Someone I know claims that search engines like Google have trouble with fonts that aren't the old standard fonts of yesteryear, resulting in pages not getting parsed by search spiders, and that to be on the safe side SEO wise I should stick with the standbys like Arial. A quick google search for 'search engines can't read fonts' yielded zilch. Do search engine spiders actually ignore text formatted with fonts they do not recognize?
Yes and no, he's conflating two different things.
In late 90's/early 2000's, when designers needed to use fonts for design reasons, they embedded graphics files in HTML pages. Search engines cannot understand these, nor can the screen readers used by blind and partially sighted people. This is because the only HTML code in the page for a menu link, for example, would be something like
which is meaningless to a robot that at the time could only decipher plain old HTML, ignoring the CSS and tags. The fix in that era was to write the code like this
and use CSS like this
to shift the text out of the part of the page visible to a sighted user. This meant that search engines would get the information they needed to understand the context of the link without interrupting the visual.
These days you can use technologies like embedded fonts or Google Web Fonts to augment your designs. These render parts of text from the HTML document as an anti-aliased font, but leave the HTML code intact, therefore search engines (and screen readers), can parse the text.
Overall he's wrong on both counts, provided the relevant textual information is available in plain text HTML search engines will understand your page and links - the fonts/graphics are immaterial.
He's also wrong about the groups (from the sound of it he's a blow hard) anyone with access to Google can figure this out.
Search engines don't read fonts. They don't "see" pages. They read text. They read semantic markup. They try to find relationships. Fonts are completely useless and irrelevant to them.