As if restaurant owners don’t have enough aggravation during the coronavirus crisis:
The ratings app/site Yelp on Tuesday began setting up GoFundMe campaigns for businesses, including many restaurants, by adding “donation” buttons to their Yelp pages. The idea, Yelp said, was to provide “a fast and easy way for people to support their favorite local businesses.”
The problem: Yelp did this automatically, without consent, sending the owners — many of which have GoFundMe campaigns of their own — into a frenzy.
The criticism flew nationally. Nick Kokonas, an owner of Alinea in Chicago, criticized the opt-out process, which required businesses to send Yelp a copy of an ID card and employer identification number to verify their information.
“It is unconscionable of you to create a page for my restaurants trying to take advantage of this crisis for your companies under the guise of ‘helping,'” he tweeted. “Immediately remove all Alinea Group properties. I hope someone sues you … I might once I have time.”
Other service businesses, including the cosmetics company L’Occitane, found the solicitations on their Yelp pages.
Crunchik’n, a Center City shop, went to Instagram with its annoyance at the high-handed tactic. “DO NOT DONATE TO THIS PAGE!!!! WE DID NOT MAKE IT. YELP DID IT WITHOUT OUR CONSENT,” owner Jen Choi wrote Thursday.
Choi said she had heard about it from other restaurateurs, as she does not routinely check Yelp. She said she later noticed that the arrangement had been mentioned in a hyperlinked message that she received from Yelp earlier this week.
Choi said she did not yet feel the need to start her own GoFundMe campaign and would rather seek donations so she and her father, John, could continue sending food to staff at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital across the street.
A Yelp spokesperson on Friday said it had “paused” the rollout as it is working on a way for businesses to opt in. The unauthorized GoFundMe buttons have been vanishing from the pages, which spanned a cross-section of retail businesses. Any donations sent to businesses that opted out have been returned, the spokesperson said.
In a statement, Yelp wrote the following: