Fake Restaurants Are Still Rampant on Seamless

Back in February, when I pointed out that Seamless was rife with fake restaurants, the company’s response was this: “Our team is taking steps to correct the situation. GrubHub Seamless takes measures to ensure that every restaurant is correctly represented on our services and invites diners to report inaccuracies to our customer care team.”

I was on Greenwich Street the other day, when a friend stopped to chat. I told him Tribeca Pizzeria is closing, and that the whole retail strip is turning over. He said I should look into Ashiya Sushi. “It’s still on Seamless with the Greenwich Street address, even though it closed in June. I order from there, and the packaging looks just like it did before.”

I called the Ashiya number to ask where the food is coming from. “Murray Street,” was the answer. Did she mean Jin’s Empire Asian Cuisine? “Yes.” (Jin’s confirmed it.) Presumably, when Ashiya went out of business, it sold its Seamless profile to Jin’s. Only later did I remember that Jin’s is now officially called Agoda Asian Cuisine—which is also on Seamless, of course. (More on restaurants’ rush toward names starting with “A” in a bit….)

That night, I browsed Seamless. In the time it took to drink a glass of wine, I found the examples below. And the next day, I went to investigate them.

Hamachi Sushi and Anago Sushi are both at 63 Reade—and if you think there’s a restaurant-within-a-restaurant situation happening there, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

Hamachi Sushi Anago Sushi 63 ReadeThen I went to see if Aiko Sushi and A1 Sushi could really be next door to each other (at 162 Pearl and 164 Pearl, respectively). The actual physical restaurant is called Shinju Japanese (which also shows up on Seamless, although I missed it the first time I browsed), and it’s at 164 Reade. Inside, they verified that Aiko and A1 orders were to be picked up there.

Shinju SushiAccording to Seamless, I’d find Nagoya Japanese and China 59 at 59 Nassau. The place itself is labeled China 59, touting its Chinese, Japanese, and Thai cuisine.

China 59 signThere was no Nagoya Japanese menu posted, that I saw, but there was one for Amazing Thai. Amazingly, Amazing Thai isn’t on Seamless! Well, it sort of is: “Bummer! Amazing Thai (160 South Street, New York 10038) is no longer active on Seamless,” says the site when you search for Amazing Thai. If Amazing Thai ever was at 160 South Street, I think we can assume that it sold its phone number to China 59 when it closed up.

Amazing Thai menuI went down the stairs, into what was possibly the most depressing restaurant I have ever been inside. (Nonetheless, it was packed.) I asked if this was also Nagoya Japanese, and they confirmed it.

Closer to home, Il Mattone is listed on Seamless at 413 Greenwich even though it closed over two years ago. In December of 2012, a sign went up on the restaurant’s window saying that “Il Mattone has joined Tre Sorelle” on Reade, with the “same chef” and “same food.” Tre Sorelle’s menu on Seamless overlaps here and there with Il Mattone’s, but the only physical indication of Il Mattone at Tre Sorelle is the Il Mattone burger listed in the window. Tre Sorelle chose not to comment.

Il Mattone burger sign at Tre SorelleAnd then Seamless lists a restaurant at 3 Hanover Square called Bliss Bowls, with no mention of Yorganic, the restaurant serving said bowls. Yorganic co-founder Bo Kim said they didn’t create a false-front restaurant on Seamless explicitly to drum up business. It dates from two years ago, when Yorganic set it up as an end run after it got booted from a local business’s food-service operations. [UPDATE 10/28: The full details have been redacted at his request.] Kim points out that Bliss Bowls on Seamless currently serves only a four-block radius—which would be counterproductive if the goal was to cast a wide net.

My response was that even though the reason for the false front was different than, say, Hamachi/Anago Sushi, the end result, as far as the consumer is concerned, is the same: One restaurant has two profiles. When I asked why Yorganic keeps the Bliss Bowls profile up, Kim said it’s there because they get business from it. The name Yorganic is great at drawing folks interested in frozen yogurt, but it’s less successful at getting across the message that Yorganic also has soups, salads, sandwiches, and bowls.

YorganicAs you may have noticed, Seamless no longer defaults to listing restaurants alphabetically—which I thought was so that restaurants will be less inclined to create fake profiles starting with “A” (or buying them from defunct establishments). What I didn’t know, until Kim explained it to me, is that Seamless charges restaurants extra if they want to appear near the top of the listings in the default view (“standard sort”). So one of the “steps” that Seamless has taken to fight fraud conveniently also benefits its bottom line. And one of the steps I’ve taken is to change the sorting to be by restaurant name or by distance.

Seamless gets a substantial cut from every order, so the more orders, the better—even if they come from bogus profiles—and what it loses in credibility probably doesn’t compare. In other words, it’s not in Seamless’s interest to police the issue aggressively.

For diners, the same rule applies as before: Think twice before ordering from any restaurant you haven’t recently walked by. Which is probably good advice regardless of whether you’re using Seamless or not.

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