Food & drink

TripAdvisor tripped

Leaving a Malaga restaurant the other day, the owner bade me farewell with the words, “Don't forget to write something nice on TripAdvisor.” Apparently the going rate for a fake review on the world's most influential online restaurant reviewer is around 12 euros.

Oobah Butler, after years of making a living in this way, decided to conduct an experiment to resolve the matter once and for all. He set up a nonexistent restaurant that would climb up the TripAdvisor rankings using invented reports and appraisals. The Shed, Dulwich opened in his Dulwich semi; it had a mobile phone number, a website and a dinner-by-appointment-only policy.

Shortly after the 'inauguration' in 2016 its ranking was 18,149, unsurprising considering there were no reviews posted, but in weeks it rose to 1,456 thanks to stunning feedback orchestrated by Butler from friends and contacts. Nine weeks later it got to 156th place, and the snowball effect was such that in one week there were 116 attempts to make bookings via the website and the phone's answering service, plus numerous requests for employment and contacts by hopeful suppliers. All were ignored.

One day its TripAdvisor listing had 18,000 views and it had still not served a single meal to anyone. In November 2017, six months after 'opening', The Shed achieved top placing. TripAdvisor phoned with congratulations. TripAdvisor would later comment that its anti-fraud system is designed to avoid fictitious postings of existing restaurants, rather than those of inexistent ones. Work that one out if you can.

However the case is well-documented and although only accessible in archived rather than current form, here you can see TripAdvisor's page when The Shed was at the 263 spot (out of a possible 18,188 at the time). Eventually THE SHED did begin to serve meals, mainly based on tarted-up fast food, but still the enthusiastic reviews kept coming in.