Yoo Jeung has run Le Spot St-Denis at the corner of Duluth Avenue and St-Denis Street for 22 years. His flower shop may be next door to Montreal’s top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor, Le Nouveau Duluth, but he says he’s never heard of it.
He says he knows the area well and that tourists often ask how to get to restaurants.
But New Duluth? No,’ she said. Something about the online catalog hit her.
“There is a very high ceiling [in the photos]”, said. “Duluth doesn’t have high ceilings…it looks fake.”
The restaurant topped the travel app city’s ratings, but one glance at its listing was enough to give foodies pause.
Not Le Nouveau Duluth, but it rose to the top of a travel advice site, a stark example of how easy it is to build buzz with no substance behind it, and what challenges real restaurants face getting noticed by an algorithm.
The page was removed after the CBC sent out a request for a response from Reddit. The popular travel site responded that the fake restaurant listing hack “does not share the characteristics of paranormal events and genuine fraudulent events.”
“In this case, a failure in human moderation procedures resulted in fake listings staying on the platform longer than they should. 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 does not lead to an active site.
Le Nouveau Duluth has 85 reviews, all of which give it five stars.
The best review is titled “I can’t believe this place actually exists.” Most reviewers left only one review on Tripadvisor: for Le Nouveau Duluth.
The listing contained just four photos: two of the living room, one of the sports bar, and finally the name of comedian Charles Deschamps, attached 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 there is no restaurant in sight with the name Le Nouveau Duluth.
CBC asked four neighboring businesses if they had ever heard of Le Nouveau Duluth, including Le Spot St-Denis. They all said no.
CBC called the number listed on the Tripadvisor page, but got no answer.
‘Easy to spot’ counterfeits
Although he’s never come across a fake restaurant on TripAdvisor, cybersecurity expert Terry Cutler says it’s relatively easy to spot fake reviews.
“If you look at the reviews, a lot of the time they’re vague, like ‘great job,’ ‘keep up the good work,’ and it has nothing to do with the subject of the review,” he said.
“If you start to see nothing but five-star reviews, with no negative feedback, that should be a sign that something is wrong.”
Cutler says anyone can sign up for a bot service and get fake reviews on websites like Google or TripAdvisor to move up the rankings, hurting legitimate businesses.
“So if you have a good five-star restaurant that’s rated, now it’s going to be ruined by the takeover of this fake restaurant,” he said.
Graciella Bautista, owner of Graciella’s restaurant in Old Montreal, says ads like Le Nouveau Duluth are “unacceptable.”
“It’s definitely a concern. Travelers rely on these sites to review restaurants and any type of place tourists visit,” she said.
Bautista notes that, not too long ago, restaurants got their ratings from established restaurant critics like “Leslie Chestermans and all the Marie-Claude Lordies.”
He also mentioned a government system that ranks companies with quality ratings. Now, that responsibility has been handed over to online platforms, where “everyone is an expert.”
He 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 online restaurant ratings or introduce a reliable rating system for tourist destinations.
“It’s a scam,” Bautista 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.”
He says it’s getting harder and harder to trust information online.
“In terms of features, they do it all: they do delivery, takeout, reservations, outdoor seating, buffet, private dining, private parking, 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.”