Seeking preferential treatment with the flash of a card is wrong

A company sells ID cards to online reviewers to help them get better service at hotels and restaurants. The implied threat of a bad review smacks of a shakedown.

Brad Newman thinks that people who post lots of reviews on websites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor don't get enough respect from the businesses they write about.

So he's come up with his own business, a Manhattan Beach company called ReviewerCard that issues IDs to prolific online reviewers to help them get better service than the rest of us.

Granted, that's not how Newman, 35, would put it. He sees ReviewerCard as a way to enhance the relationship between amateur reviewers and the hotels or restaurants they visit.

"I'm going to review them anyway," Newman said, "so why not let them know in advance? It's not hurting anyone."

No one, that is, except businesses that face the implicit threat of a negative review if they don't lavish special attention on the ReviewerCard holder.

No one except review sites like Yelp that find themselves being used as leverage for an unaffiliated reviewer's personal gain.

No one except readers of ReviewerCard holder reviews who may not know that the reviewer received preferential treatment to ensure a glowing write-up.

No one except other customers who may have had to wait longer for a table or couldn't get a room because they didn't have the temerity to make the upfront threat of a scathing online takedown.

"It's not a threat," Newman insisted. "It's a way to get the service you deserve."

OK, let's back up a bit.

Newman describes himself as a lifelong entrepreneur. He said he started his first business, a carwash, at age 14. He later established hockey camps. In the 1990s, he launched a social-networking site.

"I don't want to say it was the first Facebook, but it was," Newman said. "Even though it bombed."

He now primarily does marketing for dental offices.

It was during a trip to France last year that he had the brainstorm for ReviewerCard. As Newman tells it, he was at a restaurant ordering breakfast and was treated rudely by the waiter when he asked for green tea with his meal instead of ordinary tea.

Newman expressed his displeasure. He told the waiter that he planned to post a negative review on TripAdvisor.

"The next thing I knew, the waiter was back with the manager, who apologized and offered to pay for my breakfast," Newman recalled.

Thus came his epiphany: "Why can't waiters, hotel workers, concierges know that people are reviewers? If that French waiter had known at the beginning that I write a lot of reviews, he'd have treated me like Brad Pitt."

To boost one's chances of Pittness, ReviewerCard charges $100 for a black card that says, "ReviewerCard: I write reviews." Flash your card, and the world's your oyster.

At least that's the idea. Newman said he carefully screens online card applicants. They have to demonstrate that they've posted numerous reviews on a variety of digital destinations. So far, Newman said, he's issued about 100 cards to worthy seekers.

He's also passed out about 400 more to travelers, bloggers, marketers and journalists who he thinks merit ReviewerCard status. I got one a couple of weeks ago. It's sitting unused on my desk, where it will remain.

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