Are Those Real People Or Sock Puppets Raving On Yelp About A New Brooklyn Heights Eatery?

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a crack down on businesses hiring firms to provide fake rave Yelp reviews recently, fining some as much at $100,000. The practice is called “astroturfing” and black hat marketing firms offer the service of “sock puppet” reviewers to restaurants to boost their overall Yelp ratings.

As any casual user of the service knows, there always seem to be 5 star reviews for establishments of questionable quality. The Guardian has a great piece on how to spot fakes. Hyperbole, naturally, is one factor. We’ve added another – a cluster of reviewers claiming to be from another state. How about several reviews from another state?

Take the case of recent posts regarding Montague Street’s Taperia, which just opened this month. Three reviewers claiming to be from Florida have raved about the place. One account was created in the last two weeks.


Sure, it’s totally plausible that these folks are real and truly love Taperia and that the owners of the establishment have no involvement whatsoever with their online activity. As a matter of fact, it would be great for the neighborhood if those reviewers were really that jazzed about the place.

You decide if this one from “Michelle V.” feels legit:

A wonderful place for tapas in the city. The new Chef Hector Diaz did an amazing job with the new look and menu. Gotta say its worth a night out, every night! Yummy!

Or how about “Esteban O.”, another Floridian:

Driving thru and needed a “tapas fix”. The scallops and foie gras were EXCELLENT! The roasted figs were perfectly done. We washed it down with Cornessa 2008 and Rias Baixas. Looking forward to my next time here at ‘Taperia”. This chef really knows what he’s doing!

Reviewer “Undercover A” seems legit to us, mostly because their other neighborhood reviews ring true:

Meatballs are good, filled with manchego cheese, maybe a bit chewy. Chorizo is OK too. Solid wine selection ($8/9 by the glass). Flights at the bar would be a great idea. Very friendly environment and plenty of energy. Shout out to Cassie … We need this place desperately in the Heights! Welcome!

Then there’s “Matthew P.” who we not only know in real life, but is an occasional contributor to BHB:

Atrociously bad food. Imagine if a diner served tapas and you’d have a good idea of the quality and flavor. Nothing was good. Nothing. Not a single thing. Really. I kid you not.

Worst sangria I’ve ever had and ever will have. You know you’re in trouble when it comes out in a pint glass. With each sip I marveled how it not only tasted nothing resembling sangria, but was so plain.

Oh, and the prices are quite high for such small plates. Montague Street’s curse of bad restaurants continues. We must have been very bad in a past life.

Don’t say you weren’t warned. And it also appears some of these 5 star ratings from first-time reviewers are bogus.

Also, Yelp has filtered at least 3 reviews of the eatery so far.

Recently, a Harvard Business School study claims that 20% of Yelp reviews are fake.

While it’s unclear who is behind the hyperbolic raves for this and many other restaurants on Yelp, this story wouldn’t be complete without shedding light on what restaurateurs think about the service who solicit ad dollars from them. In a word – extortion. Yelp, of course, denies this.

WFSB 3 Connecticut

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  • JMan

    I’m not sure about the Yelp reviews all being fake but it seems like a lot of them are. I certainly posted my 1 star review with in minutes of arriving home after a TERRIBLE experience at Taperia. (posted by J.L. Brooklyn)

    Honestly, there were reviewers just “driving through and looking for a “tapas fix”???? They can’t even write a good fake review.

  • PineappleWalk

    The fake reviews aside, why post a 1 star review after trying any place just once? Professional food critics try a place at least 3 times and at different times of the week before reviewing it. A lot of money is invested by people who are not necessarily rich at these small businesses, not to mention all of the employees who just started jobs there.

    It even looks like EH who gave Taperia 1 star on Yelp never even stepped into the place. Just complained about Buon Gusto and Montague street in general. There ought to be some sort of legal consequences for reviewers like him/her.

  • Heightsman

    My prediction before it even opened was DOA. I don’t take pleasure in doing it. I just know what works in BH after 14 years. Night night.

  • Matthew Parker

    Yelp is not populated by professional reviewers. It’s the voice of the people, and frankly, after dropping north of $80 on a disaster (then needing to get fries next store at 5 Guys because the small plates at Taperia are unsatisfying as well as unappetizing), I’m not going to spend another $160 to see if perhaps they were having a bad night.

  • AEB

    One must simply discount Montague as a dining destination, as restaurant after restaurant there proves. It’s a mall that attracts mall-food places: depressingly inept imitations of various cuisines, as if no one involved knew a thing about food.

  • Karl Junkersfeld

    Unlike Matthew, I have eaten at Taperia on 3 separate occasions and find some dishes better than others. The lamb chops were very good and the price reasonable as was the shrimp dish. I have had sangria at some excellent restaurants, Tertulia immediately comes to mind, and it was fine, though pricy at $9 for a pint glass. The fact they had no carafes or pitchers was disappointing. My Cuban sandwich with a cold Pacifico draft beer was fine while sitting at he window overlooking Montague. The background music of latin tunes adds an appealing ambiance. My wife is Spanish and both of us appreciate having a latin option in the neighborhood.

    Personally, I think it is reasonable to give eateries at least 2 months to iron out the kinks before writing an excoriating review.

  • Heights Observer

    I agree with Karl. Posting a bad review after eating at a place only once is a bit unfair – especially in a new place. Give the place a bit of time and then go back before your bad review helps destroy a business that might, just might, need a little time to get its act together.

  • PineappleWalk

    Also, how about be supportive rather than destructive and speak to the managers/owners before taking to the internet to voice your strong opinions. And they’re just that, opinions. Be a neighbor and help our small businesses succeed, unless we want our streets to become one long strip mall full of McDonalds, Subways and the Gap, which is already happening slowly but surely.

  • Hicksanthorpe

    Respectfully, I have to disagree. Poor quality food is not a “kink”. Good food is priority number one. If a restaurant can’t get that right in the first week, I don’t hold out much hope for the place.

  • fit4ufor3rd

    everyone in north brooklyn is a sock puppet

  • Bialy

    Any idiot that actually goes to a restaurant based on a Yelp review deserves an overpriced bad meal ..

  • Klezmer O’Brien


  • Klezmer O’Brien

    If an experience is bad enough to merit just one star, it seems unlikely that anybody is going to go back and give them a second chance. Any review is subjective, though. If you walk past and it looks inviting, why not give it a shot?

  • Arch Stanton

    Indeed, it’s kind of sad that Teresa’s is the best restaurant on Montague St.

  • AEB

    Yes–either there’s talent creating a menu and executing it, or there isn’t. Certain dishes may fail or need work, but one senses immediately if a restaurant is serious about its cooking and good at it.

  • Arch Stanton

    “Professional food critics try a place at least 3 times and at different times of the week before reviewing” Where do you get that idea from? I know a professional food critic who writes most of his reviews based on one visit, some times a second visit if the first was exceptionally good. To imply there is some protocol for the number of times critics follow is absurd.

  • Karl Junkersfeld

    Arch, I think the NYT food critics generally make multiple visits but you are correct, that isn’t mandatory. I found this excerpt on the subject:

    Multiple visits

    Within the constraints of time and budget, critics should visit a restaurant as many times as is needed to properly assess a restaurant. Two or more visits to a restaurant are ideal for the purposes of full-length reviews. Service, food quality and atmosphere can vary, sometimes quite dramatically, from day to day. Multiple visits give the critic a better understanding of the restaurant, helping him or her to more accurately gauge its rhythm and spirit.

    When only one visit is possible, it is best to attempt to have the most typical experience diners will be seeking out at a restaurant. Do not visit at lunch to write about a restaurant specializing in dinner; if the restaurant’s specialty is a tasting menu, it would be best to order that instead of à la carte if it is financially possible. If writing a full-length review on the basis of a single visit, acknowledge the situation in the review.

  • Remsen Street Dweller

    And from the same article —

    Granted these guidelines are directed at professional food critics but, I think, they are useful reminders for us to keep in mind when judging a new restaurant.

  • Karl Junkersfeld


    Are you Sherlock Holmes in disguise? Is Lucy Liu as attractive in person as she is in “Elementary”? If you are a teacher, I pity the student who thinks he can plagiarize and get away with it. :<)

  • Remsen Street Dweller

    LOL. No, I’m more like Googly Goo, then Lucy Liu!

  • David on Middagh

    That’s an interesting point, Hicksanthrope (and AEB). Can anyone think of a restaurant whose food started out mixed but improved dramatically with time?

  • AEB

    David–and how the heck are ya?–it’s been my experience that even when restaurants change chefs midstream, so to speak, or especially when they do, the “new” food is no better than the old.

    The die is cast, I think, from the git. Perhaps this is the result of fundamentally poor or dubious choices. Take the very sepulchral Bevacco. It’s hard for me to imagine that anything short of a complete redo would lure me there more than once, even with a food/price improvement.

  • Remsen Street Dweller
  • Arch Stanton

    True, the more visits the better the accuracy of the review but only marginally. If a restaurant has lousy food on the first visit it is unlikely to improve much on subsequent visits and even if it did what do you say about it? You would always remember the first bad experience, the best you could honestly say is “it’s hit or miss” and thats not good.

  • Rock E. Fella

    Bring back La Traviata!!!!!!!!!!

  • MonroeOrange

    Bring back Lenny’s!!!!!!! Montague Saloon!!!!! Annie’s!!!!!!!! Taco Madre!!!!!!! and while we are at it, Square Circle!

  • Heightsman

    Amen. I didn’t realize how much I would miss be able to have HUGE portions delivered to my home. The cycle of pizza, sushi, Chinese, Thai is getting old. Traviata gave you a whole loaf of bread most nights along with more butter than you could possibly use.

  • Arch Stanton

    La Traviata was was the reincarnation Lenny’s, when they moved up the block to the former Hebrew National space.

  • Marathoner

    Personally, I can’t believe the poor reviews for Taperia… my wife and I tried it out last weekend and it was exceptional – nicely appointed, food was very good and service was excellent

    Even for just having opened, it was nearly flawless. We had a combination of tapas, salads and entrees and all was very good and worth the wait.

    I really can’t believe the poor reviews… although, those complaining about small plates at a tapas restaurant?? I rest my case

    I agree with the shill reviews, but those are everywhere… give it time, the law of averages will work itself out. Every time I’ve walked by, it’s been pretty busy, these guys will do alright

  • Karl Junkersfeld

    I personally liked Aesop’s for dinner and Leaf and Bean for brunch in the yard. Mr. Souvlaki was not bad either.