The couple has made these kinds of complaints about Internet restaurant reviewers before. “We stand strong together,” Amy told open-mouthed host/chef Gordon Ramsey on Monday’s show. “We have to, because there’s a lot of online bullies and haters and bloggers. We stand up to them, and I think we’re the only ones who have as restaurant owners. And they come and they try to attack us and say horrible things that are not true.”
But while the Internet has rejoiced in the Bouzaglos’ raving -- their Facebook page has nabbed more than 85,000 likes -- even their angriest rants may hide a shadow of truth. Yelp reviews can destroy a business’s reputation, whether it deserves it or not, some owners say. In fact, more than 700 businesses and consumers have filed complaints about the popular online consumer review service with the Federal Trade Commission -- and earned Yelp a few mixed reviews of its own.
In the Washington area alone, more than a dozen businesses have filed complaints, according to data obtained from the FTC by the government transparency site MuckRock. One frequent criticism involves the site’s use of an automatic filter to hide potentially suspicious reviews. Hidden reviews do not count toward a business’s rating, and users have to take an extra step to see them, even if they’re positive. Some owners have accused Yelp of filtering out good reviews unless a business advertises with the site.
Other Washington businesses complained that they could not remove unfair or false reviews from their pages. And a restaurant in Fairfax County claimed that two vengeful reviewers threatened to destroy the business with their bad ratings even though they had never even eaten at the restaurant.
“I repeatedly explained that these comments against us [do] not match with our restaurant or description, but they [Yelp] don’t care,” the complaint reads. “This is an un-American act against hard working citizens … I need your help.”
In late 2012, one Fairfax contractor went so far as to sue a Yelp reviewer for defamation.
Their panic is, in some respects, justified. According to a 2011 study from the Harvard Business School, a one-star drop in a Yelp rating equals a 5 percent to 9 percent decrease in revenue, particularly among small businesses. A report that same year by marketing firm Cone Communications found that 80 percent of customers changed their mind about purchasing a product after reading negative information online.