How Did a Fake Restaurant Become London's Most Popular Eatery?

It doesn't actually exist.

Here's a little lesson for any remaining few inclined to believe what they read on the Internet without due skepticism.

Vice reporter Oobah Butler had a mission to get his restaurant to the No. 1 spot in London on TripAdvisor. The thing is, though, he didn't have a restaurant. But he'd held an earlier job that paid $10 for leaving fake positive reviews for establishments on TripAdvisor. So that was the seed of an idea.

Setting up the account on the platform was easy enough: He needed a phone number, website, and address to verify. He used the location of his shed, and called the restaurant "The Shed at Dulwich." To make sure people didn't actually show up, he made the place "by appointment only" and was — obviously — always fully booked when people called.

He had dozens of people start putting in fake reviews until, yes, his fake spot rose to the top of the search tool as the No. 1 spot in London. People wanted to eat there, work there, sell their food there, and even handle the public relations. Everyone wanted a piece.

To give his fictitious place a little extra oomph, he posted images of foods too — such as a chocolate fondant, which was actually a sponge, painted brown, with some shaving cream on it. He shopped at England's frozen-food dollar store, and re-plated the items to represent them as his restaurant's own. A friend of his was a chef in a fine-ding restaurant and made them look great! The soup? Instant.

When it was time to welcome real guests, Butler brought actors to sit side by side with them and effusively "enjoy" the food. Guests, falling in line, enjoyed it too.

This isn't the first time TripAdvisor has been in the news related to fact manipulation and review issues: A woman in Kent was sued for leaving a bad review, and recently the platform was caught deleting bad reviews — such as reviews about sexual assault — to entice more bookings.

TripAdvisor commented on The Shed saying, "Generally, the only people who create fake restaurant listings are journalists in misguided attempts to test us. As there is no incentive for anyone in the real world to create a fake restaurant. It is not a problem we experience with our regular community — therefore this 'test' is not a real-world example." 

Still looking for a (real) place to eat? Here are 11 fantastic restaurants in London that actually exist.

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