Restaurants demand ACCC put review websites on menu

Esther Han
Unbalanced: Chef Peter Gilmore's verdict on review websites.
Unbalanced: Chef Peter Gilmore's verdict on review websites. 

Restaurateurs have urged the consumer watchdog to investigate popular review websites, which they claim use faulty ratings systems and are often abused by customers and competitors.

The Restaurant and Catering Australia has expressed to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission concerns over fake reviews, ''unfair'' algorithms and lack of accountability for the operators behind websites such as Eatability, Urbanspoon and Yelp.

The association wants an investigation into the ratings methods of websites to ensure they reflect the true views of consumers.

Confident: Urbanspoon claim only legitimate reviews make it online.
Confident: Urbanspoon claim only legitimate reviews make it online. 

''There could be a code of practice, industry roundtables, rather than a straight regulatory response,'' said the association's chief executive, John Hart.

Past efforts to persuade website operators to address suspected flaws in their algorithms, which he believes produce skewed ratings, were futile.

Mr Hart said websites also refused to remove damaging comments ''because they say they don't own the data, they just publish what other people give them''.

Negative reviews posted by disgruntled former employees and competitors unfairly burdened owners, he said.

Urbanspoon said its operational policies prevented fraudulent or defamatory reviews.

''We've invested years building proprietary technology designed to identify system fraud and gaming, ensuring only legitimate reviews make it through our filters,'' said Brandi Willard, of Urbanspoon. ''We will continue to welcome all opinions submitted by real diners and take swift action in response to violations of our policies when they occur.''


Rick Baccaglia, owner of Zenja Cafe in North Strathfield, welcomed the move, claiming his business had been unfairly attacked for years on websites.

''Someone with a Subway sandwich sits in our outside dining area that's clearly marked with flower pots, signage and white tiles,'' he said. ''We kindly asked him to leave, explaining it wasn't a public dining area. He later posted a review saying Zenja had rude management and shouldn't go there.''

He also complained website operators failed to respond to any of his concerns.

''They're not accountable. I ring them up … but I hear nothing.''

He has chosen not to exercise his right to respond to avoid giving credibility to a negative review.

But Toni Clarke, a restaurant consultant at RT Hospitality Solutions, said in some situations owners should reply to users posting negative comments.

''They should put their hands up and say they've done something to change and apologise,'' she said. ''These websites are here to stay and with instant posts going on Facebook and Twitter, engagement will become more important.''

Peter Gilmore, executive chef at Quay in The Rocks, said websites were inherently flawed because they attracted people who wanted to vent about bad experiences.

''They cannot be balanced, people use it to vent,'' he said. ''People should look at what professional reviewers have to say.''

Eatability, TripAdvisor and Yelp did not respond to interview requests.

with Laura House