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.

Many restaurants have started their own GoFundMe campaigns, or have allowed employees to start them on their own behalf. Just as with any charitable solicitation, it is up to the prospective donor to vet these efforts.

Yelp is now asking businesses to opt into the GoFundMe campaigns. This restaurant's name has been redacted; it is not participating.
ANONYMOUS
Yelp is now asking businesses to opt into the GoFundMe campaigns. This restaurant's name has been redacted; it is not participating.

In a statement, Yelp wrote the following:

“On Tuesday, Yelp announced a partnership with GoFundMe to provide a fast and easy way for people to support their favorite local businesses by donating to a GoFundMe fundraiser directly on the Yelp pages of eligible businesses. In an effort to get businesses help quickly and easily, a GoFundMe fundraiser was automatically added to the Yelp pages of an initial group of eligible businesses, with information provided on how to claim it or opt out should a business choose to do so. However, it has come to our attention that some businesses did not receive a notification with opt-out instructions, and some would have preferred to actively opt-in to the program. As such, we have paused the automatic rollout of this feature, and are working with GoFundMe to provide a seamless way for businesses to opt into the program moving forward, as we have received a great deal of interest and support for the program from both consumers and businesses alike.”