Although some restaurateurs welcome TripAdvisor, for others it can feel like banging one's head against a wall, writes Richard Bradford
Some people might think that restaurants would welcome TripAdvisor, as it undoubtedly boosts business for those that are highly rated.
However, in my experience it is almost universally disliked by restaurant and hotel owners, who feel that it is always on the side of the reviewer and is not prepared to investigate malicious reviews or ones that are simply inaccurate.
I have also found that it is far too easy for a person to sign up under multiple identities. Someone actually admitted to us, when I had Porters in Covent Garden [the original site for the restaurant before it moved to Berkhamsted], that part of his job, working in marketing for a rival organisation, was to write a derogatory review of Porters every month. He succeeded in getting it posted every time.
We also suffered attacks from two separate users who wrote similar reviews six months apart, and which escaped the so-called algorithm of TripAdvisor. Fortunately my elephantine memory recalled the earlier review, and after I complained to TripAdvisor, it removed both reviews. However, broadly the same review appeared on Yelp under a third user name, but this was never removed.
Many times we have pointed out the total inaccuracy of complaints with regard to timings. As we have CCTV, we can accurately track the progress of a meal on a particular table, plus the timings are retained in our EPOS system. Recently two customers each wrote a review for the same table that were a tissue of lies; claiming, among other things, that they waited too long for their meal to arrive. We offered to send TripAdvisor proof of the inaccuracy, but it wasn't interested. Strangely both reviews mentioned a rival establishment some 200 yards away.
The problem is that we are the fodder for reviews websites to make a lot of money, and policing the reviews seems to be the least of their concerns.
I use TripAdvisor myself, even though many times I have found it to be an inaccurate guide to quality. On holiday in Playa del Carmen in Mexico, we had to book 10 days ahead to get into the restaurant that was rated number 1 on TripAdvisor for the resort, and three years later it still is. But on dining there we had the worst meal of our whole holiday.
Another infuriating feature is that we seldom get a response when we write to critical reviewers, apologising for their experience and asking for further details. On one occasion someone, who has only ever written one other review, complained that her pie was so burnt on the inside that she couldn't eat it. Despite the impossibility of that, as it would have to have been completely incinerated on the outside, we offered her a free dinner to return, three times, but she never responded. We asked TripAdvisor to investigate, but got the usual standard response, asking us to fill out an online form, which in the past has elicited no further action from them.
If TripAdvisor and Yelp would only engage constructively with the hospitality industry, possibly by appointing an independent ombudsman to investigate legitimate complaints, they could be a force for good and be more trusted by those that use their services.
Richard Bradford is the owner of Porters English restaurant in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire