like most of the population in December, you were engulfed by the seasonal
tsunami of tat and tinsel, then you are likely to have missed the story of what
happened when the unforgettably named Oobah Butler decided to launch and
promote his restaurant in 2017. Let me tell you.
after week, reports were posted on TripAdvisor from delighted patrons of ‘The
Shed’, a new establishment located in the smart south London suburb of Dulwich
(which is, coincidentally, very close to my own not-quite-so-smart borough of
Bromley). Nobody had a bad word to say about the restaurant, praising its food
and service in glowing terms. Mr
Butler was, needless to say, delighted.
restaurant’s own website was illustrated with photographs of mouth-watering meals
and, so great was the on-line enthusiasm of its patrons, that ‘The Shed’ speedily
reached the review site’s top rank. Indeed, the restaurant critic of The Guardian welcomed its arrival on the
Capital’s gastronomic scene and praised it for recognising that, in his words,
“food is all about mood”.
only fly in this massive pot of oleaginous ointment was that ‘The Shed’ was a
figment of Mr Butler’s imagination. As a restaurant, that is.
exists as a shed. At the bottom of his garden. A large wooden shed with a flat
roof and a glazed door. I assume it contains a fine selection of garden tools
and all the stuff a chap needs to fit out the special space to which chaps
retreat when they want to potter chisels and screwdrivers and hammers and
pliers, and so forth. Power tools, perhaps.
by no stretch of the imagination is it a restaurant. The rave reviews for ‘The
Shed’ in Dulwich were written by him and his friends, who were in on the hoax. He
convinced TripAdvisor that it was a real restaurant by registering a mobile
phone number to its name. The lack of an address was explained away by the fact
that the restaurant was ‘appointment only’.
Naturally, potential diners phoning the number were told ‘The Shed’ was fully booked. Which, knowing human nature, probably made them all the more eager to get a table. And no doubt they kept ringing in hope of success. Vain hope, of course.
as someone who knows a bit about the finer points of hoaxing (but that is a
story for another day), I take my hat off to Oobah Butler and his chums.
have reminded us, in spades, that information encountered on the internet needs
to be approached with caution. The more so when you have no way of knowing
where ‘news’ and opinions come from.
the moment, many years ago, that these sites appeared, with their ‘independent’
judgements of hotels and restaurants, etc., it was obvious that unscrupulous
folk could possibly take advantage of them.
recommendations purporting to come from satisfied diners and guests were just
as likely to have been written by the establishments’ owners or managers – who
were equally adept at posting vitriolic assessments of their competitors.
there were, also, genuine diners or guests who would threaten establishments
with a bad review unless they got a discount on their meal or their room. Both
these scenarios were widely acknowledged to exist, within the travel and
short, the whole concept was – and is – wide open to fraud.
Mr Butler’s hoax was revealed, TripAdvisor had a slight hissy fit. “Generally, the only people who create fake
restaurant listings are journalists in misguided attempts to test us,” a
went on to claim that ‘state-of-the-art technology’ was used to combat
fraudsters trying to rig the ratings. I don’t know much about technology, but I
have my doubts that any system, no matter what state-of-the-art it happens to
be, can differentiate between a truth and a lie.
most powerful computer known to mankind – the human brain – is incapable of
doing so, as we all know from personal experience.
carrying out his hoax, Mr Butler has provided us with a warning of how much ‘ake
news’ is out there on the internet, pretending to be truth. Indeed, he clinched it for me by admitting
that he knew how to work the ratings system because he once made a living
writing fake restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor for £10 a pop.
am, of course, biased, but this story also reinforces my belief in the
superiority of Silver Travel Advisor.
begin with, what you read here is written by people who put their names to
their opinions, and are prepared to have them tested. People who, in the main,
have a lifetime of experience which gives them the ability to make a considered
the start of my career as a travel journalist I was told that the opinion
people value most is that of someone who has been to the destination or the hotel
they are thinking of using. Or who has sailed on the very ship they are tempted
to select for their next cruise. And the advice is all the more valuable when
it comes from someone they know.
matter how much you learn, or how well you write about it,” one old timer told
me, “you’ll never be able to compete with a family member, a neighbour or a
workmate. They’re believed because they are known and trusted.”
was lucky in that television made me ‘known’ to millions of people who came to
trust my judgement almost as much as that of their friends and neighbours. Believe
me, the folk who contribute to the Silver Travel Advisor site are just as worthy
of your trust.
before we leave the saga of the non-existent Dulwich restaurant, may I ask you
to spare a kind thought for ‘The Shed’ in Palace Gardens Terrace, Notting
‘Shed’ is a real restaurant. Serving real meals to real diners. Courtesy of Google street view I have been to
Palace Gardens Terrace and established its existence. I am sure the publicity
surrounding the fake ‘Shed’ over in Dulwich must have had an effect on its
Notting Hill namesake, but I hope it all turns out well.
the real ‘Shed’ is, overwhelmingly, an excellent restaurant.
According, that is, to its online ratings.