Here's Why A Restaurant Asked For Bad Yelp Reviews

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Consumer review site Yelp may be popular - it claims more than 185 million visitors a month - but it's controversial. As AOL has reported before, some businesses have complained that Yelp has demanded payment to improve the number of good reviews or has allowed clearly inaccurate write-ups to remain online.

Yelp has denied the charges, but some business owners remain skeptical, including Chef Michele Massimo and Davide Cerretini of the Richmond, California restaurant Botto Bistro. They claimed that Yelp would change their total review ratings depending on whether he advertised or not, according to the Associated Press.

Yelp ad reps called "30 times a week, sometimes five times a day," Cerretini told Inc.com. So they decided to change directions and campaign for bad reviews from customers in an attempt to prove that Yelp reviews were meaningless.

Initially, Botto Bistro promised a 25 percent discount on pizza for people who would give them a one-star review, the lowest possible on Yelp. "Hate us and we'll love you!" the restaurant said on its Facebook page.

The response was strong. "Thousands of responses, e-mails and, most importantly, over 1,500 one stars reviews written with sarcasm by Botto supporters from all over the country and also overseas," said the company's website.

A few bad reviews can often hurt a business on Yelp. But with this many that were clearly mocking the Yelp system - one reviewer complained that they wouldn't deliver a pizza to a city that was more than 460 miles away - the result was quite the opposite.

"Our campaign put us in the position of not being blackmailed," Cerretini told CNBC. "For years we played the snarky restaurant that does the opposite of every other restaurant in the country." For example, there's no ice for drinks and they sell only whole pies, not slices. "Definitely our business has improved. We were in shock and surprised to see how much support we received."

They allege that Yelp has struck back by removing many of the one-star reviews, telling reviewers that the write-ups lacked a "core consumer experience." A recent court case said that even if Yelp were manipulating reviews, it wouldn't rise to the level of extortion, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

What could stop Botto Bistro's success now? Could this be the first time a restaurant could be hurt by good reviews?

Update: 10/14/2014 2:25: A Yelp spokesperson responded to an initial inquiry from AOL Jobs. The company stresses that "we use automated software to help us determine which reviews to recommend to our users so that we are only highlighting the most helpful and reliable reviews" and that companies are not allowed to offer payments of any sort for reviews. The company did provide a link to all the Botto Bistro reviews that it did not recommend to readers.
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