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Yelp, GoFundMe created restaurant fundraisers without OK from operators

Restaurant operators took to social media to rail against the unasked-for pleas for help.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Earlier this week, restaurant review site Yelp announced a partnership with crowd-funding site GoFundMe to aid small restaurants in soliciting donations during the coronavirus crisis.

What was less clear in this announcement, though, was the fact that Yelp and GoFundMe were working together to create fundraisers for restaurants absent the operators’ knowledge.

Nick Kokonas, co-founder of Chicago restaurants Alinea, Roister and St. Clair Supper Club, took to Twitter on Thursday night to rail against the practice.

“Basically, they created something like 20,000 to 30,000 GoFundMe fundraisers for restaurants without their permission or even telling them it would happen!” Kokonas said in a note to Restaurant Business. “Worst part—no way to take it down without calling, waiting an hour, being told it was ‘good for you,’ and then you’d have to produce your ID and (Employee Identification Number) and such to prove you own the business and have it removed.”

Kokonas noted that the donation pages were preset to send a 15% tip to GoFundMe.

Yelp on Friday said it has “paused the automatic rollout of this feature.”

“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,” a Yelp spokesperson said in a statement provided to RB. “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.”

Kokonas called the move “a new low” for Yelp.

Andy McMillan, who owns alcohol-free bar Suckerpunch in Portland, Ore., also took to Twitter to decry the unasked-for fundraiser.

“Uhh, what the f***?” McMillan tweeted. “Without my permission, or even notifying me, Yelp has created a fundraiser for my bar. Apparently, they’re automatically generating them for most small businesses.”

McMillan’s original tweet received more than 1,000 likes and hundreds of retweets. His fundraising page was later removed.

Kokonas, who is trying to drive takeout traffic to his restaurants to help keep workers employed, noted that there were no plans in place to disburse any funds raised, and that such fundraisers create customer confusion and prevent “money from going to places in a way that can actually matter.”


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