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Hotel fines $500 for every bad review posted online (pagesix.com)
344 points by mcenedella on Aug 4, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 234 comments

What a horrible policy, it won't end well for them.

http://www.yelp.com/biz/union-street-guest-house-hudson?sort... 10 negative Yelp reviews have been posted today (so far), ouch...


Their website navigation is a very discrete image map in the middle of the page, http://www.unionstreetguesthouse.com/ obviously this was someone's first website.

It's probably not legal, if it is then it is unenforceable in court, even if it was in their terms contract.

Here is the page with their $500 review fee policy: http://www.unionstreetguesthouse.com/events_weddings.shtml

I don't condone leaving negative reviews if you haven't stayed there, but if you do be sure to note that you have not stayed at the hotel and are just commenting on their policies to warn people, unless that is against the review sites policy, then don't do that.


If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500. fine for each negative review. (Please NOTE we will not charge this fee &/or will refund this fee once the review is taken down). Also, please note that we only request this of wedding parties and for the reasons explained above.

> for the reasons explained above

Being lazy and not reading it myself: do they attempt to adequately explain the policy other than "we'd like to be able to be dickish without getting bad reviews" in "the reasons explained above"?

(edit for those only reading this far: it appears that they do, see the replies to this post for detail)

"Please know that despite the fact that wedding couples love Hudson and our Inn, your friends and families may not. This is due to the fact that your guests may not understand what we offer - therefore we expect you to explain that to them. USGH & Hudson are historic. The buildings here are old (but restored). Our bathrooms and kitchens are designed to look old in an artistic "vintage" way. Our furniture is mostly hip, period furniture that you would see in many design magazines. (although comfortable and functional - obviously all beds are brand new) If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel they may not like it here."

I actually kinda see where they're coming from. I'm sure they do get complaints from people who never stay anywhere besides upscale chain hotels. But obviously this is not the way to address the issue. It's mean and ultimately self-defeating.

A piece of paper asking guests to keep this in mind when giving reviews would suffice.

A company that threatens to fine me for giving them a negative review is much more likely to actually receive a negative review from me.

A company that threatens to fine me for giving them a negative review is much more likely to actually receive a negative review from me.

And a company that actually fines me would be much more likely to receive a chargeback, formal complaints to any relevant regulators, or even for that kind of money a small claims suit.

I'm not really sure how they expect to win with this policy, particularly since they're presumably about to get more negative publicity than every bad review they ever avoided and searching for them on-line will probably lead to dozens of critical comments forever now.

Yes this is true, but this is the wrong way to do it. I have stayed at many places reviewed badly by people who just do not get it. Like I stayed at a wonderful rustic place in Maine [1] but there were quite a few reviews complaining about the rustic nature and giving them one star. As a human being I can then read these reviews and decide that the people rating it one star were expecting that this should have been some 5 star modern hotel or Sandals. This happens with restaurants too as some people do not take into account the cost/location of a restaurant in reviews "I have had better burritos in San Diego, zero stars!" when reviewing a Tex-Mex place in New Jersey.

Bottom line is that people are smart enough to filter out bad reviews.

1. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotels-g40525-Boothbay_Harbor_Mai...

> Bottom line is that people are smart enough to filter out bad reviews.

The problem is that the software generally filters first - e.g. "show me the 'best of'" or "sort by top rated". If you're looking at a selection of hundreds of items, I don't know that your statement holds.

It's the "scalar fallacy."

In a nutshell, the scalar fallacy is the false but pervasive assumption that real-world things (hotels, sandwiches, people, mutual funds, chemo drugs, whatever) have some single-dimension ordering of "goodness".

When you project a multi-dimensional space down to one dimension, you are involving a lot of context and preferences in the act of projecting. Just sayin'.

This is a general problem with reviews. If it’s written text it’s often possible to figure out whether a certain criticism is valid for you personally.

Some people are very sensitive to wait times, I’m just not at all. I can always discount all reviews complaining about wait times because there isn’t enough useful signal there. Sure, even I don’t want to wait three hours for my food, but most people seem to complain way before that and that’s just not relevant information to me.

Contrary, when people tell me what a great experience they had with the staff and that the owner came to their table and chatted with them I know I should probably avoid that restaurant because I just can’t stand any staff or owners acting like they are my best friends immediately.

So, sure, for written reviews it’s often possible to see whether a criticism is relevant for your own personal tastes, but all those review places also implement star ratings and those are used to display and filter the places you are shown in the first place. So you might not even see a place you like because it got bad ratings based on (completely valid, by the way, I’m not saying other people have to also be as tolerant of wait times as I am!) factors you personally don’t care about.

This affects other places as well, for example apps in app stores. I’m not sure how to solve this, to be honest, but that seems like a cool problem to tackle. I’m imagining Netflix-like personalised lists of restaurants or hotels you might like, not these dumb global star ratings.

Does this already exist somewhere? I feel like it should. Surely someone must have already tried that …

>when people tell me what a great experience they had with the staff and that the owner came to their table and chatted with them

This tends to be a part of a broad cultural expectation. Americans tend to equate "good service" with [fake] niceness and obligated smiles and cheeriness. Some other cultures are different where good service means simply doing your job. I can't count how many times people have gone to other countries and complained about the "poor service" and "everyone is rude here" not even considering cultural differences.

The US has gone insane in that respect with obligated "niceties."

Now when I go to Walgreens they say to me after any transaction "be well." Seriously? Like I believe the cashier ringing up my candy and soda purchase personally cares about my well being and health? Or that it is adding anything of value to the transaction?

> Now when I go to Walgreens they say to me after any transaction "be well." Seriously? Like I believe the cashier ringing up my candy and soda purchase personally cares about my well being and health? Or that it is adding anything of value to the transaction?

Its a corporate slogan with tie-ins to Walgreen's marketing and branding. Like most aspects of branding, its not designed to operate at the level of rational thought and analysis at all. Its more like the use of corporate colors and logos on retail employees uniforms, but in auditory rather than visual form.

And that's the reason (in my opinion) online reviews are borderline worthless. Everyone has different expectations and preferences. Also - a lot of people are completely unreasonable. Unreasonable people are more likely to leave a negative review than a reasonable random joe to leave a positive review.

I stayed at a hotel where the reviews were almost all negative with comments like "the furniture was outdated and the TV was a CRT."

What to I care about in a hotel? A clean bed to sleep on and a shower. That's it. I stay at hotels just to sleep in and wash up.

My apartment building rents out its first floor for events, often to weddings, and I've also noticed there's a tendency for guests to review things that really have nothing to do with us: how the event was organized, how the band sounded, whether the cake was good, and so on.

That doesn't mean, obviously, that we try to fine anyone for those reviews. We trust people reading reviews will realize when complaints don't make sense, and have good reviews that outweigh the bad.

Maybe in a larger sense Yelp is working.

The people paying for the rooms are unhappy with them. They leave negative reviews. Perhaps the next wedding couple doesn't dig into the reviews and just skips over that place in favor of somewhere the guests will enjoy more. So the reviewers end up benefiting future would-be-customers, albeit indirectly.

If the hotel doesn't like this dynamic they can simply refuse to book wedding parties.

I agree. If they are offering something unique and unusual, it is their problem to ensure that the guests are educated. And, guess what? If guests don't like it, they need to change their strategy and modernize.

Perhaps they could have sent a gift voucher to the wedding couple for every negative review, including a message that you wanted a "vintage" inn and we provided the best service we could, but your guests weren't happy. It could probably guilt the wedding couple to request the guests to take the reviews down. And, perhaps led to a positive story on HN instead.

Paying people for negative reviews probably isn't the best strategy.

Actually, that I can understand.

If we were in an understanding world the guests who wouldn't normally go to a place like that (and won't/don't enjoy it) but are because it is part of a big event like a wedding, would not leave bad reviews on that basis on the understanding that it is what the bride/groom/others wanted and they are happy.

But we are not in such a world and there are people out there who will leave a bad review because they went to somewhere they would never like on its own merits and don't like it...

I can't say I like their way of dealing with it and can see why people are up in arms, but I can see the problem that they are trying to protect themselves from.

If anyone tries to say we suck, you're gonna pay. Otherwise, we might actually have to get better at our jobs!

  10 negative Yelp reviews have been posted today (so far), ouch...
What's Yelps policy towards such fake reviews? Obviously most of those people have never been to that place.

This is what has happened to most of the reviews, not sure their criteria, most likely a human at Yelp has been notified and is looking into this posting. http://www.yelp.com/not_recommended_reviews/union-street-gue...

This appears to be from someone associated with the hotel in question: http://www.yelp.com/user_details?userid=igHDMTIuS5wYBi0KZ0jt...

It's at about 90 negative reviews posted today on Yelp.

Edit: now it's at 400+ negative Yelp reviews for the day.

Surprisingly their TripAdvisor profile has received 0 negative reviews today.

I went through and read them all and they don't exactly seem "fake" in that the reviewer doesn't claim to have visited to the location. They are all complaining about the policies and attitude of the place, which can pretty well be gleaned from reading the policies on the site.

So you think it is valid to leave a 1 star review for a restaurant, because you don't like the menu posted in their website?

A more accurate analogy: you read the menu and notice in the fine print at the bottom that they will charge your credit card an extra $25 if you post a bad review of your meal.

So you get on Yelp and post a review warning others of the practice. Doesn't that seem like a legitimate use of a review site?

Technically, yes, you didn't utilize the service, but that doesn't mean you have no qualifications to comment on the business's bad policies.

"I drove to the repair shop, they insulted me with ethnic slur, and I got mad and drove away." Would this not be a legitimate and useful review?

   Doesn't that seem like a legitimate use of a review site?
I could just as much consider it a warning to post that their wine selection is bad. Might be important for people who care about that. If you see it that way then you will ALWAYS find something you can spin to make a 1 start review without ever having interacted with the business.

If I walked into a restaurant and the owner threatened to kick my ass if I posted a bad Yelp review and I decided to leave without eating, would I be qualified to write a review about their practices? I didn't eat at the restaurant. There was no business exchange.

I'm reviewing the business' policies and warning others of something I find distasteful. In your example, what if I read the online menu and found some fine-print stating they cook their french-frys in orphan tears? Maybe I find that distasteful and want to warn others of such a practice.

None of these people walked into the business. I doubt any of them are planning a wedding reception, if even in the target geographic market.

This is a standard internet lynch mob. They are always vile, reprehensible things, with real humans as victim. But pile on, everyone.

Well, browsing to a hotel's website, prepared to purchase a reservation is virtually the same as walking into a business, is it not? People don't physically go to a hotel to reserve a room, so the hotel's website could be considered a place of business, practically speaking.

And my point went entirely over your head. If someone finds the business policies reprehensible and wants it to be made known, they have a damned right to let it be known. One doesn't just have to purchase a product or service to be allowed to comment.

No, it didn't "go over my head", though if that notion gives you more comfort, have at it. You brought up an absurd anecdote that is baseless and has zero applicability to this issue, but that you think props up your notion. Don't bring up absurd anecdotes if you don't want them deconstructed.

Let me say again, and this relates to the sibling comment to yours -- none of these people piling on the internet circle jerk torch mob had any interest or engagement with this business. They weren't en route to book their wedding party when they discovered this. They're just trying to feel good by joining a misled, destructive, abusive mob.

It is bullies, pure and simple. Some restaurant I have zero concern about put up a misled threat, in a plain and obvious location, to try to make sure that wedding parties didn't mislead their guests, so now we all must rail about "free speech" and attack someone's business. The employers of people.

Yeah, I'm perhaps a little too mature to see that as constructive for anyone. It is vile.

This has happened so many times before. And after there is the realization that it was all profoundly silly and destructive.

What's the proper response to those handful of restaurants that scam tourists who fail to read the menu charging outrageous prices? If only there were some online site I could find out of a business is a rip off before I patronize it.

Just thought I'd pop in a point out that fines in a contract are perfectly enforceable in the U.S. Liquidated damages provisions are not. A $500 fine per negative review doesn't reflect the hotel's actual or liquidated damages in any way, so the provision would pass muster in court.

For example, penalties for late payments of bills are examples of contractual fines that have been upheld by the courts many times.

Whether or not the fines at issue here are bad business practice depends on how you feel about the justification for the fines.

"It's probably not legal, if it is then it is unenforceable in court, even if it was in their terms contract. "

Could you explain why you believe this? The main issue i would see here would be liquidated damages issues, not something like SLAPP (at least in most states).

I'm not the original poster you're responding to, but it seems odd to say, "if any of your friends do <something>, you'll be fined." It would make sense if it were something physical like vandalizing the hotel while they were at my party (possibly - depending on the circumstances). But if your friend from the party comes back 2 weeks later and vandalizes the hotel, should you still be liable?

That's kind of what this feels like. I didn't tell them to write a review. They genuinely didn't like your product or service. Why am I being fined just because they booked a room for my party? Maybe my friend has a legitimate complaint that isn't about how old the furniture looks (which is what this appears to be about). What if your staff was actually very rude, or the room wasn't up to the quality listed on the web site?

It seems unenforceable to a lay-person because it puts the burden of controlling third parties we can't control on us. If I go someplace for a friend's party and the friend tells me not to post a bad review of it if I don't like it, I'm going to tell my friend to fuck off and write whatever review I want. He has no say in the matter.

So it seems bizarre that you can even legally agree to something over which you have no control. It feels equivalent to saying that you agree to pay a fine if it rains while you're staying at our hotel. (That very well may be enforceable - but it seems odd to the layperson that it could be because you can't predict it ahead of time and can't control whether it happens.) It's simply an example of the law making no sense to the people it applies to.

"Why am I being fined just because they booked a room for my party? "

Because you agreed to those terms? Just because you agreed to a crappy deal for you doesn't get you out of it. If you don't like it, don't take the deal? We are talking about wedding receptions, it's not like random hotel guests. These have real contracts, deposits, etc (and they said they take it out of your deposit).

"It seems unenforceable to a lay-person because it puts the burden of controlling third parties we can't control on us. "

This is incredibly common.

For example, almost every contract you would ever sign for selling software, etc will say something like "you agree to indemnify us if a third party sues us over intellectual property issues in your software". This is clearly enforceable in almost all cases. You have literally no control over who chooses to sue them.

As for not making sense, the law makes perfect sense in this sort of case - you may freely contract for almost anything.

It has to be unenforceable in court because how would you know the guest actually posted the comment and not someone else masquerading.

Hah, now the hotel's management is claiming to news sites that it's policy was a "joke" and that they have removed their policy.

What a blatant lie, they deserve to go out of business.


Does that mean that in court everything in their contract should be considered a joke?

LOL; they have more than 300 negative reviews so far today now.

Coming soon: The Hotel Formerly Known as Union Street Guest House

I feel bad for the unlucky bride and groom racking up all these $500 charges today.

It's at 400 negative reviews after 3 hours, nobody is getting charged anything, if they do they'll sue and the hotel will receive even more negative publicity.

Looks like it hit Reddit, that's why it jumped so quickly, http://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/2ckx8i/hotel_cha...

I apologize for the apparent lack of humor or the humorous lack of apparentness in my joke.

off topic, but why don't people use image maps anymore?

The largest issue is that you have to re-create them every time you make a change. You have to create an entire new image, and update the coordinates for the map, which is arduous. They are also not very mobile-friendly, tend to waste a lot of bandwidth on the filler space, and you are somewhat limited in what you can do with the link shapes. It's much more efficient and cleaner to create the elements separately so you can easily update them, and they can scale better. Also, SEO as the other responder mentioned.

Accessibility (probably not so great on a screen-reader,) and SEO (not a proper link with content), I think. Of course, there may be other reasons, too.

Accessibility was always a concern, and mobile is probably now another one. You'd have to recreate the image for mobile screens, re-map it...

Maybe it's the "star rating" system that's broken.

When reviewing rated product/service offerings, I go straight to the 1-star reviews. Skimming those, I differentiate the "valid complaints" from flukes (a small failure rate is understandable), unrealistic expectations (it's a vintage hotel, not a new Hilton), tangential problems (Amazon didn't smash the box, the shipper did), hysteria (political opposition isn't a reason), humor (Family Circus isn't peer-reviewed), etc.

We need a way to express these, especially a "for what it is, it's good (whether it met my needs/interests or not)".

>Maybe it's the "star rating" system that's broken.

While less so for product reviews, I feel like restaurant/hotel reviews are more like movie reviews. Just like Battlefield Earth, there are some bad restaurants that universally will get panned. And there are some just wonderful establishments everyone will love, just like Shawshank Redemption.

But for everything in between, it's a matter of taste, which is why Netflix tries to infer your tastes and predict a star rating for _you_ rather than gives you an aggregate rating.

Someone might give a dive bar a one-star review because it's smoky, they only accept cash, and they only sell Bud Light. However that same person might give a 5-star review to a craft beer bar that refuses to sell mass market lagers.

On the flipside, someone might give the dive 5 stars because the drinks are cheap and it's one of the last places in town where they can go out and still light up. And they might give the fancy bar one star for being too pretentious.

Neither opinion is wrong, people just like different things. Glomming this all into an average star rating just seems to give me useless information.

> for everything in between, it's a matter of taste, which is why Netflix tries to infer your tastes and predict a star rating for _you_ rather than gives you an aggregate rating.

This works only to an extent. There are many movie qualities that can be very important to you that you can't represent with a 5 star rating system. Because of this, the main way Netflix clusters your preferences is by the things they know, like genre, actors, producers/directors, etc., and they assume your high rating is (in part) for these things.

This problem is much more prevalent in music suggestions (Pandora, Spotify, etc.) where your preferences are determined almost entirely by genre and artist.

The problem is even more prevalent in ratings for restaurants. If you give 5 stars to an excellent Mexican restaurant, Yelp and Google Maps will suggest to you other Mexican restaurants.

So as a savvy user, you are in a strange position of having to realize how they are clustering things, and give 5 stars to things you don't really like, because you want to be given recommendations for high-rated things in those genres.

And you can't give 1 star to a movie in a genre that you like, otherwise the system will think you hate that genre.

So I would agree with the previous comment, that the "star rating" system is totally broken.

> And there are some just wonderful establishments everyone will love, just like Shawshank Redemption.

Interestingly Shawshank was panned by critics on release, and was a "cult classic" / slow burner that took a while to get to the status of universally loved.

One of the problems of reviews is that so few of them just give me the mechanics.

It's not just the star ratings that are broken, it's the entire hospitality system.

Having had the opportunity to take a good, long stare at the underbelly of how hotel rooms are arbitraged, marketed, booked, and how the ensuing reviews and PR is cultured, the whole damn thing is a cartel controlled by surprisingly few entities and individuals. Bookings all funnel through systems like TRX and concur, all of whom take a slice (the actual hotelier, if there is one, tends to get about as much as a recording artist in terms of percentages - and they often end up PAYING booking engines and arbiters to fill capacity), and reviews are similarly curated and controlled. There are numerous businesses whose entire function is controlling ratings for hotels and hotel groups - and they use every dirty trick in the box.

We worked on a startup which did hotel bookings in such a fashion that it circumvented this ratings cartel - and promptly had several major groups refuse to work with them, until they played the game.

It's dirty, monopolistic, and so full of anti-trust it's not funny - but lobbying.

That sounds like an excellent indie documentary. If you have the stomach for it you could Kickstart it.

Or at least a series of blog posts about how the free market for hotels is broken.

As bad as the star system is, I'm not sure there's anything better. I think Amazon has the right idea with the "Was this review helpful to you?" buttons, though that may not work quite as well for Yelp if you consider the possibility of review-burying by owners.

>I think Amazon has the right idea with the "Was this review helpful to you?" buttons

Doubtful. "Was this review helpful to you?" is actually the "I disagree with this review" button in practice.

Amazon reviews are so crappy. There is tons of reviews that say JUST "I haven't used this product/read this book yet." plus any number of stars.

> Amazon reviews are so crappy. There is tons of reviews that say JUST "I haven't used this product/read this book yet." plus any number of stars.

While it's extra work I love those reviews.

"I haven't read this book but $THING IS WRONG, thus one " mean I can ignore some of the low ratings.

While reviews and ratings are weird and probably need some tweaking at some point[1] they are not nearly as bad as the weirdly broken search. I've got to the point where I would pay money to have better Amazon (also ebay) search*.[2]

[1]along the lines suggested in this thread - I might dislike a movie but love the genre; I might love a movie but generally dislike that genre; etc. So some method of saying why you like something so much would perhaps be handy.

[2] I go to Amazon.co.uk and I search for [microwave oven]. I chose a department - kitchen & home. I then sort by price, low to high. I am flooded with totally irrelevant items. (Egg cup; aluminum foil; salt&pepper shakers; children's cutlery sets; etc). You're not supposed to use search to find microwave ovens, you're supposed to drill down the tree of department, items, specific items.

Found a review of such a nature


>Have not read

>At this time I am caught up with so many pressing activites that is not one of my priorities. Will get to it probably this summer

One star review.

I agree completely about the searches. I'm starting to avoid Amazon cause I can't find what I want on there.

>"I haven't read this book but $THING IS WRONG, thus one " mean I can ignore some of the low ratings.

There are equal number of higher ratings and mid ratings of this nature.

We could have stars for multiple axes, plus a "choose n-of-m" keyword selection, but I wonder if that would be too complicated for users.


    Service: 1-5
    Cleanliness: 1-5
    Concierge: 1-5
    Modernity: 1-5

    Choose three words to describe the hotel stay:
    _ modern
    _ rustic
    _ rude
    _ quaint
    _ clean

There's a lot of evidence that minimizing dimensions--even to the point of getting rid of obviously relevant ones--generally works best. Though Zagat does have food, decor, service, and cost so it can work especially when you're focused on a single thing. It gets harder when you're rating different things that span different dimensions. Amazon, for example, obviously just has a star system and DVD reviews are this sorta annoying mix of reviews of the movie and reviews of the specific DVD product.

Unfortunately, the "helpful" rating on Amazon's reviews are heavily biased: http://minimaxir.com/img/amazon/amzn-basic-helpful.png

Any ratings or classification system has some very fundamental challenges.

There's no way to collapse a multidimensional metric to a single value without losing information. That's what a "star system", numeric review, or others, do. Quick, what are food grades, and what are the grading criteria? (See: http://articles.latimes.com/1987-11-13/business/fi-13882_1_m... and https://www.princeton.edu/~ota/disk3/1977/7707/770706.PDF)

Different people have different assessment criteria. That seems to be the problem the hotel in question claims to be facing. "What's best?" inherently presumes "For what?". A vintage hotel shouldn't be rated on the same criteria as a five-star downtown hotel or business hotel. Or for its healthcare, auto-repair, clothing, bookstore, or hardware characteristics. The challenge is when an entity tries to claim a special status or twist that's at strong odds to most general expectations.

Thin data. Only a small number of people typically leave reviews, and you're likely to get feedback only for exceptionally positive, or exceptionally negative, experiences. Or those who are motivated for whatever reasons (competition trying to shut you down, paid positive reviewers, etc.) to tell a specific story. This produces a highly non-randomized sampling selection.

Unqualified reviewers. This is a problem pretty much any collectively rated system has. People who are not capable of making a valid assessment. Among other services, reddit and HN are suffering from this.

The significance of ratings. Meaningless as they are, small changes in ratings can be hugely significant for a business. A major problem of the market is that information on quality is thin, non-abundant, and often expensive to come by. Ratings systems, even imperfect ones, address the ratings cost issue, even if the data conveyed are low-quality (think of racial discrimination or similar behaviors). So despite the problems, people care.

One way around these issues is to come up with a "based on your profile you'd likely prefer X". This is what Amazon tries to accomplish with its product recommendations, though the appropriateness of these is often pretty thin.

The problem space is a hard one.

I think you're talking about the old slashdot moderation system. +5 insightful

Makes sense. Asking for a functional ice machine in the middle of the summer at a wedding is a pretty unreasonable expectation.

We're talking about Hudson, NY here. It's practically a wilderness... having an appliance repairman come would be impossible!


Your sarcasm detector is broken. Call the repairman.

personZ understood the sarcasm:

-literal meaning of Spooky23's statement: it's unreasonable to expect ice in the middle of summer.

-sarcastic meaning of Spooky23's statement: it's completely REASONABLE to expect ice in the middle of summer.

personZ acknowledges the sarcastic meaning (that it is reasonable to expect ice in the middle of summer), and is pointing out that based on the article, the guests actually DID in fact receive ice, making Spooky23's sarcastic statement not very relevant; the issue was that they had complaints about the attitude with which it was provided.

Edit: unless perhaps personZ edited his original post.

As a guest of a lodging establishment, particularly a supposedly nice one that is hosting a wedding, I expect and demand a high level of service. A hotel defines a service business.

The fact that the guests eventually received ice is irrelevant. There is no excuse for a reasonable & customary request in a hotel would be met with a rude response, period. If I want to sit in my room and drink 24x7, that's my problem, not the hotelier.

I've stayed in many hotels, and have actually run into exactly this problem. In fact, it was at a $40 Hamton Inn awhile back. The guy said "No problem, our ice machine is broken, but give us a few minutes and we'll get you squared away."

Obviously I don't think it's okay for a hotel to provide services in a slow or rude way as long as they eventually provide them. No one would seriously suggest that.

There's a deleted comment between those two.

Ah yes, my mistake.

As gray mentioned, there was another deleted comment that was the target of the sarcasm comment.

My comment was more than the linked blog post took a bit out of context to make the article more incendiary and hit luring.

A sarcasm detector? How very useful!

One would come in handy right now.

Touch of sarcasm above, perhaps...

Spooky23 is being sarcastic.


Ice is of obvious importance, but it sounds like they did get ice, and the complaint was about the attitude concerning it.

Yes. And because of this you should definitely go to Yelp and give them a one-star review. And destroy their Facebook page. And maybe go take a shit on their doorstep. That's definitely the answer when a small business makes an error like this. They're frustrated by something they don't feel is fair and made a ham-fisted attempt to fix the problem. Ruin them.

(The ice machine thing, though -- that actually seems like it's much more indicative that it might be worth staying somewhere else...)

In fairness, I'm guessing a lot of the people virtually stomping on this hotel are doing so in an attempt to nip a potential Overton window shift in the bud. If this hotel were to get away with such a policy, other hotels and perhaps other types of businesses would likely follow suit; that's how changes in what's considered normal behavior come about. Punishing the first defector can be an effective way to forestall that.

I think you're being way too generous. They're trashing them because they can and it makes them feel powerful. A virtual vigilante mob without any risk.

"makes an error" and "makes a malicious policy" are two entirely different things.

You forgive accidental mistakes, but you should punish intentional morally unacceptable behavior.

My sarcastic point wasn't that they should be forgiven -- or that they shouldn't be punished. I was joking about how after reading an article like this some People on the Internet feel saying retributive things on Yelp and Facebook = social justice.

These hoteliers have a stupid (and likely unenforceable) social media policy. And they might be assholes. Fortunately they have almost no sway over your life. Fry bigger fish.

$500 bucks a pop for reviews posted by people who are not under financial obligations to me is not small fish in any dimension.

And recovering money via the court system is another huge waste of time and effort for everyone involved. Stomping down on this hard is exactly what should be happening.

"An error" suggests a lack of intent - a mistake, if you will. This isn't a mistake. It's a blatant attempt at gaming a review system.

"An error" can also mean an error in judgement or an error in business.

I'd call insulting people in response on the yelp page "ham-fisted", but that really seems a bit of an understatement when they're trying to charge people hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for bad reviews.

Sarcasm doesn't always translate well on the Internet.

Another business introduced to the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect

This seems like it would violate Yelp's rules. If you fine people for bad reviews, is that any different than paying people for good reviews?

It's illegal to sue people for bad reviews (SLAPP); I think it's just against Yelp TOU to pay people for good ones.

They way you write it is not quite right. SLAPP certainly would make it illegal to sue people for defamation for online reviews (depending on the state, it may only be for politics related stuff)

That is not quite what is happening here.

Having a contractual penalty, freely entered into and mutually agreed upon, for something harmful to their business, probably does not interact with SLAPP in most states.

Not all states have SLAPP statutes.

Wow the Internet has already taken them down to 2 stars. I can't image this is going to end well once this news spreads to other internet communities.

Imagine if this ridiculous policy on their website is actually the result of a malicious hacking.

Then the hacker sends pagesix.com an anonymous tip about the policy.

Then the hacker posts the pagesix.com article on HN.

Now, that would actually make a good story...

[EDIT: Typo & Grammar]

This policy is in the same tone as other policies found on their web-site (e.g. cancellation policy). So I suspect it was written by the same individual and potentially at the same time.

Interesting theory though. Reminds me of the Amy's Baking Company "hacking" of their Facebook page.

Yeah I saw the cancellation policy too. Crazy.

Interesting, I hadn't heard of the Amy's bakery thing...

Judging from this Yelp review from 2013 I don't think that is the case:


Seems like they sent harassing emails to people who leave bad reviews letting them know they are going to charge the wedding host

Agreed, I wasn't suggesting a serious theory, just that it would be an impressive social hack that could be pulled off.

I think a lot of these "Internet Vigilantes" would probably fall for it.

Is there any proof this is happening other than this post? I hope so otherwise internet vigilante justice is destroying a business and people's livelihoods.


I took a look at their site and apparently they only enforce this policy for weddings:

"Also, please note that we only request this of wedding parties and for the reasons explained above."

The reasons seem to be that as guests are not booking the hotel themselves (presumably the bride/groom has done that for them) it may not be to their tastes and they feel it's unfair to leave a negative review of something you never would have booked in the first place because it's not to your taste.

I can kind of understand this reasoning, although it's not great.

I don't see any evidence that they've actually enforced the rule, but the rule is posted on their website: http://www.unionstreetguesthouse.com/events_weddings.shtml.

Looks like the part about negative reviews is gone now.

Read the yelp reviews, at least once mentions it.

Wow. Pretty bold of them to think they could fight social media and the consumer powered era with such an outrageous policy. While I am amazed at their lack of embarrassment, (especially since the policy is still up on their website), it's great to see how people can win > businesses today. Power to the people!

Feels like a place Reddit or 4chan would tar and feather and then let it hang out and dry until it's dead.

Not needed. Already there are more 1* reviews than other ones. Mostly about the policy. The internet is a harsh place.

I'm enjoying watching their Facebook page going down the drain: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Union-Street-Guest-House/1175...

They appear to be backpedaling. From their Facebook page:

"The policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago. It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced."


They may be trying to claim that, but they tried to use the policy to bully a guest into removing his review as recently as 11/21/2013: http://bit.ly/1nkV80v

I'm not sure I understand how this is supposed to work. They say they'll take it out of your deposit. But a review would happen after the wedding has taken place, yes?

So by then wouldn't you have paid in full and settled everything? In that case, they shouldn't have any money you would be expecting to get back from them. So what are they taking it out of? Are they just going to send you a bill for $500 per bad review? Is there anyone who will not just laugh and throw it away?

I have no idea either, they say if you take the review down you get your money back. I'd just take it down and wait to receive my deposit then post the bad review afterwards. If they still charge me somehow(holding my cc), then they're probably in way bigger trouble as that seems like credit card fraud or something along those lines.

> But a review would happen after the wedding has taken place, yes?

Some people would review on first opportunity - perhaps before having slept the night.

They posted this to their facebook:

The policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago. It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced.

The commenters on the post do not believe this not surprisingly.

Basil Fawlty would be proud!

So I agree with what appears to be the overwhelming majority that this policy is probably legally unenforceable and was destined to backfire as soon as it was posted on the interwebs, but...

I think they have a legitimate problem and I'm wandering what alternate solutions we can come up with. The person planning the wedding (may or may not be the people actually getting married) thinks this is a good place for the wedding, but many of the guests do not enjoy it. The reviews exist to help that person make that decision. Whether or not guests usually hate it, is part of that decision, but I agree with the venue that what the people getting married want is the bigger part of that decision. How can the company manage expectations better?

I think a really good example of how to do this is The Grindcore House[1] It is a Death Metal Vegan Coffee shop in South Philly. Almost every negative review is because of the lack of dairy, or choice in music. The owner has responded to a few of the negative reviews explaining his/her position in a respectful tone.

TLDR; if you're running a business don't get petty.

[1] http://www.yelp.com/biz/grindcore-house-philadelphia

EDIT: on further inspection there aren't as many negative reviews as I remember.

It does seem a bit unfair, but at the same time the reviews aren't just a measure of how much the bride and groom will enjoy the place, it's also a measure of how much everyone else does as well.

Perhaps "many of your guests will hate this place" is a valuable signal to couples picking venues.

Honestly, if you've been a legitimate guest of a particular venue IMO it's perfectly fine to leave a review about it. The people that foot the bill aren't the only ones who get to chime in.

But then it's just as valid to write a bad review about a McDonalds restaurant your group of friends decided to go to, because the wine selection sucked.

I don't think McDonald's is a good example, because everyone already knows what it is, and reviews don't serve a useful purpose.

Let's instead imagine some similar non-chain place called O'Brien's. Would it not be useful, when deciding whether or not to go to O'Brien's for dinner, to see a bad review saying, "I didn't like this place, all they had was burgers, and no booze"?

Valid? Yes. Reasonable? No.

As I mentioned before - there are unreasonable customers with a chip on their shoulder.

I'm wandering what alternate solutions we can come up with.

It's really simple: reply to negative Yelp reviews and state your case. If you are reasonable, then people will understand. This is also called taking the high road. It works a lot better than the stupid tactic they have employed.

If the problem is people booking rooms for their guests and the guests often dislike the rooms, then the solution seems easy: don't let people book rooms for large numbers of guests. Make guests book their own rooms.

These people want to have it both ways. They know they have a problem wherein people are frequently booked as guests and then don't enjoy their stay. But rather than try to avoid this situation (either by fixing what these people dislike, or by turning them away) they want to keep raking in the cash, and just want people to shut up about their experience.

If the hotel is clear about these terms, then I don't see much of a problem with this. It makes it really easy to know to pick a different hotel.

I should be stating the obvious here, but the fact that I even have to post this means that obviously, I am not.

Just because something is written into the terms of an agreement doesn't make it legal.

Yeah, you are not. Say someone writes a contract saying that they can slap me in the face and each time they do I must pay $100, if I carefully read and then sign that contract, and they then slap me three times — have I been assaulted or do I owe $300, or both?

This is actually a tricky question. Your assault & battery law probably says something like "unconsented or violent touching," so the fact that you consented doesn't matter, so you've been assaulted. And you can't enter a contract to perform an illegal act, so you don't owe $300 -- it's not a good contract.[1]

But it depends why you're being slapped! Obviously we can't go prosecuting everyone who intentionally whacks into someone else according to the rules of whatever sport they're playing, so we make an exception for that. This gets tricky with sports like boxing where the rules require you to do something that looks pretty much like a brutal assault, so the exceptions in that case get pretty finicky -- we might insist that you make your mutual-battery deals in public, in licensed boxing rings, instead of by giving Brad Pitt a nice manly handshake in the basement of a bar and refusing to talk about it later.

And then there's the whole gray area of less socially-accepted sports, like Quidditch or BDSM. We (even prosecutors) often approach things from the perspective of, "if this activity seems normal to me, it must be legal; if it seems wrong it must be illegal." When moral judgments and fear of the unknown creep into that analysis, it can lead to some twisted logic to justify the outcome we know must be right.

[1] Now consider whether you can be prosecuted for A&B as an accomplice.

You have been assaulted. Even professional boxers commit assault in every match. They just are not prosecuted for it because it is a sport and regulated and traditional. If they, for example, bite someone's ear off, then they do get prosecuted for assault. The fact it was in the ring during the fight does not stop that.

Your contract would be unenforceable btw - I could slap you three times (hell make it twenty) and walk off - you could not get any court to enforce payment. You could threaten to accuse me of assault if I did not pay up - but then you are blackmailing me and would do more time than I would for assault.

But I suspect that the hotel owner has been slapped by a couple of brides over this :-)

Boxing and other martial activities require you to contractually remove yourself from claiming you have been assaulted as long as any violence stays within agreed rules. It would be very hard to train people in boxing, if your customers could sue you for assault every time you hit them.

Context matters. Participation in a sport generally brings with it an expectation to receive minor injuries customary to that sport.

A legal contract depends on mutual understanding. People learning to box generally understand they are going to get hit. People booking a wedding party generally don't expect to be held responsible for their guests having opinions they post online. The hotel would have to make this policy very clear in order to achieve mutual understanding, and that doesn't mean just putting it on the contract and the webpage for the customer to find on their own.

> Participation in a sport generally brings with it an expectation to receive minor injuries customary to that sport.

Participation in a contract that specifically covers terms for being slapped also bring with it an expectation of being slapped.

I'm not sure how this is a response.

It's not enough to have language in a contract. There needs to be understanding by both sides about what is being agreed to.

Since the Internet engaged mob-mode before engaging investigation-mode, we don't know how clear these terms are to people who are booking weddings.

It might be very clear because they send an email explicitly telling the bridal party about these terms and asking them to consent, which would also be a signal to the party about the quality of online reviews. Or it might be buried in the middle of 12 other clauses and the customer doesn't know about it.

Obviously there needs to be mutual understanding of a contract for it to be enforced. The original question included the phrase "if I carefully read and then sign that contract," which I think indicates that the contract was mutually understood and agreed upon.

Mutual understanding is not the only ingredient that constitutes an enforceable contract. Issues such as duress, inequality of bargaining position, and in this case, the plain bizarre unreasonableness of the terms, can enter into the equation.

There are people who pay for this sort of service. Or so I've heard.

Neither, maybe. As contract it seems to fail for lack of consideration, but it still probably is consent to being slapped so there is no assault.

I would say that you owe $300.

I would really like to know what specific law(s) do you think this private party is violating? I am very curious. I can't think of any off the top of my head.

I think they know it's illegal / unconstitutional. They're banking on self-censorship by people who aren't certain where they stand legally.

...How is this "unconstitutional"? Not everything that is illegal is unconstitutional. I am also skeptical that this is illegal, but considering the jurisdiction may have many applicable laws, it's hard to say that it is or isn't illegal without significant research. But surely it has nothing to do with constitutional law.

Similar pieces of other contracts are valid and common and are called "non-disparagement clauses". I don't see how this differs.

You're quite right. I hadn't realised that the constitution relates to actions between the government and the people only. Reading HN comments is always educational! I suppose it's more correct to say that it isn't in the spirit of the First Amendment, or free-speech in general.

!00% agree. It sure as hell doesn't make it right either.

I deliberately used the phrase "I don't see much of a problem with this" rather than "this is legal." I have no idea if it's legal, but I know that I don't have a problem with it.

Doesn't matter where they claim this fee is legitimate, if the person refuses to pay (which I would), there's no way this would be upheld in civil court.

According to the article, charges come out of your deposit. So that means it's on you to bring it to civil court after they take your money.

Easy to work around, make your review after the deposit comes back.

Or, if you've not signed anything yet, the better work around is to find another venue (and drop them a letter with proof of the booking for the other venue and an explanation as to why you passed them by and went with a competitor).

Your guests are the ones leaving the reviews, not you.

On what grounds would it be dismissed from a civil court? Similar clauses are in many contracts. I'm just curious if there's a reason to believe this is illegal other than simple unpopularity.

> Similar clauses are in many contracts.

I'm not sure that I believe this. I can believe that there are some places out there that think that they can get away with enjoining you against posting negative reviews (until the law eventually settles down against that, as I'm sure that it will), but I find it hard to believe that there are many places that think that they can fine you for the actions of other people. Can you give examples?

EDIT: As baddox (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8131575) politely points out, I worded this badly. I want to say something like "the actions of other people over which you have no reasonable expectation of control" (for example: you can reasonably be expected to prevent guests in your room from damaging the furniture, but you cannot reasonably be expected to monitor the Internet usage of all your guests after they leave to make sure that they do not post a negative review).

If all we're saying is it doesn't pass the "reasonable person" test, then it's not obviously illegal. Some may feel it is reasonable to communicate the terms of the non-disparagement clause you've signed to the members of your party and that it is reasonable to expect the party's sponsor to pay a fine if the members fail to adhere to the rules.

I'm not a lawyer so maybe I'm missing something obvious. I would just like some substantiation. It seems that many people have the habit of automatically declaring something they don't like to "must be illegal" simply because they strongly dislike it. That's now how law works, and that's important to understand because many people seriously underestimate the powers that the legislature holds.

> If all we're saying is it doesn't pass the "reasonable person" test, then it's not obviously illegal. Some may feel it is reasonable to communicate the terms of the non-disparagement clause you've signed to the members of your party and that it is reasonable to expect the party's sponsor to pay a fine if the members fail to adhere to the rules.

I didn't claim that it was (il)legal or (un)reasonable, only that I wasn't convinced that language of this sort (where you are being held responsible for the actions of people when they are not under your immediate control) was common in contracts.

> but I find it hard to believe that there are many places that think that they can fine you for the actions of other people.

There are plenty of examples of that, even in the context of hotel booking. The person who pays for a hotel will be fined if non-paying guest damage hotel furniture, for example.

Agreed—I meant to be more precise about the kinds of behaviour that you (the contract-signer) can be expected to monitor. I have updated my post accordingly.

Because it is extorting guests into not leaving bad reviews online - regardless of service. I'm not really sure how one would think this is okay!

It's not extorting if they are clear about these terms before you decide to book the hotel.

Yet it is.

When you attend a wedding, you have absolutely no say in the venue. Yes, the bride and groom may have agreed to the terms, but the attendees did not have a choice.

So if they get shitty service and want to post a review about it online, they find out doing so will cost the bride and groom $500. It might not be clear cut extortion - but it is not an acceptable business practice.

The attendees did not have a choice on the venue, but they are not bound to any contract and do not get fined if they post reviews.

That's like saying it's not extortion if I threaten your friend unless you do what I say. The Bride and Groom are threatened with a fine unless their attendees do what the hotel says.

That's not at all analogous. The bride and groom are "threatened" because they're the ones that signed the contract.

The legality of the contract is up in the air.

Just because I sign a contract saying I agree to pay $1 everytime someone I know says something unkind to anyone doesn't mean the contract is enforceable.

Besides I don't think the he meant extortion in the legal sense but more the moral sense.

Read it more closely and you will see that, yes, the guest will not get fined, but the bride and groom will have $500 per bad review removed from their deposit.

You are correct, it is not extortion. It's blackmail.

It's neither.

By the time you get around to reading all the fine print, you're pretty mentally committed to signing. If your bride-to-be has her heart set on the quaint old hotel, is already buying decorations to match, telling people the preliminary plans (and they're starting to book in advance), etc ... and then you get down thru the fine print, about to seal the deal, and you see an absurd "you'll be charged $500 for each negative review by people you don't control", are you REALLY going to walk away from the deal? Really?

Fine print? It's on the page for "Events & Weddings", and will absolutely be the first thing most people considering this venue will read. It looks like they removed it, but any notion that this was fine print or hidden away is just dishonest misrepresentation.

Because they are asking you to police the comments of a third party who posts an opinion you may not have and you may not be able to convince to remove the post?

Maybe. I don't see how it is right for anyone to be "fined" for giving their opinion.

What I wonder is how this is traced.

If I leave a review ~6months after would my sisters bridal party be charged or the party that is currently renting the hall?

I assume the later since they assume reviews are placed within a short span of time. Which then if there are several books one-day-after-the-next how do you migrate reviews? Or do you split the difference between all parties?

Even if the policy is clear, and the market is free. There is no way this policy can be enforced fairly.

I would presume you'd be safe to leave the review much later as the $500 is withheld from returned deposits.

Wait for deposit return, make bad review. All is well :)

Send the bride an invoice, then send it to collections if they don't cough up $500.


>> Yes but then you just pass the fine on to somebody else, which isn't fair.

How? If the place has returned the deposit then they have nothing to withhold the fine from ... ?

Am I missing something here?

>If the place has returned the deposit then they have nothing to withhold the fine from

They have no way of proving the association of the reviewer and the deposit in question to charge from. Therefore it is logical to assume that any negative review would be charged to the currently active account, which may or may not be associate with the review.

This ambiguity prevents a fair result.

I think their point is that Yelp reviews are usually anonymous. So how do they know which wedding you're talking about? Do they just assume it's the one that happened yesterday?

They're saying that someone else would be fined, if they're looking at time of review only.

So you rent the room and someone posts a negative review from their rental a few months ago; do you get fined or not? You might if they're only going off time.

Looks like a really malicious way to punish Bridezilla: "When I stayed here for the Smith-Jones wedding on July 26..."

Viral business suicide surely.

What about "no such thing as bad publicity"?

That may not hold as true as it used to in a market where many purchasing decisions are informed by the consensus instantly accessible and distilled into a single number from aggregators like Yelp. In such cases, it's crucial that you receive positive indicators from those sources. In the past, angry articles or reports faded had less staying power; they would raise the profile of the business or person by directing discontent for a while, but the discontent would fade and the subject would retain some elevated portion of prominence. These days discontent doesn't fade as easily, since Yelp et al provide it a permanent home.

Also "will bill you $500 for a bad review" has a particular sting about it unlike any other I suspect.

In a sense this strategy could be somewhat ingenious on their part, as after some exploration some people might assume that all negative reviews (even ones from customers who legitimately received poor service) are spurious ones associated with the fact that the internet doesn't like their review policy. With that being said, most people won't even bother to explore a hotel with a terrible review, so they're probably screwed.

Wow - just for some perspective on yelp yesterday these guys had a four star rating.

At lunchtime (UK) today they had 39 reviews, and had dropped to 1.5 stars. At end of day UK they have over 500 reviews, as far as I can tell everyone a 1 star and they have 1 star rating.

One day and years of work undone.

For those who want to sell SEO services to real businesses (yelpEO?) this is a major marketing event. For some poor fucker in NY this is likely to be bankruptcy and layoffs.

I really do feel for businesses negatively affected by Yelp. Yelp is far from perfect, and I know plenty of small business owners who got a couple bad reviews when they were first figuring things out, and weren't ever able to recover from it.

But, I'm not sure if this is even legal. As imperfect as Yelp is, at least it's democratic. Fining somebody for their guests' opinion of their place is not okay.

Well this is how we goona do this

Fuck Union Street Guest House, Fuck Policies, Fuck Reviews

And if you want to be down with Internet review policies, then fuck you too

All of y'all businesses, fuck you, die slow motherfuckers

My Enter Key makes sure all y'all businesses don't grow

You motherfuckers can't be us or see us

We motherfuckin Internet Thug life-riders

anonyimized till we die

The irony of getting one huge bad news article that does more than enough to account for every bad review they evaded.

Pretty bold of them to think they could fight social media and the consumer-powered era with such an outrageous policy. Power to the people!

On Yelp's review page:

"Your trust is our top concern, so businesses can't pay to alter or remove their reviews."

And yet see we stories like this about Yelp all the time. Yelp reviews aren't worth the paper they are not printed on.

Is it possible to do meta analysis on review sites - effectively "people with your tastes liked this hotel / restaurant" ?

I would think that getting e-receipts working will destroy yelp as well.

I used to work in Hudson. A lot of places like this down there. I'm sure this will be featured on Hotel Hell in no time.

Great idea, right up till the point they announced it and later tried to enforce it.

Can someone living in the US tell me how this could be legal? Surely it's not?

Freedom of speech laws apply to the Government, not private corporations.

There is no "right" to free speech in the US between 2 non government entities.

This would be illegal if a publicly owned entity had this policy (say a historic library or a public garden)....

It's stupid and probably not enforceable, but its a civil court case.

It's well established that you can be held to a contract to not say something. There still needs to be the standard requirements of a contract: mutual understanding, consideration, legality.

This contract holds you responsible for others' behavior, which is less well established.

Relevant XKCD: http://xkcd.com/1357/

That's fine, I just wish people would stop pretending free speech is some great American value then. What they really value is the right to silence people by any means possible, stopping just short of imprisonment.

I wish people would stop defining "free speech" for themselves and getting disappointed that it doesn't mean what they want it to mean.

Well if all it is is a protection from imprisonment, and not some higher ideal, it's hardly worth talking about.

There's the First Amendment and then there's free speech.

Before mob justice drives this place out of business, perhaps those posting 1 star reviews should promise to take them down if the policy changes. Not that I agree with the policy, but a mistake like this might not be worth ruining some's life.

seriously? They are in hospitality business and such level of rudeness, lack of empathy for their customers and such superiority feeling about themselves should ideally take them out of business.

I agree. But mob justice rarely has only the intended consequences. I am all for teaching them a lesson, but I believe that's where it should end. You are talking about ruining people's lives over this incident. If every angry user of your product reacted like this, would you be a happy camper?

Once again, not defending their practice, just pointing out that the angry mobs don't usually produce the best outcomes.

Indeed - nothing is happening to all the other hotels that have the same policy.

Yeah, the fact that they insult guests who leave bad reviews (see their Trip Advisor reviews) shows that they have a level of contempt for their customers that is incompatible with a good hospitality business.

This is beyond stupid and this is not even untrue.

This is just a gimmick story to promote Yelp.

Just write a sarcastic positive review.

This is ridiculous. Someone needs to sue them.

Yelp is useless anyways.

"If you exercise your rights to freedom of speech and post anything other than a stellar review, we are going to penalize you, to improve our business reputation online instead of finding out why there are negative reviews in the first place."

A bride is a business partner, forcing guests to stay at the hotel. How is this different from docking an employees salary for unsatisfied customers?

I've been to many weddings. I've never been forced to stay at any particular hotel. There are usually several in the area that the bride and groom suggest, and you're always free to seek out another hotel if you don't like those.

The bride is not a business partner, she's a paying customer. A business partner would be receiving a share of the profits from the transaction, a bride is not.

How is it different from docking an employee's pay? Well, to start with the bride has no employment agreement with the hotel and is not receiving any pay, so that's a pretty big difference.

1) Docking employees' salary is immoral and (in the US) illegal. 2) The bride is not a business partner; she is a customer. 3) The guests are not forced to stay at the hotel, unless the wedding invitations come with an "or else" clause.

I think this is a sort of wacko reverse psychology gambit.[1]

The Yelp page is now attracting comments like "This place should be relocated to china. They have a policy about reviews that is unamerican."

So, if you're looking for a hotel that actively dissuades the sort of redneck who likes to throw around words like "unamerican", congratulations - you've found it!

[1] ok, ok, I don't.

Why don't people understand that free-speech protections only means the government cannot throw you in jail for what you say (but they do anyway under the "try to stop us" method http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/07/12/201422486 ).

It has no meaning against other individuals.

They don't because it's not true. The reason civil libel/slander between private parties is more restricted in the US than elsewhere in the common law world is because of the First Amendment free speech and free press guarantees. The idea that it only apples in criminal disputes or where over party is the government is false; it's a limit on government, sure, but on governments power to make law, which applies both to laws governing dispute between private parties and to law governing criminal or civil cases where the government is a party.

After reading this article, I'm surprised to see that the guest house still has a high rating on Yelp and Google+. Our immediate response should be to post negative reviews based on the revelation that none of the other reviews are trustworthy.

EDIT: Yelp rating is no longer high, but there's still TripAdvisor and Google+.

No, posting reviews of a service you've never used because of something you read on the Internet five minutes ago is not OK.

Is it necessary to have used a service in order to comment on its policies? What if you just call a place and they are very rude, would it be ok to post that in a "review"?

I don't really see anything wrong with warning others that a hotel's policies are irregular and for people to be careful.

Just saying something such as "make sure you carefully read their terms before staying at this place or leaving a deposit, they are not standard and you could end up paying much more than you anticipated." might be justified, no?

Yes, I feel bad for the hotel, this could cripple their business, but it will probably make the news and encourage other hotels to review their policies. In the end the consumers (who are innocent) will be the ones who benefit from this.

That's true in a vacuum. However, the high rating they have is clearly unjustified since they have been extorting people to remove negative reviews. Some collective action against the gaming of the system is called for and, I think, ethical in this case. Try thinking of it from the perspective of their competitors that don't extort their customers.

clearly unjustified

You don't know that.

they have been extorting people

You don't know that.

Some collective action against the gaming of the system is called for

Oh, geeze. If gaming the system is bad, then stop gaming the system.

If someone really wanted to put the screws to these people, then they would find a patron who has actually had that $500 policy used against them, implicitly if nothing else. It would require some kind of investigative journalism to find an actual victim. But that's a lot more slow and boring than getting out the Internet pitchforks and just burning their online presence to the ground right now. (If we wait too long our anger might dissipate!)

That might be your ethical analysis, but other people might have different ethical analyses.

I agree, posting fake reviews as an individual is as bad as what they are doing. I think the services should put a warning though. Something like this: "The reviews for this hotel may not be completely accurate according to some recent evidence and we are still investigating the case. Thank you for your understanding".

I'm not sure where you got "fake reviews." I specifically suggested that people comment on a public policy posted by the hotel. No more, no less.

I was replying to the parent, not the grand-parent. A review without using a service is a fake review.

One need not use a service to comment critically on their policies.

You misinterpreted my comment. Yes, it would be unacceptable to lie and say that we've all visited the hotel, but that's not what I'm advocating. I specifically said "based on the revelation that none of the other reviews are trustworthy." This isn't simply based on an article I've read. It's a public policy posted by the hotel.

I'm suggesting that people comment on a public policy. No more, no less.

Your words: "Our immediate response should be to post negative reviews based on the revelation that none of the other reviews are trustworthy."

You don't know anything about the quality of their online reviews. No, I mean it, you really don't: 5 minutes wasn't enough time for you to investigate this policy and see how long it's been in place. Perhaps this policy is brand new and hasn't affected any online reviews yet, which means "none of their other reviews are trustworthy" would be incorrect. [1] Yet you implore that we should have an "immediate response." Quick, before we have a chance to think this through!!!

There's nothing our primate lizard brains love better than collectively kicking the crap out of an enemy who can't fight back. That isn't something to be celebrated or encouraged.

Slow down, take a deep breath, and count to 10.

[1] Doing this research now doesn't excuse a call for an "immediate response."

It's actually been there since at least 2013:


Let 'em take the dings. An example must be made of this kind of anti-consumer behavior.

pour encourager les autres

This is very pretentious.

You're regurgitating a common narrative about online witch hunts. While I agree that they're unethical, that's clearly not what's happening here. The comments that have superseded yours in this thread echo that sentiment. The other commenters and I agree that if an organization creates a public policy, people should be able to criticize the group on the basis of that policy. It's as simple as that.

Yeah, everybody's doing it.

I'm sure that you normally have intelligent things to add to the conversation and your comment above is just a one-off.

Our immediate response should be to post negative reviews

"Activism" reviews are what make most online reviews useless. Please don't do that. And those who already have today do nothing but undermine their own reputation.

While the ridiculous penalty claim is outrageous and likely illegal, and their behavior on Yelp is unacceptable, everyone should always take a moment to understand where they're coming from[1]: In this case their gripe seems to be guests who did not specifically select the hotel, knowing what it was about, but instead had the hotel selected for them as members of a wedding party. Their issue is those people then evaluate and rate the hotel based upon it not being another type of hotel.

It's kind of a fair gripe, isn't it? If your normal business suffers because of a secondary business, you need to reassess costs of the second business. Now threatening a fine is hamfisted and simply stupid, but I understand why they want to do something.

[1] “Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.”

If the hotel is receiving consistently negative reviews from wedding parties which are unfairly harming their business, then they should stop allowing people to book weddings there. That would seem to be a far more legitimate solution to the problem.

Please take a look at my response to danielweber. I'm not advocating that people post fake reviews. I'm saying that we should point out only what we know: some of the other reviews may be disingenuous because of the $500 fine. This is a public policy posted on their website. It's a simple matter of fact, not opinions.

You specifically called for people to post negative reviews. How can someone review something they've never experienced?

Regarding the other reviews being disingenuous or skewed, note that this policy only apparently applies and has ever even been stated for wedding parties. Are wedding parties big users of Yelp? Is it a credible use case for a general hotel?

Imagine that you're a sushi place and everyone loves your fishy goodness. But then you are called to be the primary caterer of a conference center event, leading to dozens of terrible reviews by people who don't like fish. Should their "I don't like fish" reviews be placed side by side with people looking for a sushi place to eat? Is that useful for users of yelp? As a sushi eater, no, that would be terrible noise.

The solution is of course to simply stop serving a niche food at the conference center, just as this hotel should stop doing weddings.

How can someone review something they've never experienced?

I'm calling for people to comment on the facts of a public policy posted by the hotel. No more, no less. If you interpreted this as a call to post dishonest or mean comments, you were reading into it the wrong the way.

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