Richmond rest­aurant seeks world’s worst Yelp rating

Their classic Tuscan cuisine may be some of the best around, but Botto Bistro’s mission is to become the lowest-rated restaurant on Yelp.

In fact, any diner who gives the Richmond eatery a one-star review on the popular user ratings website is entitled to a pizza for 25 percent off or a free cooking class.

Since it opened five years ago, attracting customers hasn’t been an issue for the restaurant located in a strip mall on Meeker Avenue in Richmond’s Marina Bay neighborhood.

But with the recent launch of their “Hate Us on Yelp” campaign, Bay Area restaurant veterans and Botto Bistro co-owners Davide Cerretini and Michele Massimo say business has been better than ever.

Just before noon on Friday, as the small restaurant began to fill with diners, three friends stood outside and chuckled at a posted description of the business’ tongue-in-cheek campaign, which encourages customers to:

“Tell the world how horrible our establishment is, talk about the toilet seat temperature, the aliens in our bathrooms, how much you hate our food…in other words just be a professional Yelper!”

Scott McManus, 32, of Austin, Texas, said he wanted to try Botto Bistro for lunch after seeing an article about the 1-star Yelp campaign on a friend’s Facebook page:

“Normally, I don’t go to two-star or one-star places. … I thought it would be funny to tell my friend I went there.”

Cerretini said the now buzzed-about campaign stemmed from his intolerance for the incessant phone calls he received from Yelp as well as what he believes is the company’s practice of threatening businesses and forcing them to advertise with the site.

The business owners eventually agreed to a $270 monthly fee to advertise on Yelp in the hopes that the phone calls would stop, he said.

But Cerretini said the ads placed on Yelp didn’t make any difference for the already successful business, and he became fed up with playing by the company’s rules:

“They forced me to be there, I just want to be there on my terms.”

He said he hopes to gain a reputation on Yelp as the:

“… worst restaurant in the Bay Area, even the world.”

Still, Cerritini insists his 1-star review campaign isn’t an attack on the popular website:

“I don’t want to be bothered, I don’t want to be judged. … I’m just a little nobody from Italy who wants to go home at night without worrying about some idiot writing a bad review on Yelp.”

Botto Bistro recently received a boilerplate email from the tech company’s User Support Team stating that users had complained the restaurant “may be offering incentives in exchange for reviews,” which violates Yelp’s Terms of Service.

In his own email, Cerretini fired back that the “Botto User Support Team” had gotten customer complaints that Yelp “may be removing reviews in exchange of vague explanations to loyal customers,” which goes against the restaurant’s terms.

Earlier this month, a federal court judge in San Francisco dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group of business owners who similarly alleged that Yelp extorted payments from them in exchange for manipulating
online reviews.

A Yelp spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.