Never underestimate the power of marketing in hospitality: How a fake restaurant reached the number one spot in London on TripAdvisor


Your restaurant might have the best menu and ambiance, perfectly executed food and drinks, and top-notch service, but you have to get people in the door in order to showcase your talent.

Conversely, as Oobah Butler demonstrated with his culinary hoax, The Shed at Dulwich, with some deceptive promotional legwork you could have no menu to speak of, a dirty backyard for a location, serve microwaved frozen dinners, and still become the number-one rated restaurant in London.

Such is the power of marketing and word of mouth via social media and customer reviews.

Butler’s elaborate eight-month prank all began with a seedy job writing fake customer reviews for restaurants on TripAdvisor, a banned and punishable offense according to the world's largest travel site. Unsettled by the buzz he was able to generate for his clients without actually sampling their wares, he began to wonder just how far a restaurant could fly on the wings of a carefully crafted reputation.

Butler set out to create the number-one rated restaurant in London on TripAdvisor, without having an actual restaurant. And it’s astonishing to see how much he was able to accomplish by falsely generating all of the buzz, with none of the actual trappings of a restaurant.

So how did he do it?

With a combination of fake reviews from his friends, staged photos of meals that don’t exist (he actually photographed largely inedible objects trussed up with avant-garde garnishes) with extravagant and non-sensical names, he was able to generate enough public interest in The Shed to begin receiving calls for reservations.shed at dulwich

Never accepting reservations under the guise of being booked solid for weeks at a time became part of the ploy to generate demand among potential diners. Within five months, Butler began receiving calls from PR agencies wanting to represent the fictitious restaurant, earning even more undeserved attention.

At the six-month mark, The Shed at Dulwich actually became the number-one restaurant in London. An honor coveted by the 18,000 actual restaurants in London listed on TripAdvisor.

The VICE episode featuring The Shed at Dulwich experiment ends with a quote from Butler stating, “If I can get my [shoddy] and overpriced shed that I live in to the number one rated restaurant in London, anything is possible.”

For us here at Avero, the takeaway lesson is less about how to create something out of nothing, and more about the impact that simple hospitality marketing efforts like leveraging valuable restaurant review sites like TripAdvisor and posting on social media channels can have on your restaurant.

If The Shed at Dulwich can reach number one with a fake restaurant and inedible food, what could you do with a little social media marketing support at your venue?

You don't have to be an expert to leverage social media for your restaurant. You just need the right tools. Avero Buzz monitors social media on your behalf, flagging any conversations about you so you can engage when it's appropriate.

Sign up for a free, no obligation demo to learn more about how Avero Buzz can help your restaurant get noticed in all the right ways.


Kim Hardy

Kim Hardy