This story is pretty delicious, if you can believe it.
A new restaurant broke onto the scene in London a few months ago. The place was off the charts. Amazing reviews. A hundred 5-star ratings online. Ranked #1 on TripAdvisor.
You couldn't get a table. Booked solid for months.
There was only one catch. The restaurant didn't actually exist.
Meet Oobah Butler.
Writer. Londoner. Guy who once made a living writing fake 5-star reviews for real restaurants on sites like TripAdvisor.
Interesting bloke, as I think they say in England. Lives in a shed in the backyard of another London house. (That's a whole other story.)
Earlier this year he got the idea to create a fake restaurant--to pretend that the shed he lived in was an eatery--and to game the rankings on TripAdvisor to make it the number-1 rated restaurant. Inspired, apparently, by all the fake reviews he used to write for real restaurants.
He called the place "The Shed." Again, to be clear: the restaurant never existed. It was all a joke. There was really a shed, in which Butler lived, but there was no "The Shed."
Yet Butler built its virtual reputation over a few months, and it ultimately ranked #1 online.
He staged fake photos--like gourmet dishes. One was a closeup photo of an egg, covered with dirt, resting on his foot. It looked better than that sounds.
Customers ate it up. Last May, it was ranked the number-18,149 restaurant in London. "Seemingly overnight," Butler writes, they reached number 1,456. And on November 1, it reached number-1.
Now, people were calling Butler constantly, hoping to get reservations.
In one weekend: 116 voicemails, all trying to book a table. Would-be diners figured out the road on which The Shed was located. Some stopped Butler on the street, looking for directions.
He panicked a bit. Told them all there was a wait list, that he was booked up for weeks, that they had a special event.
It didn't matter. The reputation grew. Scarcity sells.
Eventually Butler decided to turn pretense into reality, at least for a night. He actually opened his house-slash-shed as a restaurant for a single evening, serving $1 frozen supermarket meals dressed up and plated to look gourmet.
"We were not disappointed. The whole experience was fantastic," one of his 5-star (fake) reviews said. "We will certainly be back."
Alas, nothing lasts forever, especially when it never actually existed in the first place. TripAdvisor grew wise to this all now, and has deleted the restaurant's page. But you can see an archived version here.
I also asked TripAdvisor to make sure the Vice article in which Butler described all this wasn't a joke in and of itself. They confirmed, but were clearly unamused.
"Generally, the only people who create fake restaurant listings are journalists in misguided attempts to test us," said Kevin Carter, a company spokesperson. "As there is no incentive for anyone in the real world to create a fake restaurant it is not a problem we experience with our regular community - therefore this 'test' is not a real world example."
That's where they're wrong.
In our fake news era, what's more real than an artificial restaurant gaming its way to the top of the charts?
Nothing is as it seems. Especially on the Internet.