Yelp adds new features to help local businesses survive

Yelp is adding a collection of new features aimed at helping local restaurants and businesses that are struggling due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the company announced today. Alongside the new features, the company has announced a new $25 million relief fund aimed at local businesses, which will offer them free products, and services, and will waive some advertising fees. Moderators will also be cracking down on coronavirus-related misinformation in restaurant reviews.

The platform’s new features are designed to help local businesses operate while obeying the stringent social-distancing guidelines that experts agree are essential to reducing the spread of the virus. First up is a “contact-free” delivery option available through a partnership with Grubhub, similar to what many delivery services have already introduced. It will be available during the checkout process starting next week.

New banner alerts will also be available for businesses, to let their customers know about any closures or adjusted hours. Yelp also says it will introduce new functionality to allow businesses to indicate if they’re open for delivery or takeout, or if they offer virtual services like online consultations, classes, or performances, with the latter now showing up in search. Yelp says it will be introducing the new features “soon.”

The $25 million fund follows a similar announcement from delivery service Grubhub, which said that it would make a $100 million relief program available for restaurants. However, while Yelp is promising to offer free access to some of Yelp’s services, and free search advertising, Grubhub is merely promising to defer collection of its commission fees, meaning restaurants will still need to pay them back at a later date that’s to be determined. Our friends over at Eater have compiled a list of relief funds that are available for restaurants, bars, and food service workers.

Yelp’s data suggests a large increase in the popularity of delivery and take-out.
Image: Yelp

Finally, Yelp also says it’s introducing new review content guidelines relating to COVID-19, and that it has a zero-tolerance policy for any reviews that claim people have contracted the disease as a result of certain restaurants. This has been a problem for Chinese restaurants in particular, as people spread racist rumors that they’re to blame for spreading the virus. Yelp says that human content moderators will examine reviews flagged by the community.

The measures come as local businesses are facing unprecedented challenges brought on by the global pandemic. Yelp says its own data shows that consumer interest in restaurants has fallen by 54 percent, while nightlife businesses have seen a drop of as much as 69 percent. While some businesses will be able to weather the storm by continuing to offer deliveries or other remote services, the existential challenge for others will be very real.

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