire. Photo: has drawn restaurateurs' ire. Photo:

Online word of mouth sparks food fight

Japan, which boasts more Michelin three-star restaurants than any other country, takes its food seriously.

That’s why Minoru Tanaka has set off a food fight there.

Tanaka is president of the firm that runs, Japan’s largest restaurant review website, offering more than 5.9 million customer reviews of nearly 800,000 eateries.

The site, similar to Hong Kong’s, has infuriated chefs and restaurant owners, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday.

Tabelog has been the target of complaints about unfair reviews, incorrect information and even accused of ruining Japanese cuisine. 

“Tabelog’s anonymous reviews aren’t really different than what’s written on the wall of a bathroom stall,” Hiroshi Narumi, owner of Espresso Factory in Tokyo, told Bloomberg.

“They don’t take any responsibility for what they’ve created or the influence they wield.”

But Tanaka told Bloomberg: “Restaurants and other businesses are at long last being forced to listen to consumers. And they’re finding it disturbing.”

Subscription fees from restaurants are estimated to make up almost 70 percent of Tabelog’s revenue. For a monthly fee of at least 25,000 yen (US$212), the service promotes restaurants in user searches and allows them to edit certain parts of their listings.

Rivals have emerged, looking to emulate Tabelog’s success in Japan’s US$203 billion-a-year dining-out market.

In April, San Francisco-based Yelp Inc. introduced a local-language website focusing on Tokyo and Osaka. Tanaka said Yelp began operating in Japan after he rejected an offer from the US company to buy Tabelog last year.

Tokyo-based startup Retty Inc., which unlike Tabelog requires restaurant reviewers to reveal their identities, has grown fivefold in the past year and said it had more than four million active monthly users in Japan by last month. Retty lists more than 230,000 restaurants throughout the country.

The more diners who put their money where their mouth is, the more these sites take to the bank.

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