I have a few friends who own local businesses in the New York City area, so I know how detrimental a bad Yelp review can be on business — particularly when it's not deserved. Still, fining someone for leaving their opinion is taking things a bit too far, I think, but that's exactly what one New York hotel apparently tried to do.
According to The New York Post, a hotel in Hudson, New York called the Union Street Guest House has been charging bride/groom wedding parties a fine of $500 per guest that leaves a negative review on sites like Yelp and other competitors.
"If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500 fine for each negative review," said one Yelp reviewer who published the fine print from the Hotel. "Please NOTE we will not charge this fee &/or will refund this fee once the review is taken down). Also, please note that we only request this of wedding parties and for the reasons explained above." (emphasis ours.)
The site seems to have been updated since that alleged statement was posted. It now says: "We do not discuss our policy, availability or rates on site. All correspondence for a wedding must be done via email so that each of us has a clear record of our agreement." The hotel also suggests it's not for everyone, however. "If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel they may not like it here."
TechnoBuffalo took a quick visit to the Yelp page for the Union Street Guest House, and it currently has a 1 star review average an 544 reviews. Most of the reviews seem to be the result of the poor press after this policy was revealed. Others seem legitimate. "Absolutely horrific!!!! This place is run down and infested with mice. Everywhere you turn there are mice droppings and things chewed up by mice," one reviewer said. Others aren't so bad. "Everything about Union Street House is first rate. The room was very comfortable with fine linens and a great bed."
The hotel, in defense of all of this press, says it was only joking about the fines. "The policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago," the establishment told CNBC. "It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced."
Considering that there might be mice (or maybe not), that seems like fair grounds for leaving a bad review, whether you're in a wedding party or not. Yelp and all other review sites should be about real experiences, and fining couples for poor reviews sounds like a bad way to do business — whether or not anyone was actually fined is still unknown, but it sounds like a pretty bad joke.