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No Groupon deal? How about a bad Yelp restaurant review

The UpTake: Here’s a sign of how powerful social media and online reviews are for restaurants: it was the weapon of choice in an alleged feud between a Groupon salesman (now suspended) and a restaurant owner.

A Groupon salesman was suspended amid allegations that he threatened to tell his friends who are active on Yelp and other social media about how a restaurant owner “treated him” after the owner rejected his pitch to run a Groupon.

The incident involved San Francisco restaurant Sauce and Groupon sales rep Andrew Johnston. Here’s the email that Sauce posted on the company’s Facebook page, which was allegedly written to Sauce owner Trip Hosley.

Hi Trip!

I sincerely appreciate you hanging up on me. As a resident of San Francisco for over 25 years, I have a huge network of friends (ages 25-40) that all are extremely active on Yelp as well as other social media. I will gladly let them know how you treated me as well as my feelings about the people who run Sauce.

Go Giants!

Andy

Hosley’s reply, also posted on Facebook, of course: “You must be new to cold calling, you might want to develop a thicker skin, or work for a less despised company.” He added that he had already asked to be removed from the company’s call list after a “horrific” experience with Groupon.

Groupon (Nasdaq: GRPN) spokesman Paul Taaffe confirmed that Johnston has been suspended while the company investigates in an email Sunday to AllThingsD. He wrote, “As you can imagine such actions are not acceptable to Groupon.”

The case illustrates how vital online reviews and social media commentary has become to restaurants. Yelp has a policy in place that flags reviews that it believes violate its terms of service and it also gives consumers background on the reviewers themselves.

Hosley, who acknowledged being abrupt, but not threatening or insulting on the phone, told AllThingsD that restaurant owners have a hard time fighting fake reviews. “Because even with a business account there does not seem to be a fast way for a small business to combat this type of threat and action by a disgruntled sales rep and see immediate action taken by the larger company (in this case either by Groupon or Yelp) in time to stop the damage.”

One thing’s for sure, if the restaurant owner is to be believed: Groupon needs to do some serious screening of its reps on top of some rigorous sales training.

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Mystic Maggie

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