One California restaurant owner has recently taken on an interesting marketing strategy that goes against all conventional wisdom. Co-owner David Cerretini of the Italian restaurant Botto Bistro tells his strategy to USA Today, “I want to be the worst restaurant in the San Francisco area!” Strangely enough, his approach seems to be working.
What makes the story of the Botto Bistro unique isn’t the cuisine or the service (which has gone unchanged since the decision to be the worst), but it’s how the restaurant is trying to get one-star reviews in order to stick it to the business review website Yelp. Essentially, Cerretini feels like Yelp unfairly boosts the reviews of restaurants that pay to advertise over those that don’t. Yelp disputes this claim, and even if this was found to be the case, a federal court recently ruled that the practice of boosting paid content over unpaid content is legal.
In addition to the favorable treatment that Cerretani believes Yelp gives to paid advertisers, he became annoyed with the number of phone calls from Yelp soliciting his advertising dollars. USA Today explains his predicament:
Cerretini got fed up with what he says were constant phone calls — as many as 15 to 20 a week, he says — from Yelp asking that the restaurant advertise on the site. He says he noticed a pattern that when he did advertise with Yelp — the restaurant paid about $270 a month for six months last year, Cerretini says — the reviews were more positive. But as soon as the restaurant stopped advertising, he says, three bad reviews quickly popped up and a positive review vanished.
So far, everything seems to be going according to plan. The lousy Yelp reviews are pouring in and the restaurant is down to a one star rating.
Rachel C.: The food was fabulous, delicious. I ate every bit, but since I have fear of being in public, I found it very disturbing to have other eaters around me. Clean up your act, and get rid of all the interlopers so I can eat your amazing food in peace!
Brett A.: Craziest thing happened. I opened up my pizza box and there was nothing but crust. No sauce, no cheese, no meat, no toppings at all. Then I realized I just had the pizza upside down. Oh well, Botto Bistro’s fault.
Leonard K.: Don’t bother! Unless you like Italian food.
George L: I got a rash all over my body just thinking about this place. Of course, the special of the day might have been involved. How do you say “flustered poison oak ravioli” in Italian again?
Doug R.: They don’t deliver to the Midwest. Seriously guys, not cool.
To help garner negative reviews, the restaurant is offering customers a 25 percent-off coupon for every one-star review left on Yelp.
But not every Yelp user is totally on board with this tactic. Tom P. from Richmond, CA voiced his concern on Yelp:
I’m not for or against Yelp’s sales tactics, but the fake poor reviews do a disservice to other diners who are genuinely interested in places to eat. You are doing for Botto exactly what they want by drowning out the real negative reviews of this restaurant so people can’t make a real decision if this place is for them or not.
Jim H. from Newton, New Jersey disagrees with his Yelp review:
Restaurant owners should not be held hostage by Yelp sales tactics and owners need a recourse for unfair and misrepresented feedback. I applaud Botto Bistro for fighting back by emasculating Yelp.
At the end of the day, all of this hoopla boils down to a restaurant owner who feels like his business is being held hostage by marketing websites like Yelp. Cerretini summarizes his thoughts on his battle with Yelp to USA Today, “You have to look at this way, my friend—this is business.”
As a business owner, can you relate to Botto Bistro’s plight? Or, as a consumer, do you feel like a bad review campaign like this will ruin a perfectly good business review platform that helps customers find what they’re looking for? Or, does all of this talk about Italian restaurants leave you craving a big plate of pasta? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.