Yelp Downgrades Restaurant's Rating After it Declines to Buy Ads, Claims Innocence

In Depth

Oh good. More Yelp fuckery.

Via the Portland Press-Herald, David Levi, owner of Vinland in Portland, Maine is claiming Yelp downgraded his restaurant’s rating after he refused to buy ads on the site. After declining to buy ad space on Yelp, he noticed that the website’s local community manager, Steff Dechenes, had changed her personal review of the website. Dechenes had eaten there a year ago and originally given the restaurant four stars, but now her review reads three stars. Dechenes claims she changed the review “months” ago (note the lack of specificity) “after reflecting on her experience at Vinland.” Levi also claims Yelp has gone out of its way to hide numerous five star reviews of Vinland since he declined to buy ad space, burying them in the “Not Recommended Reviews” section.

Can all this be believed?* Would Yelp ever engage in such dickery?** Are Dechenes and Yelp completely and totally full of shit?***

Yelp’s official response to the Portland Press-Herald reads, in part:

“Conspiracy theorists have had their day in court on more than one occasion, but courts have repeatedly dismissed their lawsuits claiming that ratings and reviews on Yelp are somehow tied to advertising,” the company’s website says. “There’s no amount of money a business can pay to manipulate their reviews or rating, and Yelp doesn’t skew things in favor of advertisers or against businesses that don’t.”

Fun fact about that statement: it’s total bullshit.

The courts have not, in fact, declared that Yelp doesn’t manipulate reviews based on ad buys. Instead, they’ve declared that legally, Yelp is entirely allowed to extort restaurants. In case you’ve forgotten, almost exactly a year ago, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that Yelp was well within its rights to extort restaurants. As above, Yelp desperately and frantically claims they don’t actually do this because to admit to what they’re widely accused of would be to pull back the curtain on the shell game that many, many restaurant owners believe is Yelp’s core business model. The first part of the above statement is thus simple PR sleight of hand; the lawsuits have been dismissed, but not because they’re not true—because legally, Yelp is perfectly free to engage in whatever extortionist practices it feels like.

The interesting thing is that the above quote was in response to a question of why the five star reviews were in the “Not Recommended” section. Notice that Yelp’s answer entirely dodges the question. I wonder why that’s the case? The most infuriating quote has to be this one, though, from Yelp spokeswoman Rachel Walker:

“We do hear from businesses now and again, that they just don’t like being on Yelp,” Walker said. “Unfortunately that’s just kind of the age we live in.”

The age when large companies are well within their legal rights to unfairly fuck over small, local ones? Yes, that does seem to be the age we live in, and Yelp is at its cutting edge. As such, Vinland’s ultimate solution here might be to take a page out of Botto Bistro’s book and refuse to play Yelp’s game. If only every restaurant would do the same, we might finally be free of that festering sinkhole of a website.

Fuck Yelp, for now and for always.

* Yes. Allegedly.

** YUPPERS! Allegedly.

*** They sure are! Allegedly.

Image via Facebook/Vinland.

Contact the author at [email protected].

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