Yelp, the popular website that allows customers to rate local businesses, has gathered a mixed reputation from business owners. On one hand, modern customers have begun to be increasingly likely to turn to the internet to research businesses, making a web presence and ratings more likely to result in a sale later on. However, Yelp has been repeatedly accused of manipulating reviews to increase the likelihood that a company will choose to advertise with the site; in fact, in early September, a California appeals court held up a 2010 dismissal of a class action lawsuit, which accused the site of extortion. Despite the ruling, many businesses are still upset with the way the site conducts its review process, but have been unable to find an effective method of challenging the company. Businesses are unable to remove negative reviews, or even remove their listings from the site, which leaves their reputation open to attack even if they refuse to advertise with the company.
However, Botto Bistro, an Italian restaurant in Richmond, California, has seemingly found an effective way to counteract Yelp’s influence. Suspecting that the site might be removing positive reviews and boosting negative ones, the bistro’s owners have started applying a unique tactic: encouraging customers to leave them one-star reviews to lower their Yelp rating.
Botto Bistro has launched a “Hate Us on Yelp Campaign”, promising customers 25% off on pizzas in exchange for one-star reviews. And their plan seems to be working: since they instituted the campaign, the pizza-and-pasta restaurant has gathered a slew of low ratings, often complete with snarky, sarcastic comments. Users have complained that the restaurant was unwilling to serve pet cats and mongoose, for example, or reprimanded them for using horizontal pizza boxes. At the end of September, the bistro plans to share the funniest, most sarcastic review in their newsletter, as well as award the winner with a free ticket for one of the restaurant’s cooking classes.
Co-owner Davide Cerrtini explains that the business simply tired of constantly being asked to advertise with the site and suffering the consequences of choosing to decline. As a restaurant that documents its most cringe-worthy interactions with customers on their “Village Idiots” web page, they also openly disdain the notion that positive reviews are vital to a successful business. Moreover, Cerretini calls the Yelp campaign one of the best business moves he has made in years: business is apparently booming, despite Cerritini’s goal of becoming “the worst restaurant in the Bay Area”.
The cause of this success is likely due to a combination of the restaurant’s snark and cuisine. While Botto Bistro has a Yelp rating of two stars, it has a 4.2-rating on Google reviews, all of which compliment the food. Both Cerritini and his fellow chef, Michele Massimo, are from Tuscany and specialize in traditional Italian food.
“I think this is a very creative way to address the yelp review process. In the restaurant world, using premium fresh ingredients is essential, it is expected by the customer. If the food falls short due to poor ingredients, you’ll definitely get a 1 star review. Nothing says flavor like fresh,” says Gary, General Manager, Pollen Ranch.
Since the beginning of Botto Bistro’s one-star Yelp campaign, the restaurant has actually been contacted by the website, warning that it is against protocol to pay for reviews or offer discounts for writing reviews. While the rule is designed to prevent businesses from manipulating the system, Botto Bistro is specifically seeking bad reviews for an alternate goal: if the site uses questionable practices, they feel that the reviews customers read should be equally questionable.