When I ask someone their opinion about food, they either say "I recommend it" or "I don't." This "boolean answer" (yes/no, I agree/I don't, recommend/don't recommend) is normally given if I ask questions about food, movies, or any other consumable (media or otherwise).

If that seems to be the trend, why does Yelp have a star rating? Why not a "200 recommend this" and "5 do not recommend this?" Is it that a star rating allows people to go into detail? The issue I have with this, is that you're ultimately trying to get a recommendation (or not) from a peer so a star rating seems detached from that.

I guess my question is: Why is it that there are still star ratings on consumables when ultimately the user is looking for a boolean answer, and why isn't that being reflected in a more boolean like rating system?

  • 1
    I don't have an answer, but an anecdote supporting your question. When I caught an uber recently, we were talking about ratings and the driver said that if their rating falls below something like 4.4, they get pulled up and asked why. So any rating that's not a 5 is effectively a negative rating! It is crazy.
    – A. Sim
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 22:28
  • It's actually anything below a 4.7 (or close to that) - I actually had the very same conversation with a friend on Friday @A.Sim!
    – UXerUIer
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 22:29
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    Plenty of things (including questions and answers on this very site) use an upvote/downvote scoring system. I guess the problem is nuance. How do I differentiate between something I like and something I love using a single upvote?
    – Kit Grose
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 10:43
  • youtube was a pretty big deal when it moved from points to booleans. maybe try searching around for their research leading up to this? would be surprised if there arent a few articles Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 11:25
  • related: ux.stackexchange.com/q/87001/13161 Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 15:30

4 Answers 4


I am going to give an indirect answer, but hopefully it will be explanatory.

Imagine if Amazon used the Boolean system and you searched for the item you want to buy. Which should you get?:

  1. Item #1 - 89x👍, 33x👎
  2. Item #2 - 113x👍, 73x👎
  3. Item #3 - 66x👍, 73x👎
  4. Item #4 - 7x👍, 1x👎


  1. Item #1 - 4.9⭐️
  2. tem #2 - 4.5⭐️
  3. Item #3 - 3.0⭐️
  4. Item #4 - Not enough reviews

One is easier to determine when given 4 options, much less 400 options. I'll leave it up to personal opinions to judge which one is better for a lot of side by side reviews.

  • That's an interesting perspective, where looking at something that could have 200 thumbs up and 200 thumbs down, right next to 200 thumbs up and 2 down. But maybe in this case it should read "this product is highly recommended," instead of the actual numbers?
    – UXerUIer
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 23:48
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    But also the other thing: what's a 3 star? Is that good or bad? I've read that some people interpret it as good while others say it's bad.
    – UXerUIer
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 23:48
  • @Majo0od Perhaps, but I'm intentionally not speculating or giving my personal opinion. I am just presenting a side by side example that may lead the user to prefer the 5 star system over the Boolean system, to address your original question. "This product is highly recommended" sounds like a supplemental rating, opposed to a rating in itself, in my opinion.
    – Evorlor
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 23:52
  • 1
    @Majo0od wether a 3 star is bad or good depends on the other options users would have. It's all relative.
    – Martyn
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 10:52
  • 4
    Boolean results can easily be displayed as a star rating or a percent rating (like Rotten Tomatoes), etc.
    – orokusaki
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 4:46

I would suggest the reason star systems are used to determine rating in cases where compromise due to financial/other factors is a given.

For example if one night at a 5 star hotel costs 1000$ and a night at a 3 star hotel costs 150$,the consumer might conclude that

The lower rating perpetually to the price is worth it.

Obviously most hotels and restaurants are not rated by private people,but that does not matter in this case of yelp reviews.

In addition since things are not black and white - not all things are perfect 5 stars and not all things are horrible 0 stars.

Take for example the youtube video rating system. Back in youtube's inception in 2005- a star rating system was used to rate videos,this was later changed since videos were not that meaningful-and watching a 3 star video does not really suggest compromise over just prejudgment and lower expectations,both factors which not matter in such an environment.

Everything has a place,but most commonly star rating systems have a financial reason tied to their implementation.


I think your premise is debatable, users aren't looking for boolean answers, but guidance (ok, sometimes users want to lean on peer pressure to make decisions, but I'm talking about your case). This happens for many different reasons, and there are arguments for both user sides: restaurant owners and restaurant consumers. The list of reasons is quite long, and of course, supposed since I'm not associated to Yelp, but in general, reasons to do this include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • avoid negativity
  • easier to implement scaling
  • better scanning
  • ability to measure qualitative factors in a quantitative way
  • less friction and stress on user

To better understand the above points, you should take a look to Semantic Differentail, Likert Scale, Close Ended questions, Yes/No questions, VAS and many more psychometrical and semiotic tools. As you may see, this is not a simple question and depending on your needs and user research, you may need different tools, which in turn will provide different results and approaches.

Please note that even though a star rating may look like any other star rating on the surface it may be totally different things depending on implementation, how do you make questions, what questions do you make, what do you want to measure and so on, hence the links to different tools and concepts


In addition to the excellent answers and comments above, I have a few thoughts.

In this answer, I will refer to two user types - the "reviewer" (who is posting reviews) and the "reader" (who is attempting to make a decision based on reviewers' ratings).

Your question considers the reader, but what about the reviewer? A star rating system system allows the reviewer to communicate a certain level of quantitative emotion through a rating system similar to a Likert scale (as @AdrianoRepetti mentioned). Perhaps Yelp evaluates each reviewer's data to provide recommendations to that user (I am not a Yelp user, so I can't say for sure). If this is the case, the star rating may be in place to benefit the reviewer more than the reader.

A star rating does allow a reviewer to add additional detail to a boolean answer. If you were to ask someone if they liked a restaurant, and their reply was "I didn't like it", would you typically ask them why? Does a star rating system allow the reviewer to indirectly answer "why", i.e. 2/5 stars is the equivalent to "I didn't like this restaurant, but I have had worse, so this restaurant is acceptable if you are in a pinch"? This interpretation of 2/5 stars is highly subjective, but the general idea could be generalized. The reader can interpret the reviewer's attitude without having to review any qualitative comments.

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