Give us $75, or we will continue to bombard you with one-star reviews.
That’s essentially the threat being faced by about a dozen of Miami’s most celebrated restaurants. For example, Boia De in Little Haiti just received a coveted Michelin star — the mark of excellence in the restaurant world — at the same time that someone is inundating Google with one-star reviews of the foodie mecca.
“It was pretty wild, like, one-star reviews, like most chefs like to say we don’t read the reviews, we don’t read Yelp, we don’t read Google, but they’re all lying, we’re all lying, we do,” said Alex Meyer, Boia De’s owner and chef.
So instead of the usual fawning responses, Meyer said he was choking on bad reviews.
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“So it’s noticeable when we get a one-star review, especially considering we generally get five-star reviews, which is really nice,” Meyer said.
Meyer had very fine company, said Carlos Frias, who writes about the food scene for the Miami Herald and first uncovered the scam.
“Most of the restaurants which were recently honored with a Michelin star have been hit with this same blackmail extortion and then come to find out, it’s happening to restaurants around the country, from San Francisco to Chicago to New York,” Frias said.
“Then I think we got three that first day, another one the next day, and this email came in, and it was like literal blackmail. It was really uncomfortable, it was weird, it’s nothing that we’ve ever dealt with,” Meyer said, describing his reaction when he first saw the reviews.
One of the emails reads, “We can keep doing this indefinitely. Is $75 worth more to you than a loss to the business? We realize that what we’re doing is illegal and unfair. But we have no other choice. Let’s just close this matter positively and forget about each other.”
Frias points out that the scammers might have miscalculated by targeting restaurants that don’t rely on a Google review average score.
“Those restaurants are known, they’re already a known quantity, so what the restaurant industry is worried about is the lesser-known restaurants, those that rely on those Google reviews," Frias said. "If their reviews are affected, that could really hurt their business."
By Wednesday afternoon, Google had removed the fake one-star reviews. Meyer never replied to the scam emails, and has a message for whoever sent them.
“Making money at the expense of other people is wrong, it sucks. I wish they wouldn’t do it,” he said.