Yoo Jeung has run Le Spot St-Denis, at the corner of Duluth Avenue and St-Denis Street for 22 years. His flower shop is supposed to be right next to Montreal’s highest-rated restaurant on Tripadvisor, Le Nouveau Duluth, but he says he’s never heard of it.
She says she knows the area very well and tourists often ask her how to get to restaurants.
“But Nouveau Duluth? No,” he said, and something about the online listing struck him as off-putting.
“There is a very high ceiling [in the photos]he said. “There are no high ceilings in Duluth…it looks fake.”
The restaurant was ranked number one in the travel app’s city rankings, but one look at its listing was enough to stop foodies.
Le Nouveau Duluth doesn’t exist, but the ease with which it rose to the top of a travel advice site is a clear example of how easy it is to create buzz with no substance behind it, and the challenges real restaurants face in getting noticed in the algorithm. .
The page was removed after CBC sent a request for a response from Tripadvisor. The popular travel site responded by saying that hacks that create a fake restaurant listing are “rare occurrences and do not share the characteristics of genuine instances of fraud.”
“This time, a failure in human moderation practices meant that the fake listing remained active on the platform longer than it should have. Listings, including reviews and photos associated with the listing, are now inactive.”
In order for a restaurant to appear on Tripadvisor, you must provide a phone number and website. The URL linked in Le Nouveau Duluth’s did not lead to an active site.
Le Nouveau Duluth has 85 reviews, all five stars.
The top review is headlined “I can’t believe this place actually exists.” Most reviewers left only one review on Tripadvisor: for Le Nouveau Duluth.
The listing had just four photos: two showing what looks like a living room, one of a sports bar, and the last of comedian Charles Deschamps, whose name is linked to the restaurant’s phone number. CBC confirmed that the phone uses iMessage.
When the CBC checked the Quebec business registry, Le Nouveau Duluth was not listed. The location pin points to the corner of Duluth Avenue and St-Denis Street, but no restaurant called Le Nouveau Duluth is visible.
CBC asked four neighboring businesses if they had ever heard of Le Nouveau Duluth, including Le Spot St-Denis. They all said no.
CBC also called the number listed on the Tripadvisor page, but received no response.
‘Easy to spot’ counterfeits
Although he’s never come across a fake restaurant on Tripadvisor, cybersecurity expert Terry Cutler says fake reviews are relatively easy to spot.
“If you look at the reviews, a lot of the time they’re so vague, like ‘Great job,’ ‘Keep it up,’ it has nothing to do with the subject of the review,” he said.
“If you start seeing only five-star reviews, never negative feedback, that should be a sign that something is wrong.”
Cutler says it’s easy for anyone to sign up to a bot service and flood websites like Google or Tripadvisor with fake reviews and climb the ranks, to the detriment of legitimate businesses.
“So if you really have a good five-star restaurant that’s in the ranking, now it’s going to be taken down because this fake restaurant is taking over,” he said.
Graziella Battista, owner of Graziella restaurant in Old Montreal, says ads like Le Nouveau Duluth are “unacceptable.”
“Of course it is worrying. People who travel trust these sites that review restaurants and any type of place that tourists visit,” she said.
Battista noted that, not long ago, restaurants got their ratings from established restaurant critics like “Lesley Chestermans and all the Marie-Claude Lorties.”
He also mentioned a government system that ranks establishments with quality assessments. Now, he says, that responsibility has been transferred to online platforms where “everyone is an expert.”
She says these websites need more regulation so that real restaurants aren’t pushed down the rankings.
Quebec’s Ministry of Tourism says it has no plans to regulate restaurant ratings online or to introduce a credible rating system for tourist attractions.
“It’s a scam,” Battista said of Le Nouveau Duluth. “You can tell when you go to their page and it’s number one in Montreal out of 3,670 restaurants.”
She says it’s getting harder and harder to trust information online.
“At the features, they do it all: they deliver, they do takeout, reservations, outdoor seating, buffet, private dining, private parking, they have a full bar, wine and beer, oceanfront, live music, bar jazz, it’s a walk-through, they’re on the beach, they have a playground.”
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