How to manipulate on-line web-site reviews

Wednesday, July 11th , 2007

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There was an interesting article in the Sunday Times which highlighted how easy it is to manipulate the various on-line review sites, simply by posting fake reviews, either glowing ones about your own place or scathing ones about competitors.  I just had a look at the "top ten London restaurants" in the and notice that at #2 is the Gordon Ramsay at Chelsea restaurant, which as it has 3 Michelin stars and 9/10 in the Good Food Guide can reasonably claim to be London's top restaurant. But what about #1? That would be Mantar, an Indian restaurant in Hounslow that has thus far eluded the inspectors of Michelin, and also the Good Food Guide. Indeed this "top 10" has a series of entries from restaurants that appear in no serious print food guide, and whcih therefore have to be treated with a large pinch of salt.

What is sad is that diners are taking such nonsense seriously, and are relying on these flagrantly dubious free on-line  reviews rather than buying restaurant guides where at least a modicum of effort is made to be accurate. This edition of the RAC guide will be the last, and Les Routiers has now folded. The Good Food Guide has sufficient brand and reputation to continue, and Michelin has the premier brand name, huge sales in France and a deep-pocketed parent company. The AA Guide actually charges £800 an entry (though does not advertise that fact) for its hotel entries, so will keep going that way.  Time Out relies heavily on advertising, but both these can be criticised for lack of independence due to their taking of fees and advertising respectively.

The trouble is that anonymous inspecting costs money, more money that can be easily recouped by book sales unless you are called Michelin (whose finances are anyhow entirely opaque; only Michelin knows whether the books make money).  I should mention in passing that all reviews on my web site are anonymous and paid for by me (or on occasion by a food guide whose inspectors are also anonymous) so while you may or may not agree with a review of mine, it is a genuine opinion. I do this because I can afford to, I have a passion for it and because it is the only way to do real restaurant reviews, but it seems as if I am in dwindling company.