CitySearch and The Barbed Rose - How to Stack a Contest and Lose Credibility

September 9, 2010

Every year, the nationwide city guide Citysearch sponsors a Best of Houston contest. It's a contest where Citysearch users vote to name the best local business in a variety of categories.

According to Citysearch:

Based on millions of votes from our Citysearch community, Best of Citysearch showcases the best restaurants, nightlife, spas, salons and other businesses in your neighborhood. Click on the winner lists below to discover the best Houston has to offer.

This year's contest had some peculiar results.

Best Restaurant: The Barbed Rose in Alvin
Best Fine Dining: The Barbed Rose in Alvin
Best Business Lunch and Dinner: The Barbed Rose in Alvin
Best Outdoor Dining: The Barbed Rose in Alvin
(I'll stop posting links at this point.  But they just keep winning...)

Best Lunch Spot: The Barbed Rose in Alvin

Best Group Dining: The Barbed Rose in Alvin
Best American Food: The Barbed Rose in Alvin
Best Burger: The Barbed Rose in Alvin
Best Dessert: The Barbed Rose in Alvin
Best Seafood: The Barbed Rose in Alvin
Best Steak: The Barbed Rose in Alvin
Best Wine List: The Barbed Rose in Alvin
Are you seeing a pattern?

The Barbed Rose is a small steakhouse that's located in Alvin, Texas, many miles past the city limits of Houston.  They've been open since July.  I think it's a safe bet that if you polled a hundred Houstonians at random, very few would name The Barbed Rose as the best in any of these categories.

Heck, none might even know of the restaurant's existence.

Apparently The Barbed Rose conducted some sort of grass-roots campaign, complete with bribes incentives for those voting for them.  And apparently it was conducted on a large enough scale that a small restaurant in Alvin was able to win all of these categories in America's fourth largest city.

UPDATE: Got a note from @barbedrose on Twitter on 9/10. They say that we've made false statements, and that "All our appeals to vote for us r on Facebook Fan Page. That is ALL we ever did. To say anything else is just slanderous"

Our comment about "incentives" was based on information from two sources who say they received these incentives. We'll let you decide who's telling the truth.

And worst of all, apparently Citysearch had no problem with this, nor with naming The Barbed Rose winner in all these categories.

UPDATE: Apparently this is happening in other cities as well.  @KyleJack noticed that Bagatelle was proclaimed New York City's Best Restaurant, Best Fine Dining, Best Steak, Best French Fries, Best People Watching, Best Bruch, and Best Burger.
UPDATE: @KyleJack also discovered that in Austin, Citysearch says that Gumbo's offers the Best Steak, Best Wine List, Best Business Lunch, Best Fine Dining, Best Lunch, Best Dessert, and Best Seatood.
When confronted with these rather peculiar results (on Twitter) a Citysearch representative said "We stand by a community model" and "We limited votes to one per email and vet for fraud afterwards."

After a bit more back and forth, we were told "I'm not sure of the exact details implemented by our product team, but needless to say there will be improvements." and "Your feedback allows me to make recommendations to our home office and product leads to make this better."

Glad to know that it takes a public observation that their Best Of campaign is a joke before someone decides that maybe things need to be improved.

Further discussion caused the Citysearch rep to add "We've have been working on our BOC product well before today, I assure you."

If that's the case, then why publish these flawed results?  Fix the product before you use it to conduct a contest that names "Best of Houston".
My Bottom Line:

As someone who tries to seek out the best food in Houston and tell the world about it, I'm disgusted by  Citysearch's complicity in this gross act of deception.  It calls into question any recommendation or suggestion made by that site.  It also calls into questions the ethics of those associated with The Barbed Rose.

I'd suggest that anyone looking to advertise their restaurant or other local business think long and hard before doing business with Citysearch.  
I'd suggest that anyone looking for restaurant recommendations look elsewhere.  
And I'd suggest that if you're looking for a great meal, you might not want to buy into any hype associated with The Barbed Rose.

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