Ryan recommends the Aviary. “The staff is excellent,” he writes on Facebook.
Jeff doesn’t recommend it. “They treat people horribly.”
Neither one of them has probably been there, but it doesn’t really matter. This is the year 2019, where politics and online review platforms collide like subatomic particles at CERN, and businesses get caught in the middle.
The latest casualty in this never-ending war of online rants is the Aviary, a high-end restaurant and lounge in Chicago, where President Trump’s son Eric Trump said he was spit on by an employee. The incident took place yesterday evening, NBC reports, with Chicago police arriving on the scene later and tweeting out that it was “assisting the United States Secret Service with a law enforcement matter.”
After news of the incident broke this morning, it didn’t take long before online denizens across the political spectrum descended upon the Yelp and Facebook pages for the establishment, with some writing words of support and others trashing the Aviary for the server’s alleged behavior. “Servers have great aim!” reads one five-star Yelp review.
The pattern is a familiar one for businesses that get caught up in politically charged news stories, so much so that review platforms have had to institute mechanisms to discourage it. Yelp, for instance, has an “active cleanup alert” system, which it says it activates at the first sign of media-fueled activity. As of early this morning, the system had not yet been activated for the Aviary’s page. The alert was eventually added after an inquiry from Fast Company.
It’s unclear if Facebook has a similar system. I reached out to Facebook for comment and will update if I hear back. At last check, the Aviary’s Facebook page had more than 50 new reviews posted in just the last few hours.
In an email, a spokesperson for the Aviary confirmed an incident occurred and said the employee in question has been put on leave while it investigates the details. It also called online discussion of the incident troubling.
“Hundreds of people are calling for the demise of our business, threatening our employees, and posting fake reviews,” the statement read. “[T]hey are wrong to do so based on the actions of a lone individual. So too, however, are those people wrong who are praising this as an act of civil disobedience. We have voices and the means to be heard. A degrading act lowers the tenor of debate. To some it might feel good, but it is unlikely to serve any larger purpose.”
Most review platforms require that reviewers have a firsthand experience with an establishment before they review it. However, those guidelines are easily ignored and often flouted when a business finds itself at the center of media attention.
Last year, when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was denied service at the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, many online critics did not even bother to see if they had the right restaurant before swinging by various social media pages and leaving rants. As it turned out, there were at least three other restaurants with the same name.
This post has been updated with additional context and feedback.