Ill-founded or just plain lying negative reviews on Yelp are usually a reason for restaurant owners to lose sleep, as are Yelp's extortionist business practices. The owners of one restaurant near San Francisco, CA, however, have come up with the best and snarkiest possible solution to the problem.
Chefs and co-owners Davide Cerritini and Michele Massimo of Botto Italian Bistro in Richmond, CA (both originally from Tuscany) finally got tired of Yelp's attempts to extort money from them through repeated "advertising inquiries" and review manipulation (a practice which, let's remind everyone, a federal judge recently ruled was totally OK).* Cerritini says he would be happy to not even participate in Yelp's dog-and-pony show and has asked them to be removed entirely from their site, but Yelp never responded. So what did Cerritini and Massimo do to finally address the problem? Did they just grin and bear it, like 99% of all restaurants that regularly have to deal with Yelp's garbage? Was their response thereafter to send a sternly-worded letter to Yelp? Perhaps they sought the advice of legal counsel?
NOPE. Their answer to the problem was way, way funnier than any of those: they started offering discounts (25% off any pizza and a chance to win a cooking class) for any customer who left them a 1-star Yelp review. You read that correctly: they are deliberately bringing their review average as low as possible in an effort to fuck with Yelp.
This isn't all that surprising when one takes a look at Botto Bistro's website, which has a page specifically devoted to the dumbest customer questions they get asked, including gems such as the following:
Q. Is your pasta made with eggs? I'm allergic to eggs.
A. No there are not eggs in our pasta.
Q. How can you be so sure?
A. Because I made the pasta myself without eggs.
Q. And nobody else would have thrown some eggs in it?
A. Oh yes, now I remember...yes we had a crazy guy yesterday in our kitchen throwing eggs all over the place and yes, he may have thrown some eggs in the pasta too. Who knows?
A. Not really.
I'm 90% sure one or both of Cerritini and Massimo are my spirit animal. Their reviewers haven't let them down, either, displaying uncommon satirical creativity:
Since they started soliciting bad reviews, Cerritini reports that business is up (true even before this story started receiving attention) and, perhaps more importantly, the quality of customer they've been getting has also improved.
This would be funny enough if that were the whole story, but it actually gets even better. When Yelp found out Cerritini and Massimo were doing this, they were none too pleased. They sent Massimo an e-mail that reads, in part, as follows:
I'm contacting you from the Yelp User Support Team because we've received complaints from the community that you may be offering incentives in exchange for reviews.
This is technically 100% accurate, as Cerritini notes. They absolutely do buy reviews — terrible reviews. The e-mail continues (internal links removed for clarity):
To be clear, this violates our Terms of Service, and reviews written under such circumstances violate Yelp's Content Guidelines. We also often find from user feedback that such practices do more harm than good, as the practice creates distrust amongst customers and users who now eye all reviews on a listing with suspicion.
Anyone who can think of a reason NOT to view all reviews on Yelp with suspicion please raise their hands? Yeah, didn't think so.
If you are offering incentives in exchange for reviews, we ask that you immediately discontinue such activity. If we learn that this type of behavior has continued, we may take action on your Business Account which could include suspending access to your listing. It may also result in a Consumer Alert being placed on your listing.
Translation: "You're totally fucking with our 1930's mafia business model and revealing our website for the joke it actually is. If you don't stop doing that, we'll...well, we'll get really, really angry!" Yelp also appears to be weeding out and removing these reviews (which, it has to be said, technically are a violation of their own policy against fake reviews), although so many people are leaving them that it's increasingly difficult for them to do so.
To Cerritini and Massimo's credit, their response was essentially to make a more polite version of a jerk-off motion, writing back a snarky parody letter mocking Yelp's empty threats and signing it "Botto User Support Team." If Yelp figured they could put Botto's owners in line with a schoolmarmish letter, they appear to have badly misjudged their opponents in this tennis match.
Godspeed, Chefs Cerritini and Massimo. It's really, really great to see business owners finding clever ways to give Yelp the finger.
Update: Remember that Yelp is taking down these reviews pretty quickly, so if you're going to leave a fake review and post a link here, please screenshot it and post that. These are too funny to let them be lost to the wilds of the internet forever.
* This is to say nothing of the inherent stupidity of Yelp, which Kitchenette has already covered in painstaking detail — and I have enough submissions of further Yelp reviews sitting in my inbox to do six more of those posts.
Image via Botto Bistro's Facebook page.