We came across a Facebook post from a long-time user of Zomato who, after gaining adequate popularity and trust as a reviewer on Zomato, started offering positive reviews as a service to restaurants.
Typically, we don’t react to people who slander Zomato and claim we resort to unfair practices to make money. But we are reacting today, because we’ve received calls from the media about covering this incident, and that puts everything we do to maintain the sanctity of Zomato in a bad light.
As they say, a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.
We deleted this user’s profile because our neutrality team had proof that this user was resorting to unfair practices. Here are screenshots of the conversation between the user and a restaurant owner.
They were sent to us by the owner of the restaurant – one of the most honest business owners we have worked with (and believe us, that isn’t always the case).
In his post, the user is clearly telling the restaurant that he will write a positive review for the place. This means the review was going to be biased. As a result, we cannot trust any of this user’s reviews, and cannot let our vast community of users read or trust any of his reviews either. With that in mind, we decided to delete Prateek’s profile.
As we always do when removing a profile, we sent an email to Prateek, telling him why we were going to delete his profile –
Despite this, Prateek says in his Facebook post that we never informed him about his profile being deleted.
It pains us to see this post, mostly because of the glaring gaps and false accusations in his story. For the benefit of everyone who refers to – and trusts – reviews on Zomato, we’d like to clarify a few things anyway. We’ll address each point he makes in his post individually.
“A new restaurant (is about to open up or) opens up in a locality. Either it approaches Zomato, or Zomato approaches it for enlisting on the portal.”
This is true. Restaurants pay nothing to be listed on Zomato.
“Zomato’s Area Sales/Marketing Manager pays the restaurant a visit. Asks the owner/manager if they’d want a good rating & reviews for the restaurant since it drives business in return. Most of us do refer to Zomato to look for the ‘best restaurants’ in a particular area, so it makes sense for a restaurant to be there.”
We have a content/data collection team that collects and lists restaurant information. If a Sales Manager visits a restaurant, it’s because a new restaurant is a potential advertiser (for the banner ads you see on Zomato). The code of ethics for our sales team does not let them talk about reviews to a potential advertiser, and we maniacally enforce this policy. Even a benefit of doubt here is always given to the organisation, and not to the sales person.
“If the restaurant owner is financially well-off, he gives in to Zomato’s monopoly and pays up to get “good ratings”.
Restaurants cannot pay for a rating under any circumstances (unless, of course, they’re paying users who are resorting to unfair practices). We have enough eyes and ears out there to manage the menace.
“Now, Zomato’s “verified reviewers” (you know the ones with blue & white stars on their DPs) come into picture here. Zomato invites these guys to do review under the pretext of “Zomato Meetups” or whatever godforsaken name. These guys eat to their heart’s content for free, and subsequently reward the restaurant with high ratings and positive reviews.”
Meetups are our community engagement activities where we invite Zomato reviewers – having a Verified profile is not a prerequisite for this – for a meal at a restaurant. Yes, the restaurant hosts these meetups, and users do not pay for their meals. However, whether or not these users write reviews (let alone positive ones) is entirely up to the users themselves. It is made very clear to restaurants that this is an exposure opportunity for them among regular users, and that they are not allowed to ask for reviews.
“Also, by the way, Zomato’s uses its own (corrupt) “algorithm” to rate restaurants. The ratings are not simply calculated as “No. of Ratings divided by No. of Users,” Zomato provides its own ratings to most restaurants (based on the deal it strikes with them.)”
A restaurant’s rating is based on the ratings it gets from users. Zomato does not provide its own ratings to restaurants, because that would inherently violate the neutrality of Zomato as a platform – more on this soon. Prateek is right when he says that ratings are not absolute (# of ratings divided by # of users). Ratings on Zomato factor in the credibility and trust a user has built with us over time, and are then spread on a normalised distribution curve; you can read about it in detail here on our blog: http://blog.zomato.com/post/114022437961/simplifying-ratings-for-a-better-dining-experience
“Now, thanks to Zomato’s “rating” and credibility thanks to the reviews by Zomato Verified Reviewers, the restaurant starts attracting customers and business becomes good. Until, after a while, Zomato pays them a visit again.”
A restaurant will attract new customers if it offers a great dining experience. Simple. Zomato acts as a discovery platform for these restaurants, and reviews written by Zomato users help others decide where to eat.
“Why did they delete my account? Because I was doing reviews independently, and not as a Zomato Verified Reviewer. Restaurants would directly invite me over for free meals (thanks to my good following on Zomato & Instagram) and I would in turn honestly review their restaurants on the Zomato app. Zomato obviously gets a whiff of it.”
Anyone is welcome to review restaurants independently. It doesn’t matter whether one is a Verified reviewer or not. The problem arises when one starts offering positive reviews on Zomato as a service – which was the case here. We got to know of it because restaurants Prateek wrote to sent us screengrabs of his conversations with them, which we have attached above as proof.
“Now, since my reviewing doesn’t reap any monetary benefits for Zomato, it decides to delete my account instantly without ever once notifying me. A bad example, but it’s a case of a big shark eating up a smaller one to get bigger and for future profits.”
Reviews definitely add value to Zomato, but we expect them to be fair and neutral for them to be useful to other users. If you are approaching restaurants offering positive reviews in exchange for free meals, that is in direct violation of our review guidelines and policies. This has got nothing to do with monetary benefits. It has got everything to do with honesty and trust.
“On the day Zomato deleted my account, I had 6,000+ followers and 250+ reviews. It felt as if I had lost a huge part of the work I had accumulated over the last 2 years. I was an absolute Zomato lover as well as an evangelist; probably that was another reason why kept mum about this.”
Deleting a profile is something we don’t love doing, especially when we know a considerable amount of effort has gone into building it. But when we know that someone is resorting to unfair means, we will do everything to maintain the sanctity and trust of the platform we have worked hard to build over the last 8 years.
That’s all and more than what we have to say about this. We are a responsible platform, and will continue to be so – at any cost.