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San Francisco restaurant accuses Yelp of rigging reviews

April 25, 2013 8:13:20 PM PDT
Looking for a new dinner spot? Yelp is probably one of the first websites you search. Type in "restaurants in San Francisco" and you get reviews for more than 5,000 places, including Bai Thong Thai in Hayes Valley. But the owners don't want you to pay attention to their Yelp listing. They say Yelp is rigging the rating to bully them into buying advertising. This isn't the first time someone has made these sorts of claims against Yelp.

Bai Thong Thai has been around for about 2.5 years. It has many four and five-star reviews, and many mention the business' high-profile fued with Yelp.

Salakjit Hagerty says friends and customers are supporting her after she took the unusual step of posting a sign in the window of her restaurant telling people to boycott Yelp. The owner claims good reviews were buried by bad ones after she declined to buy ads on Yelp.

"They try to ask me pay money a month if I need good reviews show up," Hagerty said.

Yelp strongly denies that, saying ratings and advertising are completely separate.

"You can go on Yelp and look at an advertiser's page and see that it has negative reviews because it's impossible to please everyone all the time, and you can also see non-advertisers with 5-star rating reviews," Yelp spokesperson Vince Sollitto said.

But the accusations are not new. 7 On Your Side consistently gets complaints like one saying "Happy clients... wrote nice reviews on Yelp that disappeared right after a sales person from Yelp tried to sell me advertisement." Store owner Joni Burton told ABC7 News it happened three years ago when she refused to buy ads.

"Strange reviews came up, negative reviews," Burton said.

Burton says even today, she is still doing battle with Yelp and can relate to Hagerty, who believes Bai Thong Thai is losing customers because of damaging feedback.

UC Berkeley professor Michael Anderson researched the impact of Yelp on restaurant demand during peak hours and his study found it does make a difference.

"If you went from, say, 3.5 stars to 4 on Yelp, you might go from selling out maybe say 40 percent of the time to 60 percent of the time," Anderson said.

According to Yelp, 100 million people used the website last month alone and lawsuits accusing the San Francisco-based company of extortion have all been dismissed.

"People trust the content and we would never do anything to jeopardize that trust," Sollitto said.

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