The beloved Brooklyn seafood joint Littleneck is involved in something fishy on Craigslist.
A posting from Dec. 4th at 12:04 p.m. entitled "YELP Help (Brooklyn)" [UPDATE: the post has since been removed, see screenshot] and listed in the Writing Gigs section of the popular classified ads website indicated that Littleneck was "looking for YELP reviewers with established or Elite profiles" and offering "Free meal for review!"
Though the restaurant didn't identify itself in this "no pay" listing, the email listed was "For info---- info [at] littleneckbrooklyn [dot] com." Was Littleneck attempting to lure some new customers in with positive Yelp reviews?
Guy, a manager at Littleneck Outpost, the restaurant's second location in Greenpoint, said that he knew nothing about the posting, adding it didn't sound like anything the restaurant would do.
We heard from Aaron Lefkove, one of Littleneck's owners, next. He confirmed the post did not come from the restaurant.
"We definitely did not post that," he wrote in an email. "I imagine it's an unhappy customer or a former business partner who we took legal action against and who does childish stuff like this."
Lefkove said he has contacted Craigslist and reported the posting as harassment and plans to contact Yelp as well.
"If we do find out from Craigslist who actually posted the ad we will take appropriate legal action," he said in an email. "The sad thing is that anyone can post anything on the internet posing as someone and there is oftentimes little to no recourse."
But the post went up on Dec. 4, did the restaurant receive no inquiries? Free food was promised! Lefkove says no, though he was contacted by Yelp. He said they alerted him of the posting offering compensation in exchange for reviews, but was not told where the ad was on the internet. Only when amNY.com contacted Lefkove did he see the link, he said.
Yelp for Business Owners confirms that businesses are discouraged from asking for reviews, but it is not against the policy of the site.
"Solicited reviews are less likely to be recommended by our automated software...we have the unfortunate task of trying to help our users distinguish between real and fake reviews, and while we think we do a pretty good job at it with our fancy computer algorithms, the harsh reality is that solicited reviews often fall somewhere in between...We don’t need these kinds of reviews, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when they aren’t recommended."
A representative from Yelp confirms that "paying for or incentivizing Yelp reviews violates our Terms of Service (section 6Ai) and Content Guidelines (under Conflicts of Interest)." Businesses found doing "something shady" will be contacted by User Operations with a warning followed by a Consumer Alert on the page "if they continue to try and mislead consumers by incentivizing review behavior."
A quick glance at Littleneck's Yelp page would make one wonder why, in fact, Littleneck would solicit reviews. The Gowanus restaurant boasts 3.5 stars with the Outpost at 3.
Reading through the reviews, as typical on Yelp, many customers are happy with the food and the lower ratings seem to be perhaps isolated or unusual incidents. A one-star review from user Pipe A. dated May 2014 says: "weird place...bartend