A businessman has exposed the failings of TripAdvisor after setting up a fake restaurant with glowing reviews – which lead baffled customers to a grotty backstreet alleyway.
The eaterie – called Oscar’s – was billed as one of the best places to eat in Britain with “amazing” and “mind blowing” Michelin-stared food.
It was listed on the TripAdvisor website as a floating restaurant built in the hull of an old fishing boat amid reefs and ship wrecks in Brixham, Devon.
The Oscar’s profile boasted that staff in diving gear would swim down to catch whatever fish the customer wanted.
It was apparently run by a couple called Colette and Alfredo with food and decor based on elBulli – the Spanish restaurant often named as the best in the world.
In a series of reviews dating back three months customers raved its cooking “bordered on sorcery” and described it as a “simply divine” experience.
But diners who visited the address of the new culinary sensation were baffled when they arrived at a disused alleyway full of rubbish bins.
The profile was in fact a prank – started by a disgruntled businessman who was fed up with TripAdvisor going unpoliced and allowing people to post malicious reviews.
Oscar’s creator, who uses the name Oscar Parrot, admitted he posted all the reviews – and even provided an email address for bookings.
It has since been removed and the entire profile taken down after it was revealed as a hoax – but the reviews remain online.
Its creator said he had no intention of actually wasting anyone’s time but he did get a string of emails asking to book tables.
‘Oscar’ says he created the bogus listing after a friend’s hotel received a barrage of criticism that he suspected was from a rival hotelier.
He said: “There are many businesses that have had grudge reviews listed on TripAdvisor, mostly from a rival. Many of these are so blatant, any person doing a short check would see the obvious.
“The chances were better then average that Oscar’s could have sailed on for months.”
The fictional venue opened for business on May 1 and was supposedly housed in a restored “phantom class” fishing vessel moored on the quay side.
Its address was listed as New Quay Lane, Brixham, and the page said it even moved location dependent on tide and season – making it even harder to find.
A series of reviews then lavished praise on its food and decor, describing it as “perfect”, “unexpected” and “a beautiful restaurant, tastefully fitted out, amazing food and wine”.
One entry even hinted heavily at the joke: “I am fortunate enough to live in Catalyuna, home to some of the best restaurants in the world. I have dined at both elBulli and El Celler de Can Roca.
“Is Oscar’s as good? No not quite – but as has been mentioned already, there is an unbelievable quality about it.”
Bookings for the new restaurant began to flood in – and local people reported seeing confused diners arrive in taxis looking for it.
Diners quickly began to smell a rat, however, posting warnings to other visitors not to be fooled by Oscar’s.
One wrote: “I would urge anyone coming to Brixham not to take notice of the reviews attributed to this so-called floating restaurant Oscar’s.
“The restaurant does not exist. It is a spoof, as are the reviews.”
Another disappointed diner added: “I can confirm that this restaurant doesn’t exist.”
TripAdvisor recently vowed to purge itself of fake or defamatory postings after hotelier and restaurateurs claimed bogus reviews can harm their trade.
But despite several flummoxed diners leaving posts pointing out that Oscar’s didn’t actually exist, its page went undetected until it was finally removed last week.
In the three months that it was up Oscar’s had managed to climb to 29th place in a ratings list of 64 eateries in Brixham, Devon.
Chris Emmins, co-founder of the online reputation management firm KwikChex, said the Oscar’s hoax cast doubt on TripAdvisor’s ability to spot fraudulent reviews.
He said: “The listing featured over-the-top reviews for a fake business, but it went undetected for more than two months.
“It’s difficult to see how TripAdvisor’s system can detect elaborate fraud, if they can’t detect one like this.”
A spokesman for TripAdvisor said: “Upon investigation, as this property doesn’t meet our listing guidelines, the listing has been removed.
“With over 60 pieces of content coming in every minute, occasionally a review or business that does not meet TripAdvisor’s guidelines may slip through the cracks, and in these rare cases, our members can report the material to us, helping maintain the high quality content of our site.”