Restaurant Owners Are Asking Yelp For Help Against Anti-Vax Trolls

Crowd-sourced review platforms like Yelp have long been aware of how users can weaponize their sites with false claims designed to hurt businesses. It's why the major players have systems in place to detect fake reviews — good and bad — to ensure the integrity of individual posts (via Review Trackers). While Yelp doesn't disclose specifics of their internal system review, it's reported the company employs a multi-tiered system to identify, among other things, clear bias and unusual traffic. It's a sad commentary, though, when businesses have to proactively reach out sites like Yelp to request help before they become news.

According to Eater, that's exactly what's happening at restaurants around the country as proprietors navigate their realities in a post-Covid world. In one instance, Eater reported the experience of Richard Gusler, owner of Players Retreat, a sports bar in Raleigh, North Carolina. As he prepared to announce restaurant policy requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining, Gusler contacted Yelp and TripAdvisor for advice on how to respond to the negative reaction he expected. Gusler was reassured when he learned the crowd-source review giants had pro-actively established teams to address potential issues.

Plan for the worst, but hope for the best

"They were pretty well aware of what was going to happen and had set up teams that were monitoring things like that," Gusler told Eater, although his business still had to endure an initial onslaught of negative reviews calling the business out for discriminating against patrons who choose not to get the Covid vaccination. (Non-vaccinated diners have always been welcome on the restaurant's outdoor patio.)

Through tracking systems set up by Yelp and TripAdvisor, Gusler learned the majority of the negative reviews were coming from out of state, likely from people who had never set foot in Players Retreat. The negative backlash was short-lived and, when things settled down, Gusler realized his regular patrons remained supportive. In fact, business increased by about 9%.

Still, that's little comfort in light of the impact an onslaught of one-star reviews can have on a business. According to Technology Review, most platforms sort reviews in chronological order, so a blast of fake negative reviews pushes all the previous, and hopefully positive, reviews to the bottom of the pile.