Garden shed becomes top-rated London restaurant on TripAdvisor after site tricked by fake reviews
A journalist tricked TripAdvisor into making his shed the top-rated restaurant in London, after he and his friends submitted fake reviews.
Oobah Butler, a writer for Vice, transformed his garden shed into a fake restaurant, by making a website and enlisting a photographer to take photographs of the "food" - close-ups of shaving foam, bleach and at one point, the author's foot- that "The Shed" apparently served.
The website boasts: "An appointment-only restaurant located in South London, The Shed has been operating privately for years. In 2017, it decided to open its doors. As of November that year, it was TripAdvisor's top-rated restaurant in London."
He said he knew how to game the respected ratings website because he once made a living by writing fake restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor for £10 a post, in order to boost the businesses up the rankings.
Mr Butler convinced TripAdvisor - and hundreds of potential customers - that his shed in Dulwich, south London, was a real restaurant by buying a cheap mobile phone, registering that number as the restaurant's and refusing to give an address, because the "restaurant" was appointment-only.
Over the next few months, the fake gourmet spot managed to climb the rankings, thanks to Mr Butler and his friends who kept leaving positive reviews.
The elusiveness of The Shed in Dulwich sparked interest among potential customers, too, who were keen to try a spot off the beaten track.
The menu also caused interest - with each dish being based on a mood such as lust, comfort or contemplation.
One example dish,' Empathetic', is "Vegan clams in a clear broth with parsnips, carrots, celery, and potatoes. Served with rye crisps."
Guardian restaurant critic Jay Rayner was taken in by the ruse, tweeting: "At last: a restaurant that recognises food is all about mood. Of all the shed-based eating experiences out there this one sounds like the best. Or at least second best. (I have my own shed, hence). Personally I'm keen to try 'contemplation'."
The local council even got involved, according to the author, who said it tried to relocate his "restaurant" to a new location in Bromley.
Mr Butler writes in his piece: "I realise what it is: the appointments, lack of address and general exclusivity of this place is so alluring that people can’t see sense. They’re looking at photos of the sole of my foot, drooling. Over the coming months, The Shed's phone rings incessantly."
After he managed to make his restaurant number 1, the journalist held an opening party, at which he served guests microwave meals from a discount supermarket, dressed-up to look like they could be haute cuisine.
After the guests seemed to enjoy themselves, with one pair asking if they could come again, Mr Butler wrote: "So there we go: 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 told The Telegraph 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."
The spokesperson also said that the company uses state-of-the-art technology to combat fraudsters trying to influence the ratings of real businesses, and that the difference between reviews from real customers and fake customers tends to show which ratings are real.