Fake online reviews about a restaurant
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Fake online reviews about restaurants legal advice
The posting of fake online reviews about restaurants is a form of business sabotage in the digital age. Fake reviews about a restaurant are far more common than most people think and in many cases, they are not posted by genuine customers. The question many that many restaurant owners feel burdened by is what to do if a restaurant begins to receive fake online reviews.
A customer who might have had a disappointing experience may go and post a fake online review about a restaurant. This type of review is likely to have some truth to it but you can also expect it to be exaggerated and topped up with at least some falsities. Bad meal reviewers are rare though. The most common fake online review by a genuine diner often comes from the diner who had made a big deal out of a fairly minor service or quality issue and who then tried to obtain either an unfair, larger discount on their bill or a free meal for their next visit, but was refused.
The diner will then go on to that restaurant's online review page to post about their dining experience whilst forgetting to mention their demand for a free meal or for perhaps other disrespectful or demonstrably unfair conduct by themselves or by their party. There is only one side to the story which is posted, arguably. However, genuine diners are hardly ever the biggest enemy of the restaurants they had visited. The real culprits will normally be more established operators in their sector/field who are seeking to ‘smother them in the cradle’ or perhaps stifle their growth when they begin to feel the effects of the competition on their own business.
Do not be surprised if a third party disclosure order against Google reveals that those fake online reviews about your restaurant had largely been posted by, or on behalf of the restaurant owners across the road. The fake reviews might also be from established entities who are retaliating to what the incorrectly perceive to be similar behaviour on the part of others. Restaurants are especially vulnerable to fake reviews so out of suspicious that they themselves are victims of online fake online reviews by the competition, go and to the same to their neighbouring restaurant. A study from Harvard University entitled, "fake it 'till you make it" shows that independent restaurants are much more likely to post fake reviews about their competitors than any other sector. Equally, they are quite fond of making up good ones about themselves.
National or chain restaurants are far less likely to engage in the practice of posting fake online reviews and they are also less likely to be the victim of this practice. A Yelp.com report has estimated that 16% of all restaurant reviews are fraudulent, and that is after many have been filtered out (Yelp have sophisticated algorithms to achieve this - many sites do not).
The true number, in our view, is much bigger but the most negatively affected victims are the owners of independent restaurants, particularly Italian, Chinese and Kebab shops where the competition is high and the small marketing budget often drive restaurant owners to commission fake online reviews, or to even have their own family member and friend take part in the negative marketing campaign against their main competition.
Even if it is obvious to you that the fake online reviews have come from your competitors, resist temptation to retaliate in the same manner. It is fairly easy to find out if a competitor is responsible for posting fake online reviews. There is often very little sophistication that goes into this particular bad practice and even if initially those who post fake online reviews take some care to not get caught, after a while, with no consequence that follows, most become complacent. It is just something which is too easy to do.
To prove that it is your competitor who is posting fake online reviews about your restaurant, we will often obtain a disclosure order from the review website that will helps us establish the identity of the posters. In most cases, it is enough for us to have proof that points in the right direction, for example, to the restaurant across the road, to the residential home of the owners or the staff or to an email address that had previously been used on behalf of the restaurant. In extreme cases, where the task of posting fake online reviews against competitors had been outsourced to another country (often to India, Pakistan or the Philippines), we have been able, upon further enquiries to obtain solid proof, from those who had been paid to post, that pointed directly to our clients’ competitors.
If your restaurant is the victim of fake online reviews, make sure to act fast. There is a 12 month limitation period for you to take legal action, after which, you might have to learn to live with the negative fake online reviews. Alongside our work towards establishing the identity of those who posted the fake reviews, we may also file a claim on your behalf against person unknown, which within a few weeks may allow you to apply to the court for a default judgment, which will, in most cases, result in the removal of all the fake online reviews from various review websites.