According to Cerretini, when he rebuffed these offers, he’d often notice that freshly posted 5-star reviews would be removed from his page — often no less than 24 hours after getting off the phone with a Yelp rep.
“I came from Italy, and know exactly what mafia extortion looks like,” he says. “Yelp was manipulating reviews and hoping I would pay a protection fee. I didn’t come to America and work for 25 years to be extorted by some idiot in Silicon Valley.”
…Eventually, Cerretini relented, plunking down $270 per month to advertise his business on Yelp. But after 6 months, he found the service “useless” and cancelled it. Once again, his star rating plummeted.
In the spring of 2014, after turning down another Yelp salesperson, Cerretini claims that four 5-star reviews were filtered from his page, and three 1-star reviews were suddenly catapulted to the top of the page. For the chef, this was the final straw.
“Those 1-star reviews were from people who never even set foot in my restaurant,” says Cerretini. “One complained about our waiters… we didn’t even have waiters!”
…One morning in September of 2014, he placed a simple sign in front of Botto Bistro: Give us a one star review on Yelp and get 25% off any pizza! Hate us on Yelp. (The discount was later increased to 50%.)
…His protest came at a perfect time. Days earlier, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that Yelp had the right to manipulate reviews, and its advertising tactics were a form of “hard bargaining” — not extortion.
Small business owners were furious, and they were looking for a vigilante hero.
…Most supporters refused to take the discount, but were thrilled to write a review and partake in what they deemed to be a grassroots, anti-Yelp uprising.
In a few days’ time, Botto Bistro’s Yelp page attracted more than 2,300 1-star ratings (95% of its total reviews) extolling the good food, proper service, and rustic ambiance. “Botto Bistro sucks,” wrote one reviewer. “Delicious food priced fairly. One star.”
…“I got thousands and thousands of letters, thousands of emails a day,” says Cerretini. “People were sending me boxes of chocolates, cash, checks. Business owners from all over the country stopped by to thank me and write a bad review.”