An online campaign — No Receipts, No Review — is calling on review site TripAdvisor to only post reviews that come with an uploaded image of a receipt, in an attempt to prove they come from genuine customers. Campaign founder Tom, who wouldn’t give his surname amid fears it would impact on his day job as a restaurant inspector, told the PMA that posting receipts would be mutually beneficial for pubs and TripAdvisor.
“I know a lot of publicans who have spent huge amounts of time not only worrying but trying to deal with inaccurate reviews.
“The pub game is very difficult; if someone is used to going to a Harvester and then visits the Hand and Flowers because they’ve seen Tom Kerridge on the telly and can’t get a table, they shouldn’t be allowed to post a one-star review saying it’s a terrible pub. There are many cases of people turning up at a pub without booking and then posting negative reviews when they can’t get a table. That shouldn’t happen; it’s beyond an owner’s control.
“I’ve heard of instances where vengeful ex-members of staff have posted very personal reviews that are difficult to get rid of and cases where the review has definitely been posted by a competitor. It’s damaging to the TripAdvisor brand and to the trade.”
The campaign has proved a hit with many publicans who argue it would be fairer to businesses and
has gained some star-power after being backed by restaurant critics Jay Rayner and the Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin. Award-winning Chester venue Sticky Walnut also tweeted its support.
Currently, TripAdvisor reviews are put through a tracking system before they are published which is designed to flag up any unusual reviewing behaviour. Suspect reviews are then investigated and rejected if they don’t stand up, and operators can report reviews they think might be fraudulent. Red flags are posted on the pages of business that are repeatedly caught writing good reviews about themselves, warning consumers the reviews are not to be trusted.
Liz Aspden, owner of Sheffield freehouse the Harlequin Inn, is one licensee who has been on the wrong end of an unfair review. She agreed that uploading receipts could help improve credibility.
"We have a break in service during the day and stop serving food at 2pm. One customer got really angry when he couldn’t get something to eat, and went away and left a completely inaccurate review accusing the pub of being unclean.
“A lot of people rely on TripAdvisor and I think [posting] receipts would help solve some of the problems. I know for sure that some businesses get friends and family to write good reviews, even promising bonuses to people who leave five-star reviews.”
Stosie Madie, owner of the Parkers Arms, Newton-in-Bowland, Lancashire, added: “We’ve had people who’ve not checked the pub’s website and have turned up when it’s closed. It’s a rural location so they’ve got annoyed, then gone away and given us a terrible review. That’s not fair; it’s nothing to do with the quality of the food, the experience or the value for money. It would be a good thing if it was better monitored to stop customers trying to blackmail pubs into giving them free meals.”
However, a spokesman for Trip-Advisor argued that the changes would be unfair. He said: “If a verification model was better for consumers, we would have adopted it years ago. We have considered all the verification options out there and have elected to use our current model for one simple reason: the volume of opinions provides for the most in-depth coverage of consumer experience, and it is the model consumers prefer.
“We believe every experience counts, not just that of the person who paid the bill. For example, if four friends go out to dinner there will be four different opinions but under a verified model only the person with the receipt would be able to leave a review. If we required people to submit a receipt, a lot of people who have had a genuine customer experience wouldn’t have a voice and that goes against what we stand for.
“Requiring a receipt to write a review also wouldn’t prevent the most common type of fraud — property boosting — as nobody has better access to receipts than a property owner themselves.”