Australian group calls for regulation of user-generated restaurant reviews

Now that anyone with an internet connection can share their opinions with a wide audience, user review websites such as TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon and Eatability are becoming the new word of mouth, and increasingly influential. But businesses are complaining about false, inaccurate and malicious reviews and say the system is open to abuse.

6262_eatability-logoSome have struggled to remove negative comments from sacked staff, critiques posted by rivals, ”revenge reviews” written by troublesome customers and scathing reviews by hotel ”guests” who never stayed.

Concerned by the rise in paid-for and fake online reviews, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has released guidelines for businesses and review platforms and made monitoring the sector a priority.

ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper said three-quarters of Australians used review platforms when deciding where to eat out or stay on holiday and inauthentic reviews misled consumers.

”It’s time for the industry to bring its behaviour into line with ACCC expectations,” he said. ”We would like platforms to review what’s being posted up there, as well as trying to disclose as much as possible to consumers … [about] sponsored and paid links.”

Restaurant & Catering Australia chief executive John Hart said fake reviews were a huge problem for the association, estimating one in 10 reviews had ”some falsehood in it.”

Yo Yelp, I doesn’t need you cause I got straight to the manager

An answer to the age-old Canadian problem of polite in public: you don’t have to tell that waiter to wash his hands after a number 2 in the next stall, just text it to his boss. reports a new program, Talk to the Manager, lets you text gripes right to those in charge at a restaurant, with the philosophy behind the program being, "Help us before you Yelp us."

"Talk to the Manager" works like this: Say you find the restaurant’s bathrooms filthy. While you’re at the restaurant, you don’t even have to get up from your table to complain, or hope that your waiter or waitress will pass your concerns on. You text a message to the number on the card on your table. The message goes to the restaurant manager and to the owner. One of them responds, sending an apology and saying the restrooms will be cleaned up (and then, presumably, following through).

The result (in an ideal world): "The customer is impressed by your outstanding service and tells more people about you," says

California restaurants decry ‘Yelp extortion’

Continuing with the gangster theme, mobster hacks are using the Internet to collect points.

The Sacramento Bee reported a few days ago that restaurant owner Sonny Mayugba was given an offer he almost could not refuse two weeks ago.

Not by a local gangster, but by a user of a popular online review site,

Mayugba said the user threatened to blast the Red Rabbit Kitchen and Bar at 2718 J St., which Mayugba co-owns, on Yelp because he believed he and his party got food poisoning from their meals.

Mayugba said it was impossible to prove whether the man got food poisoning from the restaurant but offered to give him a $60 gift card to a restaurant of his choice. The man said he deserved $100. If the restaurant did not pay up, he said he would write a bad Yelp review and report him to health authorities.

Is what happened to the Red Rabbit Kitchen an isolated case? Or has the growth in popularity of restaurant review websites – which allow anyone to write and rate restaurants from one to five stars – created a new way for some people to get preferential treatment.

Restaurant owners say online websites have changed consumer behavior as many people rely more on citizen reviews than on reviews of professional critics or advertisements. Yelp had a monthly average of more than 71 million unique visitors and 27 million reviews worldwide this year from January to the end of March, the company said.

In the end, Mayugba said, he refused to give the man anything and is not sure if the man posted a review on Yelp. But he said the experience made him rethink the value of Yelp and websites like it, which he said he loves.

"I was so upset," Mayugba said. "He was taking something that was inherently good to use it as a tool to extort a restaurant. It was just so wrong."

Kristen Whisenand, public relations manager for Yelp, said in an email that the website allows for users and business owners to flag reviews that violate the website’s terms of service. If it is determined the review is fake, biased or malicious, it will be taken down.

"More people trust citizen reviews these days," said Mayugba, who started a social networking website for the restaurant industry in 2007.

"Social media is a wonderful thing for the world, but when its integrity is compromised, what is it worth?