Leading South African restaurants hurt by fake Google reviews

Some of the country’s top restaurants are facing a moral and reputational dilemma due to an influx of fake Google reviews.

The reviews, both positive and negative, are being detected as counterfeit, writes BizCommunity.

Several prestigious dining establishments in South Africa have reported a surge in dubious online feedback, raising concerns about the integrity of customer review platforms.

Some of the affected restaurants include Pierre at the V&A Waterfront, Ōku, Belly of the Beast, Reverie Social Table, La Colombe, and Homespun, to name a few.

The impact on restauranteurs

Ryan Shell, spokesperson for the acclaimed restaurant Ōku, has expressed his frustration over the wave of fake reviews.

“We pride ourselves on providing exceptional dining experiences, but the prevalence of fake reviews on Google is undermining our reputation and misleading potential customers,” he said.

While awards and media accolades are known to boost the prestige of a restaurant, their true value lies in genuine customer feedback.

The recent surge in fake reviews has also caused confusion and distress among restaurant staff.

“Our main source of information about performance is derived from online reviews, Shell added. “This is because our whole business model revolves around people, and most of the restaurant’s senior staff have worked their way up within the business.”

“We therefore value customer feedback to drive our staff and business forward.”

Reports have indicated that both positive and negative reviews have been published that feature inaccurate details, including non-existent menu items.

Even five-star reviews are said to be damaging, as they erode the authenticity of genuine feedback.

The rise of the fake review bots

Fabricated feedback, often generated using AI, is misleading consumers but also undermines the hard work and dedication of businesses.

The impact of this scam is significant, with fake reviews causing real reputational damage. Shell noted that of the 203 Google reviews Ōku received, 99% were fake.

Bots write fake reviews on restaurants for several reasons.

Fake positive reviews are an effort to improve a restaurant’s ratings and attract more customers, while competitors might use bots to leave fake negative reviews to damage a rival restaurant’s reputation.

MyBroadband recently reported on how scammers trying to con South African are soiling the reputations of legitimate businesses.

Apart from influencing consumer behaviour, fake reviews can also be used to manipulate search engine rankings. A higher volume of reviews can make a restaurant appear more frequently in search results.

Restaurants like Ōku and Tuk Tuk Microbrewery and Bistro have recently brought these issues to the public’s attention so as to prioritise great dining experiences for South Africans.

“In an age of AI, we can expect fake things like this to come up…but how do our customers need us to treat it to keep their trust?” Shell asked.

“We want to be as transparent as possible, so we posted publicly about this issue on social media. We also only interact with the Google reviews we believe are real.”

A safer alternative

As a result of damaging fake reviews, businesses and customers have been turning to online review platforms like Hellopeter.

Since Hellopeter has long recognised the risks associated with fake online reviews, they have implemented stringent measures to combat fraudulent activity, writes Bizcommunity.

With a combination of automated and manual checks, the platform identifies potential fake reviews by looking at patterns and inconsistencies, and then removing them.

“As a bridging platform connecting consumers and businesses, Hellopeter is committed to fostering transparency and trust,” said Hellopeter CEO, Alon Rom.

“Consumers can rely on Hellopeter’s reviews knowing that rigorous safeguards are in place to prevent the proliferation of fake feedback.”