The global pandemic caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) that has impacted nearly every corner of the world and disrupted daily life has been especially hard on independent local businesses. Main street businesses are such an important part of who we are as a country. They play an integral role in our economy and our society – and right now they are struggling. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has led to critical social-distancing measures that are keeping people homebound in an effort to flatten the curve. While those efforts are incredibly important for the greater good, these sudden changes in consumer behavior have had a devastating impact on local businesses, particularly restaurants and bars. Our data shows that over the past week, U.S. consumer interest for restaurants has fallen by 54%, and for nightlife businesses by 69%.
To get through this challenging and uncertain time, it’s important that we all come together as a community — from corporations to organizations and government entities — to support one another, and to help lift those hit hardest by the impact of this pandemic. And we want to do our part to help.
Relief for Affected Businesses
Today, we’re announcing $25 million in relief, primarily focused on supporting independent local restaurant and nightlife businesses, in the form of waived advertising fees, and free advertising, products and services, during this period. As part of this relief effort, restaurants and nightlife businesses that remain open will receive free access to Yelp page upgrades, including Business Highlights and Call To Action, as well as Connect, which will help them communicate timely information to their customers. Restaurants will also receive three months of free access to Yelp Reservations and Waitlist. For restaurant clients that offer delivery and/or takeout, we’ll provide $100 in free search advertising. In addition to waiving advertising fees for independent restaurant and nightlife clients during this period when they’ve been most impacted, we’re also offering support for independent local advertisers in other categories that are struggling to pay their bills during this difficult time.
More details on our restaurant and nightlife business relief program can be found here. We’re continuing to explore ways we can do more to support local businesses, and our teams are also working with our regional and national clients to ensure we are supporting them during this period.
We would also like to make it easy for Yelp users to support local businesses they love, and we hope to share more on those plans in the coming weeks.*
Helping Local Communities Stay Connected
We’re continuously evaluating new product features to support local businesses and the needs of our users during this period of social-distancing. In the coming days and weeks you can expect a handful of new free features that will help local businesses stay connected with their customers.
Next week, a “contact-free” delivery option will be added during the delivery checkout process, directly in the Yelp app, through our partnership with Grubhub. This feature will be available in both the Yelp iOS and Android apps. We’re also building new functionality that enables business owners to easily indicate if they’re only open for delivery and takeout.
We know businesses of all kinds are having to adapt and make rapid changes. To help businesses communicate with their customers we’re creating a banner alert that can be placed on their business page with a message to their customers. Businesses will also be able to indicate if they’re temporarily closed or have adjusted their hours.
As many businesses transition to a virtual or online service model, we’ll soon be releasing new service offering selections for businesses to indicate if they offer virtual consultations, classes, tours, shows and performances, along with search functionality that will make these virtual services easy for people to find. Most businesses that offer a virtual service – such as yoga classes, therapy sessions, tax services, or tutoring sessions – will be able to let people know that they’re still open for business and available to the consumers that rely on their services.
We’re dedicated to listening to the needs of our users and customers, and will continue to create new ways for people to stay connected to their communities during this unprecedented situation.
Ensuring Trusted Content for Business Owners and Consumers
We’ve also implemented special review content guidelines to protect local businesses from reputational harm related to these extraordinary circumstances. For example, we have zero tolerance for any claims in reviews of contracting COVID-19 from a business or its employees, or negative reviews about a business being closed during what would be their regular open hours in normal circumstances. Reviews flagged by the community will be evaluated by our human content moderators to ensure they comply with our content guidelines, including reflecting a first-hand experience. Content that does not meet these standards will be removed and not count toward a business’s star rating.
Focusing on Our Yelp Employees Around the World
To maintain the health and safety of our employees and the communities in which we work, and to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19, we have mandated that employees in all of our offices worldwide work from home during this period. We owe a huge thanks to our IT team, which ran at full steam to equip the thousands of employees who were working on desktops with laptops and other equipment in a single week. It was a heavy lift, but critical to enable as many people as possible to work from home. We’re also continuing to pay our service workers in our extended workforce for their regular working hours while their schedules may be impacted due to reduced staffing needs.
Thanks to all of our users, customers, partners, and especially to our employees, who have been nimble throughout this process and are continuing to work tirelessly to support our community of users and businesses.
This is the beginning of our effort to respond to the impact of this pandemic, and we plan to continue to explore different ways to address the challenges faced by our community. As we navigate these uncharted waters together we’ll continue to keep you updated with new developments.
*On March 24, Yelp, in partnership with GoFundMe, announced a new, fast and simple way for independent businesses to accept donations through their Yelp pages. Learn more here.