I have something
embarrassing awesome to share. For a while, I was the most popular reviewer on Yelp. I wrote loving tributes to the restaurants I adored, and damning screeds about the vets who did my dogs wrong. It was a creative outlet at my otherwise soul-sucking job, a job I eventually stopped doing because Yelp became my real, actually important job. It was dark days, my friends.
Every once in awhile, I'd get restaurants I'd already reviewed offering me a free cocktail if I came in to say hi, or upstart salons offering slightly discounted massages, and I felt like such a special snowflake. Of course, this wasn't very often, I always mentioned if that happened in a review, and I was never offered anything extravagant. Those were the days: I had no real power, the businesses were just nice people who appreciated the nice reviews, I eventually changed jobs to something I actually enjoyed doing, and my Yelpy ways slowed to a more manageable pace.
Well, apparently things have changed big time since I ruled the Yelp roost, and one enterprising power reviewer (lol) is demanding perks, upgrades, and straight-up freebies in exchange for his good words. Not only that, he created a business around forcing businesses to give high-profile reviewers all sorts of stuff in exchange for positive write-ups — or in some cases, just so they won't get trashed online.
Brad Newman (unfortunate last name), the 35-year-old founder of ReviewerCard, says the impetus for the business came when he received poor service in a French restaurant. Newman claims when he verbalized his plans to leave a negative review on TripAdvisor to the restaurant staff, he was immediately treated like a king. That sounds fair — you mention your spotty service and the restaurant tries to come correct (even though I kinda love that French restaurants have different service standards than do American ones. It's a big, big world; customs are different all over!)
However, that small taste of power set wheels spinning in Newman's scheming head.
"Why can't waiters, hotel workers, concierges know that people are reviewers?" He asked. "If that French waiter had known at the beginning that I write a lot of reviews, he'd have treated me like Brad Pitt."
And such is the birth story (sorry) of ReviewerCard, an ID given to prolific online reviewers to flash at bars, restaurants, wherever, to ensure best quality service
from the scared shitless staff.
If you want a fancier version of the card (because ???), they'll charge you $100 for a black one that says, "ReviewerCard: I write reviews."
I'll pause for a minute so you can catch your breath.
You might ask what gives Newman's ReviewerCard more value than say, scribbling "ME WRITE REVIEWS, ME WANT FREE FOOD" on a piece of construction paper in crayon. Nothing really, but that's a moot point. (Also, punch yourself in the face because that's something only a real asshole does.)
But wait, it gets even worse. Our role model in this whole venture, Mr. ReviewerCard himself, Brad Newman, shares a story in which he happily bullies himself into a lower rate at a hotel.
"I took out my card and asked if I could pay 200 euros," Newman said. "In return, I would write a great review on TripAdvisor. The woman at the hotel immediately said yes. It was a win-win for both of us."
Well, sure, if you think win/win is the same as someone walking into your home, stealing some of your shit, and then saying, "Don't worry, I'll tell everyone what a nice home you have." (I know it's not exactly like that, but this is how angry this dummy makes me.)
The Los Angeles Times says what Newman is doing isn't illegal, but what about the laws governing endorsements and testimonials?
The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.
This man is receiving free stuff, and it's because of his clout and review power — shouldn't he be held to the same standards as bloggers? I want to know if a review on TripAdvisor was influenced by the fact that the reviewer got a huge discount and a free bump of coke. Not revealing the entire truth of your visit decreases the value of having sites with "real reviews, real people". We expect the "real people" on these sites would have an experience on par with what we could expect. With one flash of the review card, you go from Ruth Reichl at Le Cirque before they recognized her, to Ruth Reichl at Le Cirque after they recognized her. And it's just not fair to anyone.
Saying something about imperfect service in the moment might be helpful, but threatening that you might write something shitty online so you'll receive unwarranted perks is ridiculous.
I don't know if this will take off in the same way Newman hopes it will — after all, he thinks it's the next American Express Blackcard. Lol.
I feel bad for the businesses. The moms and pops who are struggling to survive in an increasingly unfriendly climate. The boutique hotels and hole-in-the-wall diners that represent the American Dream, places that deserve a fair shot at success. Every time Newman intimidates them into giving him free hotel rooms and discounted ham quesadillas, he's almost stealing from them. He's at least strong arming an unwilling participant into his little game. The businesses play along in hopes that he'll say something decent about them online, maybe drive more business their way. But what about when every amateur around expects exactly what Newman got? I mean, hello, they have Yelp accounts, too.
When the LA Times asks Newman if he thinks this is unfair to everyone else, he responds with "That's one way of looking at it. I see it as letting the restaurant know that they should treat me good because I'm going to be writing a review."
Newman claims he's all about holding businesses accountable to providing good service, but that's not what this is about. This is about getting free shit. Free shit you are taking from someone else, and then making them thank you for. Newman is a fucking asshole, and anyone else who uses one of these embarrassing ReviewerCards is, too. I hope restaurants and hotels will stand up to these numbnuts — and if they harass you, let us know, I'm happy to help start taking names and kicking some entitled online ass. After all, I'm sure I still have my Yelp login info somewhere.
Image via Africa Studio / Shutterstock.