Chef Davide Cerretini is a legend. If you don’t know his name, maybe you have heard of Botto Bistro, the Richmond, California restaurant that once held the honor of worst-rated restaurant on Yelp.
In 2014, Cerretini offered pizza discounts in exchange for bad Yelp reviews. Yes, you read that right – one star review earns you 25% off your pizza. When Yelp complained, Cerretini upped the ante to 50% off.
Doesn’t Yelp punish restaurants for exchanging incentives for reviews? Yes – but don’t forget Cerretini does not give a flying fart what Yelp thinks. In fact, he started the ploy to beat Yelp at its own game.
According to Cerretini, and many other small business owners, Yelp participates in what amounts to extortion of restaurant owners. Sales reps reach out to these businesses and urge them to buy an ad for a monthly fee. Upon buying the ad, some mysterious algorithm filters more positive reviews to the top of the restaurant’s page. No one knows what the algorithm is or how exactly it works, but it seemed no coincidence to Cerretini that his best reviews disappeared and bad ones rose to the top after he refused to participate.
“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,” Cerretini told the Hustle.
Cerretini’s plan worked. In one day he attracted a month’s worth of business in response to the discount incentive for a one-star review. After a few more days, there were 2,300 one-star ratings.
Botto Bistro has since been sold to Mountain Mike’s Pizza. But Cerretini’s legacy is far from forgotten. In fact, he kept the website as a monument to his success: “We would like to thank Yelp for being so stupid and arrogant that they tried to extort the Italians. In doing so they allowed us to have fun, increase our business and our popularity, troll them for the last 6 years, sell our place at a profit, and forge a new career that took us all over the world exposing them for the idiots they are.”
Botto Bistro has a 2.5 star rating on Yelp from 283 reviews. Italy 1, Silicon Valley 0.