This won’t come as a huge surprise to any of you, especially those of you in the restaurant business — or any business, really — but many of the reviews you read on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor aren’t real. I know, it’s like finding out about Santa Claus, right? (You do know about Santa, don’t you?)
Most of us who read crowd-sourced reviews know to take them with the proverbial grain of salt. The most glowing reviews of flawless dining experiences often have the whiff of having been written by the chef’s mother; the most damning notices can usually be dismissed as the work of someone with a score to settle, a disgruntled former employee or even a competitor. You have to learn how to spot the fake reviews. Pro tip: Look at how many critiques the reviewer has posted for other restaurants. This is a first-ever review and it’s the best place ever? Say hi, mom.
But that doesn’t mean the system can’t be further gamed. And to prove it, a man in London set out to make his restaurant the number one restaurant in the city on TripAdvisor’s site. And he did it. The restaurant, The Shed at Dulwich, went from last in the site’s London listings, 18,149th, to number one, the best restaurant in one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world in just a matter of months.
There was just one problem: the restaurant doesn’t exist.
The man, Oobah Butler (and no, I don’t know if he made up his name, too), wrote about the process in this article on the website Vice. If you weren’t already skeptical of the reviews you see on these advice sites, you will be after you read this. (The site of an egg resting on Butler’s bare foot is the most disturbing image. The foot is only slightly cropped out in the photo as it appeared in a review for the Shed on TripAdvisor, as shown in the picture at top from Vice’s website.)
And don’t gloss over the first paragraph where Butler mentions that he was once paid by restaurant owners to write fake reviews.
Everyone tries to beat the system. Some actually do.