Updated Monday, Sept. 4, at 11:05 a.m. ET
Botto Italian Bistro in Richmond, Calif., boasts 1,083 scathing reviews on Yelp as well as a glaring one-star rating. And the restaurant’s co-owners, Davide Cerretini and Michele Massimo, couldn’t be more proud.
That’s because, after claiming that Yelp manipulated Botto Bistro’s reviews in order to sell them ads, Cerretini and Massimo have sought, in protest, to become one of the site’s worst-rated restaurants ever.
Having spent $270 in advertising on Yelp for months, Cerretini and Massimo said their positive reviews suddenly plummeted as soon as the ad dollars dried up. And so roughly six months ago, they decided to take matters into their own hands, offering a 25 percent discount to any customer who gave the restaurant a one-star rating.
Eager diners flocked to Yelp in droves: “The restaurant is way too clean and servers had great attitudes in this hidden gem -- WTF!” wrote one reviewer, Mick L. “The food was cooked to order, presented quickly and with the smell of fresh Italian herbs wafting up in your face. What a total disaster.”
While the concept of inviting negative feedback may sound counterintuitive, Cerretini told the San Francisco Chronicle that “This is the best business move I have made in years.”
The influx of reviews -- some scorching, some satirical, some sympathetic -- serve to totally disarm what he perceives as Yelp’s corrupt template, Cerretini says. Additionally, after having gone viral, the offer has broadened the restaurant’s awareness and garnered a fiercely loyal customer base. Business is up 30 to 40 percent, he said.
Yelp, predictably, was not amused by the offer. The company, whose headquarters are located just 15 miles from Botto Bistro, fired off a letter warning Cerretini and Massimo that soliciting reviews -- be they positive or negative -- violated its terms of service.
Though the worst outcome, as Cerretini sees it, would be Botto Bistro’s removal from the site altogether -- which is one he’d happily welcome. “If I don’t follow their guidelines, what are the consequences? Am I going to jail? Or am I going to be removed from the listing? So that’s the point,” he said.
Botto Bistro’s clever protest arrives on the heels of a federal appeals court ruling that Yelp’s alleged practice of manipulating ratings in order to sell ads does not amount to extortion so much as “hard bargaining,” which -- much to the dismay of small business owners across the nation -- is perfectly legal.
A spokesperson for Yelp told Entrepreneur.com that the site "has never & will never [manipulate] ratings in order to sell ads."