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What if your restaurant (or business) is threatened with a one-star Google review?

No matter how impeccable service a restaurant provides, chances are it will still receive negative online reviews from time to time. Recently, some top-rated restaurants in San Francisco and New York, including those with Michelin stars, began receiving a blitz of one-star ratings on Google with no description or photos (Morales, 2022). The owners believed those leaving one-star ratings had never dined in their establishments. Moreover, soon after the reviews, they all received emails from the reviewers who claimed the responsibility.

What did the reviewers want by leaving one-star Google ratings?

The reviewers asked the restaurants to pay them a $75 Google Play gift card before they would remove the ratings. If they did not receive the gift card, they would add more bad ratings to the business.

How did the restaurants respond to those negative reviews?

One owner tweeted about her experience to Google as a complaint. Google removed the one-star ratings for her. Another restaurant got those one-star reviews taken down after its customers outcried on social media. Not all restaurants are that lucky, however. Some had difficulty reaching out to Google or having Google remove the negative comments. The scammers also send follow-up emails:

“We can keep doing this indefinitely. Is $75 worth more to you than a loss to the business?”

What can be done with this kind of cybercrime?

If targeted, I will not suggest any restaurants to even think about paying the $75 gift card as requested. Instead, they should immediately report the incident to Google, local police departments, or even the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission. It is critical to keep a photocopy of all reports being filed. Referring to my research studies about online reviews, I also recommend the following actions:

  • Be open to its stakeholders about the incident on the restaurant’s website and on every social media outlet or through email marketing.
  • Publish all updates about the incident through the same marketing communication channels (e.g., sharing the police report).
  • Encourage satisfied and repeat customers to post positive reviews and let them be advocates for the business.
  • Respond to all one-star reviews with facts. The restaurant may confront the reviewer if it looks like a fake review and asks for more details about the complaint. Suppose a real customer leaves a negative review. In that case, the restaurant should tell the public that they have taken specific actions to address the service failure issue.

Let’s hope we can find a solution to stop this kind of cybercrime soon. What suggestions will you make to address this issue?


Morales, Christina (July 13, 2022). Restaurants face an extortion threat: Bad Google reviews. The New York Times. 

Linchi Kwok
Professor at The Collins College of Hospitality Management, Cal Poly Pomona
CAL Poly Pomona

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