(See update at the end of this post.) If you haven’t heard the most horrifying story set at a rural hotel since The Shining or Psycho, you may want to click away. What may have seemed like a good idea to the owners of the Union Street Guest House, a boutique hotel in the Hudson Valley west of Albany, NY., has turned into a nightmare for them. It also serves as a cautionary tale to anyone who needs a lesson in how the internet works when you try to dictate how customers of yours are supposed to use it. (And, it has also turned into an attack on some small business owners that is equally outrageous to their original blunder.)
(For how you should respond to a negative Yelp review, see the advice we shared earlier.)
In a misguided attempt to prevent negative reviews from the extended guest list of couples who rented the hotel for a wedding, the owners created a policy that required the bride and groom to pay $500 for each negative review anyone in the wedding party may post on the internet.
Until it was taken off their site, the owners even posted their $500 fine warning on their website. (Thanks to Archive.org, the screen grab above still appears here.) From the policy, one can sense the frustration the innkeepers had from getting negative reviews by guests who were staying at the hotel for the wedding, but who may not have been familiar with how real inns are different from Hampton Inns. (We get it as we’ve seen fondue restaurant reviews where customers complain about having to cook their own food.)
Nevertheless, when the internet finally discovered the policy, it responded with hundreds (now over 800) negative reviews and humorous barbs. Of course, this being the internet, the humor quickly devolved into a competition to see who can shame the innkeepers the most. Crude photographs, threats and over-the-top outrage (of the first world kind) ensued.
We really hate to see a small business make such a mistake. We’re imagining someone like Bob and Joanna Loudon from the 1980s TV sitcom, Newhart. People who run guest houses are the last folks we can imagine to draw the ire and outrage of the internet. We know how much the inn must be a labor of love for the owners. Reading a negative review must have been the equivalent of someone calling their baby ugly. They are now getting punished for loving their business so much that they did something stupid (very, very stupid) to say, “our baby’s not ugly…but you are.”
Nevertheless, let’s all take a deep breath and use this event as another chance to learn how not to react to a negative review on Yelp.
Prediction: Yelp will remove many of the reviews that don’t comply with its community guidelines. Friends and fans of the inn will start posting positive reviews. The hotel will start getting bookings from all over the world due to what now seems like horrible publicity.