To mock Yelp, restaurant asks customers for awful reviews

A Richmond, Calif., restaurant is so fed up with what it calls Yelp's "blackmailing" tactics, that it wants to become the very worst on the site.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Botto Bistro is so fed up of Yelp and its alleged sales tactics that it wants to be the worst-reviewed restaurant on Yelp. Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I would no more trust a Yelp review than I would a politician who came to my door, asking to use the restroom because his car had broken down.

Still, it seems to have built its business upon the idea that on Yelp you'll find honest reviews of places you might want to go.

Some small businesses, however, complain that Yelp's sales tactics wouldn't be out of place in the darker parts of Sicily.

The owners of Botto Bistro in Richmond, Calif., have decided to take their indigestion at what they call Yelp's "blackmailing" into the theater of the absurd.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, Botto Bistro is asking its customers to post the worst possible reviews of the restaurant because it wants to become the worst restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area. Or, at least, the worst on Yelp.

Don't stop at "it sucks." Wax that Botto Bistro is to taste what Duck Dynasty is to art. Sniff that an evening in Botto Bistro involves being strapped to a gurney and having four-day-old pasta inserted into your nostrils by a hairy grandmother from Puglia. Feel free to suggest that the water at Botto Bistro has been recycled at an effluent plant and mixed with tinges of horse dung for taste.

As the owners put it on their own Web site: "In Italy we don't have Yelp. Italians spend most of their time eating, getting laid and talking to real friends (not the ones on Facebook). So we don't fully understand why people spend so much time writing on the internet to imaginary friends or imaginary followers."

They really are quite serious about the pointlessness of Yelpers. Not only do the owners feature some of the worst reviews on their site, they simply don't want to be beholden to what they see as a creepy little enterprise.

As co-owner Davide Cerreti told the Chronicle: "I think I should be the one deciding if I'm on the site or not. At least I can be there on my terms. The only power they have is they make you reliable to them. So, I'm going to be one of the most unreliable restaurants."

Currently, Botto Bistro enjoys an exalted two-star Yelp rating. Though who cannot adore one review that whines that the restaurant doesn't deliver to Connecticut?

The bistro has, though, upset Yelp because it's offering customers 25 percent off any pizza for a bad review. Yelp sent the restaurant a sniffy note to explain this was verboten. Stunningly, Botto Bistro sent an equally sniffy note in reply.

It began: "I'm contacting you from the Botto User Support Team because we've received complaints from the community that you may be removing reviews in exchange of vague explanations to loyal customers."

I have contacted Yelp to ask if the site's overlords might have a comment or two about Botto Bistro's brave self-deprecation. Moreover, I wondered why it is that Yelp seems to attract a certain amount of negativity from those who say the constant advertising calls are tantamount to blackmail. I will update, should I hear.

On its advertiser FAQ page, Yelp 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."

There have been allegations that Yelp promotes negative reviews of businesses until those businesses pay for some ads.

However, earlier this month a US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that Yelp can manipulate its ratings. The court said: "As Yelp has the right to charge for legitimate advertising services, the (alleged) threat of economic harm ... is, at most, hard bargaining."

So here is Botto Bistro offering a little hard bargaining of its own.

This truly is the most disgraceful, decrepit, nauseating, insulting and head-bangingly stupefying intimidation of a large organization by a small business that I have ever seen.