A journalist has written about how he tricked TripAdvisor into making his garden shed the top restaurant in London.
Writing for Vice, Oobah Butler said he was inspired to launch his own fake restaurant during a time where restaurants would pay him £10 to write fake reviews.
He said: “Within the current climate of misinformation and society’s willingness to believe absolute bullshit, maybe a fake restaurant is possible? Maybe it’s the kind of place that could be a hit?”
With that, the Shed at Dulwich ‘opened’ in April 2017.
The following month – after setting up a website and posting pictures of dishes made of bleach blocks, shaving foam, sponges and coffee – Butler’s restaurant was verified on TripAdvisor.
He started ranked at 18,149 and asked friends to help him to reach the top spot by posting fake reviews which wouldn’t trigger TripAdvisor’s anti-scammer technology.
After a few weeks, he began to receive emails, text messages and phone calls requesting bookings months in advance.
It even attracted the Observer restaurant reviewer Jay Rayner’s attention who commented on the fake menu which Butler based on moods such as lust, comfort and contemplation.
He was approached by PR companies and even the council that wanted to relocate the restaurant to a site in Bromley.
By 1 November it reached the number one spot. Butler said: “A restaurant that doesn’t exist is currently the highest ranked in one of the world’s biggest cities, on perhaps the internet’s most trusted reviews site.”
He then went forward to actually host an opening party for ten guests (including one couple from California) for one night only and served them microwavable food from Iceland.
Butler explained: “I invited people into a hastily-assembled collection of chairs outside my shed, and they left thinking it really could be the best restaurant in London, just on the basis of a TripAdvisor rating.”
TripAdvisor said in a statement: “Generally, the only people who create fake restaurant listings are journalists in misguided attempts to test us.
“As there is no incentive for anyone in the real world to create a fake restaurant it is not a problem we experience with our regular community – therefore this ‘test’ is not a real world example.”
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