By Jeff Paul

DALLAS (CBS11) – A Dallas business owner is accusing Yelp of hiding good reviews of his coffee shop after he refused to pay them for advertising.

Bob Sinnott owns Toasted Coffee + Kitchen in Lower Greenville.

He said after months of non-stop phone calls from Yelp, he claims his favorable rating dropped after he finally told the company he would not pay for advertising.

“What I would compare it to, the mafia,” said Sinnott. “You know, you do business with me or there’s retaliation.”

Sinnott feels Yelp is hiding many of his 5-star reviews in the “not recommended” section because he chose not to pay for Yelp services.

“The sales pitch is, pay us a monthly fee and we’ll your help page,” said Sinnott.

He claims there were constant phone calls and emails from Yelp pitching the company’s services.

“It became what I would call borderline harassment,” said Sinnott.

After posting on Facebook about his experience, Sinnott said his rating went from a 4-star to a 3.5-star rating.

Google rates Toasted at 4.1 and Facebook has the business at a 4.6 rating.

“I think they’re a bully,” said Meri Dahlke who owns Ten Bells Tavern in Oak Cliff. “I asked them, ‘So you’re telling me all our five-star reviews that get into the not recommended, if I advertise… Oh no ma’am we don’t do that. It’s our algorithm.”

Dan Bradley, who owns clothing and gift shop Bullzerk in Lower Greenville, shared a similar account.

“They’re really aggressive about, you need to do this and you need to do this,” said Bradley. “Every time you tell them that you don’t want to pay for it or it doesn’t make sense, they have ten lines to give you.”

Same Wynne recently opened Bowls and Tacos in Deep Ellum.

“At the end of the day, it’s their system. It’s their stars,” said Wynne.

After months of saying no to Yelp, Wynn caved.

“Yeah I pay them,” said Wynne. “My reviews got better.”

A 2014 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling found Yelp can legally manipulate reviews and businesses do not have a right to positive reviews.

Yelp insists it has never altered ratings for payment.

When asked about Sinnott’s claims, a spokesperson for Yelp declined interview requests.

A statement was sent along with a screenshot of 14 reviews Yelp claims came from the same IP address belonging to Sinnott’s Yelp account.

A spokesperson wrote that it is, “…a common behavior (often caught by Yelp) of those attempting to mislead consumers with fake reviews.”

However, IT experts said if Sinnott and his customers are using the same WiFi offered at his coffee shop, they likely have the same IP address, but there is no way to truly know either way based solely on IP address alone.

“To me it’s just the principle,” said Sinnott. “Someone has got to stand up to this company and point out exactly what they’re doing.”

Comments (44)
  1. As a former employee from Yelp, this irritates me. Ive seen businesses get worse from advertising and better. If you solicit for reviews, they will go into unrecommended. Its supposed to be organic! Imagine the opposite end of the spectrum- 10 people that hate the business owner go on and leave one star reviews and completely ruin the business. Same goes for 10 five star ratings from the business owners family and friends. There has to be rules set in place or else the world would be all 5 star businesses.

  2. Yes this is true. In New Orleans La. they do the same thing. The investment company I work, has 4 restaurants, and was told by a sale s person from YELP, our reviews would only be favorable reviews, and be recommended by their company, We said NO. They mostly post bad reviews of the restaurants. T. R. Duguay

  3. Missing verb in paragraph six.

  4. Millions for defense, not one penny for tribute.

  5. Jim Barnett says:

    My California Medical practice suffered the same issues. My patients would tell me that they posted favorably but wondered why the postings were removed. I heard the algorithm script as well when I called Yelp. Then I started getting the pitch for advertising. My intent was Search Engine Optimization for my Information Website. I don’t recommend Yelp. Any postings are without my permission at this point, good or bad.

  6. This is nothing new. In the 60’s I worked for Norge , an appliance manufacturer and a subsidiary of Borg-Warner. I remember a meeting where a similar complaint was brought up about Consumer Reports. They would either refuse review or give a bad review to a company’s products unless the company provided those product for free.

  7. I know two local business owners that have told me exactly the same thing that the people here are reporting. Pay us and we’ll “manage” your reviews.

  8. I kid you not, I sent proof that a physician with a large Yelp presence had lied on their web site about where they went to medical school (said it was an Ivy League college) but I checked and they went to a medical school near Haiti) and Yelp said unless I used that Physician’s services, I was not allowed to post on their Yelp page what I learned so Yelp scrubbed my post. It changed forever how I see Yelp

  9. I owned a business and found the same thing. Yelp is a crooked organization. They should be investigated under the RICO act.

  10. They hounded me relentlessly while my mom was on her deathbed. I asked them not to call, they kept calling, I was taking every call because I never knew when a doctor would be calling. I told them my mom was dying and I wasn’t thinking about advertising, they would say things like. “Sorry to hear that, but do you really want your business to fail while you’re busy with that?’ “Can’t focus on advertising right now? What’s the prognosis? When do you think you’ll be ready to think about it? Um really? I hung up on them so many times, there was so much more. It was awful. They are showing 4 out of 11 reviews. There’s only one with less than 5stars,and it’s front and center. I guess you have to pay the randsome.

  11. Ford Hanson says:

    This is 100% true. I used to tell my clients about yelp. I had great reviews, from clients and yelp took them off. Gave me no reason, then after a huge outcry in my area, they put them under a read unlisted reviews or something. I hate yelp. They are very very dishonest.

  12. Dan Meyers says:

    Old, old news. Yelp is a public company interested in one thing only: Making money for their shareholders. Here is the ONLY way to use Yelp (This is my humble opinion but based on much research): ONLY go to the “not recommended” reviews. They are the least biased and the only ones that are trustworthy. Many others in the know say the same thing.

  13. John Bon says:

    easy enough to test. So test it.

  14. Tim Nelson says:

    I have a Yelp Nightmare story. They told me point blank that if I advertised I would get a personal account manager that I could call when I ran into a troublesome client.

    They also refused to remove one star reviews from people that were NEVER clients and NEVER used our services. They have also buried tons of five star reviews from verified clients.

    No one cares. Yelp has been doing this for years. Regardless, I refuse to pay them. I will NOT be blackmailed by anyone and shame on those that caved and payed.

  15. When pressed to advertise in any medium, I always just asked the ad rep about their money-back guarantee. I had a policy of not only a full no-questions refund but also additional goods or credits to make up for the hassle.

    Not a single one would guarantee results from spending ad money with them or money back; they just snuck away into the weeds.

  16. James Barta says:

    Love Toasted! We were looking for a place to hold a community bitcoin meeting and they volunteered right away! Great service and we can’t wait to go back!

  17. Andrea Mayer says:

    Yelp is such a racket. They did the same thing to my business. We used to have 18 of positive reviews. Yelp has tried to sell me on their services more than once, which we have always declined, but whatdayaknow, once we got one negative, the favorable ones became “unrecommended” and the poor one is the one visible now as the ONLY recommended review.I will not negotiate with terrorists. Yelp sucks.

  18. John Henrick says:

    I posted a good review of a bike shop I had started to use. The review went into the ‘Not Recommended’ list. I contacted Yelp and was told that their algorithm decides where the posts go, and that because my review was so good, it might have come from the business owner. I was new to the state and had never had dealings with the bike shop in the past. I wrote back and told them so but they said they can’t manually move my review. Then a friend told me about the scam of how Yelp contacts the business and offers to move the review into the ‘Recommended’ list for a fee. I was so angry that I went back to my review and tried to delete it. It couldn’t be deleted but they do allow for editing, so I completely wiped out the bike review and rewrote it to show how the scam operated. I’m sure they deleted it, after that.

    I would never use Yelp for a reference to any business, now. A bad merchant could pay to have his bad service listed in ‘Recommended’. How can anyone trust Yelp? If you search for a business you’d like to recommend, find it in a Google search. This then allows you to post a review – good or bad – without any of the shenanigans practiced by Yelp.

    1. Bob Sinnott says:

      Yeah, Yelp treats the mysterious algorithm as an all-powerful force that must be fair. Who created the algorithm? Who controls the algorithm? Yelp employees do. Particularly 22-yr-old otherwise unemployable telemarketers who have been given God-like control over their assigned areas and must meet sales quotas at any cost or go back to live with their parents.

      My current “algorithm” is apparently set to hide any reviews received over 3 stars.

  19. Google does the same thing. Cancel your adwords account and regardless of how high you ranked you fall way back. That’s how they get you to come back — it’s so shady.

  20. If this is so it amounts to a protection racket. Moreover, anyone can post, slanderously, and there is no recourse. Federal regulation is overdue on these types of internet businesses.

  21. Yelp has no credibility. They’ve pulled this stunt many times over in the past.
    This nothing new.
    Think: Garbage in and garbage out.

  22. Asian countries for Asians.

    Black countries for Blacks.

    but White countries for everybody?

    That’s genocide.

    Anti-racist is a codeword for Anti-White

  23. John Douglas says:

    Yelp sux. Always has, always will. Ask any business owner who Doesn’t pay the extortion, they tell you that the good reviews disappear and the bad ones bubble to the top.

  24. Manager-partner at XXXXXXXXXX told me YELP sets up nothing but 5 star reviews for his restaurant then calls him to sell an ad on YELP. If he doesn’t buy an ad, YELP then sees to it that reviews are 3 star and less. He told me he hasn’t bought any advertising at all in years from, really anyone, and business roars there seven days a week. When the 3 star and less reviews appeared on Yelp after the 5 stars he was getting before, it didn’t make a bit of difference. XXXX at XXXXXXXXXXXX told me a similar story about YELP. That YELP reviews make no difference.

  25. Ryan Pinnell says:

    Same is with my business 8 positive reviews scuttled and all positive are gone called them to discuss the rep yelled at me and disconnected. The call some on please start a class action

  26. Kevin Horner says:

    Usually the companies with poor Yelp reviews are run by douchbags. I imagine this is no different.

  27. Gregory Kay says:

    As someone who occasionally picks up a little extra beer money by free-lancing, I can tell you that reviews are not to be trusted in the first place. It’s a dirty little secret that fake reviews – positive and negative – are probably the biggest single market for authors on the web. I refuse to do them myself, but when I was working regularly via the usual writers’ pools, I got constant requests for them. Companies want to promote themselves, or competitors or disgruntled employees want to tear them down, and there are always writers who will sell out for $10 for five minutes work.

  28. I agree with this article. Yelp attempted to convince me to pay for advertising. I refused. Now my reviews disappeared and I’m no longer on the first page on searches.

  29. Scott Hair says:

    I constantly get calls too, even after the rep told me their monthly rates start at $300 a month and he recommended I pay even more and I said I’m not even paying anything remotely as much as even $300. I have a small detailing business and am booked 2-3 weeks in advance all the time without any kind of advertising. Why would I spend any money with them when I don’t need to? So far they haven’t been able to affect my reviews since they are all 5 stars. Just irritating to get called all the time for something I am never going to pay them for.

  30. Bob Sinnott says:

    OPEN LETTER TO DONALD TRUMP: I have been attacked by Yelp’s extortion tactics! After refusing to pay Yelp for advertising, Yelp retaliated by removing 84 consumer reviews from my restaurant’s average score … thus lowering my average from almost 4.5/5 to 3.5/5. Yelp continues to remove 4 & 5 star reviews daily. I have proof.

    Now that I’ve done a little research, I see that Yelp has harassed almost every small business owner in America … extorting $1 billion in advertising fees annually from businesses in exchange for a favorable review average. Yelp’s primary revenue stream is extortion. They are a modern-day cyber-mafia. Do business with us or we retaliate! Yelp is attempting to control who succeeds and who doesn’t.

    Small business owners need that $1 billion to grow, hire employees, award merit raises to their employees, and ultimately expand the economy. That money should not be going to a cyber-bully fake-review behemoth.

    Donald – You’ve helped us with taxes. Now help us with Yelp. Let’s use that money to make America great again … not to delay Yelp’s inevitable demise. It’s easy to prove. Let’s do this. Right now.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More From CBS Dallas / Fort Worth

Drip Pan: CBS Local App
Drip Pan: Weather App
Drip Pan: Only CBS

Watch & Listen LIVE