What’s Fit for a Review?

This morning, the local San Francisco paper covered an article by professional restaurant reviewer, Michael Bauer, about OpenTable, a restaurant reservation solution that also solicits reviews from verified diners.

A diner wrote to him to share an experience she had with the service whereby she wrote a review that highlighted poor sanitary conditions and ambiance at the restaurant. She wrote, “My husband and I had dinner at Restaurant X before ACT and although the food was very good and the service was adequate, the sanitation and cleanliness of the place left much to be desired. Fruit flies hovered over our plates, dead flies were in the window and the walls and ceiling definitely could use a coat of paint. Although this restaurant is a “legend” and has a long San Francisco historic significance, there is no reason not to keep it looking clean. We enjoyed the food very much, but the lack of ambience certainly took away our desire to eat the great food.”

When she went to submit the review, the system wouldn’t allow it, stating, “the text is inappropriate.”

Michael Bauer reached out to OpenTable for an explanation, and Ann Shephed, the SVP of Marketing replied, “The review in question was flagged by our automated system because it contained words that might suggest possible safety issues or health code
violations. Given the damage such a claim can cause to a restaurant’s reputation and our inability to verify the facts, our system identifies comments regarding sanitation and cleanliness and keys off words like “fly.”

I immediately thought of hotels and issues around bed bugs and cleanliness. Should there be more checks in place to censor reviews that can seriously damage a hotel’s reputation? I’m sure the majority of hoteliers would like to see review sites and OTAs take more control over claims in reviews, yet looking at the comments to this article, it’s clear that many consumers think that free speech should reign. For example, “As a customer I have every right to know about dirty bathrooms, bugs or flies found in my food.”

What do you think? More filters or should consumers be able to say anything?

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