‘The Shed at Dulwich’ was London’s top-rated restaurant. Just one problem: It didn’t exist.
It was a unique restaurant in London and certainly the hardest to get into. And it beat out thousands of upscale restaurants in the city to earn the top ranking on the popular review site TripAdvisor for a time, drawing a flood of interest.
There was just one small problem: It didn’t exist.
The restaurant was just a listing created this year by a freelance writer, Oobah Butler, as an experiment on TripAdvisor, where his home — a shed in the Dulwich area in South London — suddenly became a high-concept new restaurant: “The Shed at Dulwich.”
With hardly more than some fake reviews — “Best shed based experience in London!” a particularly cheeky one read — and a website, it had gamed the site’s ratings in London — a highly sought after designation that could bring a surge of business to any restaurant, let alone one in major global capital.
The story has by now traveled around the globe and back, after Butler wrote a piece that exposed the ruse on Vice. It has been hailed as an incredible feat. But in an era increasingly influenced by disinformation online, it also has served as another reminder of the ease with which pranksters and other dishonest actors are able to game online platforms to sometimes unthinkable results.
Butler’s tale begins with a belief that he had developed after a past gig writing fake TripAdvisor reviews for restaurants: that the site was a “false reality,” despite the millions of comments left by honest reviewers. So, he wrote, in the “current climate of misinformation,” he decided to see how far he could take a fake restaurant on the site. He created a listing for the garden shed that he lived at in Dulwich and “the Shed” was born.
Butler, who did not respond to a request for comment, began taking the steps to ensure that the restaurant would be approved to be listed on the site. He bought a burner cellphone to serve as the restaurant’s phone number. He created a Web page with a menu based off emotions — a concept “silly enough to infuriate your dad,” he wrote — and illustrated it with photographs of artsy looking dishes made out of household products like bleach tablets and shaving cream. One photo showed an egg on a plate balancing gracefully off his foot, which was cropped out of the frame.