The new California law in place giving Yelp permission to manipulate business ratings for money has a lot of people pissed. Some restaurants are fighting back, like San Francisco Italian restaurant Botto Bistro, who are now aiming for the lowest Yelp rating in the Bay Area.
To achieve this, the restaurant is offering customers who write 1-star reviews on Yelp 25 percent off a pizza. According to SFGate, owner Davide Cerrentini says it’s the best business move he’s made in years. He claims that Yelp would call him 20 times a week and hound him to advertise, a pitch he eventually submitted to, paying $270 for six months’ worth of advertising on the food review platform. However, once he stopped advertising, he saw his positive reviews vanish only to be replaced with mostly negative reviews.
The campaign seems to be working, as there have been a flood of 1-star reviews on the restaurant’s page since they started their fight against the Yelp mafia. Some of the reviews are downright hilarious.
We recently had the chance to catch up with Davide Cerrentini, who spoke with a thick but endearing Italian accent, over the phone. As far as business is concerned since the campaign, here’s what Cerrentini had to say:
“Business has always been fantastic. Our website has always been a little snarky, to handle a certain type of customer. So it wasn’t really a big deal for us to do something like this. If certain people don’t come, we’re not going to commit suicide because we are sorry.”
“It was a great choice. We’ve had many years in this business. We’re Italian and we know what we’re doing. We are very much confident in what we’re doing. After 20 years, we have a huge following; we dont need to prove anything to anyone, including anyone who is writing on Yelp.
We wanted to make a big point. The best way to do that was to do it against the most controversial, the most hated company in the internet review world, which we are sick and tired of.”
He then went on and gave a warning to anyone who would take advantage of his business’s name online.
“From now on, whoever uses my name or my business’s name to make money, if they put me up on any site with any profile of my business that I don’t want to be there, I’m going to sabotage it, make it miserable, so that it doesn’t mean anything to them. I should be the one that they pay to be there, not me paying them to advertise with them, to a site which to me is worthless.
From now on, the music has changed. I am nobody; I own a hole in the wall in a strip mall in Richmond. It’s successful — it gives me enough — and my business is not gonna be blackmailed or extorted in a way that is convenient for them.
I think it’s a big slap in the face to thousands of people in the Bay Area, millions in the world. I hope that everybody out there is going to open their eyes, because you can not use anything belonging to someone else who doesn’t agree. If I agree you can use my name, go ahead and make money for yourself and maybe give me a slice of the cake. You cannot force me to be there and also complain if I don’t do what you want. I mean, this is like Third World shit.”
Despite all this, Cerretini emphasizes that he is not angry.
“I’m not angry. Actually, I owe them now. This kind of publicity is worth plenty thousands of dollars a year. I’m getting national TV, TV in italy, newspapers in Italy, Time magazine, USA Today, so imagine how much I care today what they’re gonna do with my stars. I mean, I’m getting so much business. And I’ll tell you what, the support that we have, we are so grateful to the whole world for, especially the American public.
If you stop for a moment and pay attention to all the comments of hate toward Yelp, they start to make you think why. Are me and my business partner crazy? Do we just point the finger to someone because we are two crazy Italians? Or maybe, all these millions of people who have started to raise their voices, they’re sick and tired of a certain type of business that is absolutely not transparent at all. I am transparent, because after I hang up with you, I’m going to make a pizza and sandwich. I’m a people guy. I’ve never been a CEO or a spokesman or anybody else. I’m just saying I refuse to put my business in the hands of someone to use me to make money and to also extort money from me. I refuse that. With all my heart. And there is no anger. I think I just had to stop one moment and use my right as a business and a person. This is not right. There is something wrong, and I think thousands agree with me.”
“If you open your business in your 20s, you approach the business in a different way. Along the way, you will experience different people and will make mistakes. So a younger chef or a younger restaurateur definitely should be more careful with what he does than the guy who is in the business for 50 years. Me and my business partner reached the point, where five years ago, we opened our seventh restaurant — not together, but between us. We know what we’re doing. It’s not like trying to establish something. We didn’t do anything different; we just made it better. After 20 years in this business with a huge following, that tells you a lot.
I don’t ask my customers to write positive compliments because when I see their face twice a week it would be stupid for me to ask them, ‘So do you really like this place?’ Everyone knows that if you go to a restaurant two or three times there is something appealing to you. Now everyone wants to have the approval of 100 percent of the public. I realized during my career that it’s not that way.”
If there is one thing everyone should take away from this interview, it’s probably the following:
“The most important thing for me is to do something I love. Every time I cook a plate, it reminds me of my grandmother or grandfather, and I ate their food for like 20 years with that smell, with that texture. I can hear their voice when I eat the food, I can still hear their voice. Why should I consider the words of a nobody who writes two words in a Yelp review or any other site about what my food should be when they grew up on milkshakes and hot dogs? I’m sorry. I grew up with my grandfather eating healthy food and loving what I’m doing.
I’m so grateful to God and to all the American public for the opportunity to even do what I love. It doesn’t even matter how much money I make. Just make sure that you know I’m not trying to get a penny from anybody. People call me with their credit card by phone and they want to pay for my drinks, they want to give me money. I swear we didn’t accept one penny from anybody, because this is not about money. I’m not suing anybody; I just stopped doing what everyone else wants me to do unless I agree with their terms. And that’s the point I’m making. The general public or other business that support me, they all should be careful with the choices they make. I don’t encourage anybody to do what I did. But if you feel it’s time for you or everybody else to have things change, then do your part. I did my part. Nobody owes me anything. But I did this for me, for my family, for my friends and for my business.”