All review sites run the risk of getting gamed, manipulated or abused. The reasons for this are clear and to be expected: a restaurant’s reputation can make or break its business, and there are people who have vested interests in doing one or the other. Motivations to do so are not limited to restaurant owners. There are also vindictive, unreasonable customers who may have personal crusades against certain establishments.
Luckily so far on Eat.fi these kinds of problems have been quite rare. Here’s what we have in place to keep it that way:
1. One review per person. Anonymous users can only review a restaurant from one IP address once. Registered reviewers are allowed one review each for brunch, lunch and dinner. (Needless to say, if a reviewer uses all three, and the restaurant serves neither brunch nor lunch, that account is deleted.)
2. Review ratings: Our registered reviewers have been an excellent early warning system, so we provided the ability to give reviews a rating, based on how fair/informative or unfair/suspicious they are. Top reviewers, whose names are in blue, having rated the most restaurants and established a certain amount of clout on the site, get to vote +2/-2. If a rating gets voted down beyond -5, it disappears.
3. Calculating weighted averages: We don’t calculate just the raw average of all the reviews. We weight the average towards what the majority of reviewers think. This means that if a place has ten reviews, nine of them 5-5-5 and one of them 1-1-1, the restaurant does not get a 4.6. That would give that one holdout way too much power. Instead, that one very negative vote gets a lot less influence. In some cases, it gets none at all. This means that anyone wanting to skew the reviews in their favor has to fake a LOT of reviews to change the prevailing opinion. At that point, it becomes pretty obvious to us on the admin side that something fishy is going on.
4. Good old-fashioned spot-checks and deep monitoring. We read the site every day. We notice things, especially user suspicion in the form of negative ratings, or a sudden influx of very high or very low reviews for a single restaurant. On the admin side, we have a lot of tools to cross-reference and examine review sources and trends. Patterns tend to become quite clear, and consequences are doled out accordingly.
5. It’s windy at the top. As a restaurant receives increasingly high ratings, it attracts more attention from both users and admins. If reviews seem fake, and the actual experience is not everything it was promised to be, there’s usually an outcry and very low ratings follow very fast, which tends to do worse for a restaurant’s reputation than if it had just had modest reviews to begin with. We watch for restaurants with conflicted ratings, sudden popularity/unpopularity, and those with a lot of mostly anonymous reviews or registered reviewers with just one review. In our experience, users notice these signals too and negative ratings follow quickly.
6. Consequences: Individual reviews and/or accounts may be disabled or deleted. If suspicious activity on a particular restaurant persists, we may disable reviews entirely for that restaurant, along with a message explaining why we had to do this. If it persists after that, we disable reviews permanently.
The worst consequence of all, however, is the fact that even if we do nothing at all, potential customers can usually tell when reviews are fake. This really makes a restaurant look bad, and there have been a few cases where a restaurant that may have gotten decent reviews otherwise suddenly was reviewed a lot more critically because reviewers were angry that someone was trying to cheat the system.
No system is perfect, and we’re sure that there are, even now, fake reviews on our site. Eat has been designed to make their influence almost nonexistent, so that in order to add enough fake ones to actually change things, you have to add so many that you become much easier to catch.
All of this is intended to create an even and fair playing field for all the restaurant owners, and to make sure users can trust that the vast majority of reviews on our site were written by real customers like themselves.