A British journalist has turned an imaginary restaurant in his backyard into London’s most sought-after dining experience by writing fake reviews on TripAdvisor.
Oobah Butler, who specializes in deceiving his way into situations and then writing about it, wanted to expose the epidemic of fakery on the internet’s most trusted review site.
Butler had experienced the power of the site first-hand, having once earned a healthy living writing positive reviews for restaurant owners at $13 a pop.
“Over time, I became obsessed with monitoring the ratings of these businesses. Their fortunes would genuinely turn, and I was the catalyst,” he wrote in an article for Vice.
“One day, sitting in the shed I live in, I had a revelation: within the current climate of misinformation, and society’s willingness to believe absolute bulls–t, maybe a fake restaurant is possible? Maybe it’s exactly the kind of place that could be a hit?”
“In that moment, it became my mission. With the help of fake reviews, mystique and nonsense, I was going to do it: turn my shed into London’s top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor.”
And so the “The Shed at Dulwich” was born, an exclusive eatery with just a street name for an address, that was almost always fully booked when you called to make a reservation.
Butler setup an elegant website and filled it with pretentious descriptions of dishes and pictures of fake but incredibly realistic looking food crafted mainly from household domestic products.
In a photograph of what appears to be a plate of bacon and eggs, Butler’s foot makes a cameo as the meat, but you would never know it.
He registered The Shed on TripAdvisor in May, adding a steady stream of reviews from friends rhapsodizing about “London’s best-kept secret.”
Slowly but surely, word of this mysterious but clearly amazing restaurant spread and The Shed saw it’s ranking rise from 18,149 to inside the top 1,500 in a matter of months.
“I realize what it is: the appointments, lack of address and general exclusivity of this place is so alluring that people can’t see sense,” Butler observed in a series of videos he made documenting the experiment.
“They’re looking at photos of the sole of my foot, drooling. Over the coming months, The Shed’s phone rings incessantly.”
Butler even tricked food critics, including The Guardian’s Jay Raynor, into endorsing The Shed without any of them having set foot inside.
“At last: a restaurant that recognizes food is all about mood. Of all the shed-based eating experiences out there this one sounds like the best,” Raynor tweeted.
Powered only by hype and mystique, The Shed continued to rise up the ranks of TripAdvisor. On November 1, something incredible happened: Butler’s bogus establishment had been crowned London’s number one restaurant on the site — without ever having had a paying customer.