Top chefs and restaurant owners told today how diners are threatening their staff with bad web reviews in return for free food.
TripAdvisor, Facebook and other platforms on social media have been regarded as a prime tool for attracting new business – but are being abused by “blaggers”, key figures from Edinburgh’s hospitality sector said.
Two of the city’s top restaurateurs told how they had experienced diners attempting to blackmail staff for discounts.
Paul Brennan, director and co-founder of Dine, in the West End, said he thought reviewing platforms were positive for businesses – but warned that a “very small minority of customers” were causing trouble.
He said: “Recently a diner, whilst still in our restaurant, drafted what he called a ‘one-star terrible’ TripAdvisor review and threatened staff with it, demanding a sizeable discount off the bill.
Recently a diner threatened staff with it, demanding a sizeable discount off the billPAUL BRENNAN
“The new duty manager felt forced to discount the sum the customer deemed acceptable in return for what was a minor inconvenience.
“Despite stating he was extremely satisfied and reassured with how the matter was handled, even going on to accept complimentary cocktails and thanking staff for a wonderful afternoon, he still posted his damning and wholly inaccurate review.”
TripAdvisor said business owners could flag up potential abuse of its systems before reviews are published and said it would investigate any reports.
Paul Wedgwood, chef patron at Wedgwood the Restaurant on the Canongate, has experienced similar problems.
“We’ve had guests who use a negative review as a threat, demanding a free meal lest we feel the wrath of their keyboard, so I think we all have to take these reviews with a pinch of salt. If reviewers weren’t anonymous it may help with credibility.
“Just now there is no way to check if Traveller123 even visited the restaurant so it’s difficult respond to genuine grievances.”
He added: “When we opened the restaurant in 2007, review sites like TripAdvisor were at the height of their dominance and it was a useful tool. The positive feedback we received really helped bolster us in the early days, and it was a great platform to get the name out.
“Now, though we’re lucky enough that we have a loyal customer base and we’ve found that word of mouth is far more important, I think diners have started to realise that you can’t take reviews online at face value and TripAdvisor has started to lose its clout.”
Kaori Simpson, manager of Harajuku Kitchen, said the platforms were vital to attract new customers and tourists, but admitted she had experienced digital discount hunters.
She said: “Everyone has different tastes so the majority of reviews will be different but I think they are helpful for those that aren’t familiar with the area to read.
“Luckily, the majority of our reviews are good but on a couple of occasions we have received private e-mails of complaint with connotations of receiving a freebie.”
A spokesman for TripAdvisor said: “We take very seriously any allegations of blackmail or threatening behaviour by guests against business owners.
“It is absolutely against the terms and spirit of our site to use TripAdvisor’s name to try and claim discounts, compensation or freebies.”
TRIP ADVISOR TANTRUMS
Here’s a selection of some of most eye-opening reviews of unnamed Edinburgh restaurants on the TripAdvisor site.
WOULD RATHER EAT MY GRAN’S NAILS
This place needs to shut down – the food is terrible, overcooked or not cooked at all, our food we ordered came undercook and cold and the pizza was like concrete and burnt. They also got the order wrong!
THEY MEAN WELL, BUT IT DOES KINDA SUCK
Place was empty when we arrived and yet the food takes ages to arrive. The waiter/manager – clearly new to the whole thing – did his best even with a couple two tables over going mental at him because they couldn’t seem to grasp that chips came with the burger and he just didn’t have enough hands to carry the sides out at the same time.
DISASTROUS EVENING OUT
Whilst visiting friends last year we decided to partake of a bar supper and a pint of ale. On arrival there were two police officers in the car park trying to stop two drunk thugs from murdering each other. Generally disappointed with service, got the impression the staff were wholly uninterested in impressing us with even a smile. Decided not to stay and eat. Avoid at all costs.
STAFF NOT LISTENING
Not too happy after ordering lunch to find out that the order was wrong, didn’t have time to say to staff to get it rectified.