Japan’s well established premier restaurant review website, with more than 60 million users every month, Tabelog has now also been helping food lovers discover the best dining experiences across the US through its customer-generated advice, discussion and feedback for over three years.
From food stalls for the frugal to fine Michelin-starred fare to everything in between, food fans in Japan have been enthusiastically sharing their eatery experiences across the country on tabelog.com for more than a decade and made it the largest restaurant-review website in the country.
The popularity of the lively online community for food lovers even caught the attentions of Yelp, with the Co-founder and CEO of the US-based review site Jeremy Stoppelman previously expressing interest in buying Tabelog, but whose Founder and President Minoru Tanaka declined the offer.
Tabelog was founded in Tokyo in 2005 by its parent company, Kakaku.com, a price comparison website mainly focused on electrical goods, which also has travel website 4travel.jp and movie info resource eiga.com to its credit. The name Tabelog was inspired by a fusion of eating and writing, and is a portmanteau of the Japanese word “taberu”, meaning “to eat” and the word “blog”. It has since become by far the most popular restaurant review website in Japan, with member numbers and subscription fees paid by restaurants increasing year on year, and in March 2013 the company launched its New York website to target the high-priority US market.
“Currently, in terms of Tabelog’s sales, 100% of the sales are currently generated from the domestic services here in Japan. But we have opened an office in New York, so we are starting to provide services in the US,” explains Mr Tanaka, who became president in June 2006 and was influential in boosting the company’s market value sevenfold to ¥394.5 billion in his first eight years at the helm.
Highly popular with consumers, he goes on to say that at times not all parties are so delighted at the website giving customers a transparent platform to voice their experiences, commenting: “Tabelog has a consumer-oriented and consumer-generated type of content. This means that if you look at it from the restaurants’ point of view, in some cases, they might receive harsh comments, which is tough for them to accept, but it is very important for us to let our users express themselves freely to encourage or discourage others regarding the restaurant they have been to.”
Tabelog’s members learn from each other’s experiences and expertise by providing informative reviews of restaurants they’ve visited, and from its ‘Best of the Best’ lists of eateries handpicked by master food critics. Registered users can also manage their own ‘Wish/Went’ lists of their favorite places, and others on their to-do lists. Members can also interact by following their favorite reviewers and receive updates and alerts on the newest trends, along with being able to ‘like’ and add their own comments to reviews.
With its popularity still on the rise, is management chomping at the bit to build on this momentum and take the service into more countries? “It is possible that we will be going into new areas,” says Mr Tanaka, “as long as in that region freedom of speech is guaranteed, and if the penetration of the internet is up to a certain level. Those two elements are essential to us, to provide the best services to our consumers.”