- By Abby Ojeda, Staff Writer -
Foodies in London and abroad were vying for reservation-only seats at the wildly popular, top-ranked restaurant, “The Shed at Dulwich” until they realized why it was so difficult to get seats—the restaurant did not exist. Eli Rosenberg from The Washington Post states that Oobah Butler, a freelance writer, created a fictional restaurant based on his backyard shed in South London’s Dulwich area, and by the end of 2017 his “restaurant” ranked number one on TripAdvisor. According to Butler’s article from Vice, where he detailed his experience, Butler was inspired by the abundance of believable disinformation online to troll the gastronomic community.
In April of 2017, Butler states, he began to evolve the online presence of his shed into an upscale, appointment-only restaurant with the help of a cheap phone (to validate his TripAdvisor account), a website, and a few convincingly staged gourmet food pictures using shaving cream, bleach tablets, and, at one point, the heel of his foot next to an egg, cropped to model a piece of ham. His restaurant’s angle, according to his website theshedatdulwich.com, was a menu “comprised of moods,” so that customers would order by expressing their current mood, and the chef “would interpret that.”
Butler’s detailed article tracks how his restaurant rose from the initial ranking as “the worst restaurant in London.” An experienced fake review writer himself, Butler used family and friends to write made-up TripAdvisor reviews, and he even managed to get a lucky celebrity endorsement. Everyone who called, emailed, or attempted to stalk the location on foot received the same message: “We’re booked.”
Six months after creating The Shed at Dulwich, Butler’s hoax was the number one listing on TripAdvisor in November 2017, according to Vice and The Washington Post. After achieving this goal, Butler decided to open the restaurant for one night. In the backyard of his shed, Butler created an earthy, hipster vibe and managed to fake the mood culture of his restaurant until a local chicken chased a customer.
This finale brought an end to the false fame of The Shed at Dulwich, and Butler disclosed his story on Vice in December of 2017. Rosenberg says Butler’s work was “not an insignificant achievement,” since TripAdvisor’s sites in the United States and Britain have 200 million visitors monthly. The duration of the hoax reveals TripAdvisor’s lack of reliability and invites a reconsideration of websites that rely on review-based rankings.