Why chefs are fighting back against ‘Poundshop Michael Winner’ reviews – Stephen Jardine

The Wee Restaurant in Edinburgh has an acclaimed reputation for good food
The Wee Restaurant in Edinburgh has an acclaimed reputation for good food
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Amateur online restaurant reviews are becoming a bit of a problem, writes Stephen Jardine, amid a storm over an allegedly defamatory posting by one customer of The Wee Restaurant in Edinburgh.

Imagine having your working life reviewed every single day. “A bit slow logging on to the computer and wearing annoying socks again.” “Contributed ideas to the meeting but tapped pen on the table throughout in an irritating manner.” “Ate sandwich at desk in a way I didn’t like while looking at smartphone.” If the 9-to-5 isn’t grim enough, that level of scrutiny would be enough to drive most us over the edge but that is what restaurant owners have to endure all the time. Last week, one of them snapped.

When Cristina Ameneiro visited The Wee Restaurant in Edinburgh, she claimed she was served seafood that made her fear she would end up with food poisoning. Her response was to post a vitriolic one-star review of her experience online. If she expected that to lead to some sort of apology, she was disappointed.

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Instead the restaurant owner Vikki Wood hit back, claiming the review was a catalogue of lies and threatened to sue for defamation and damage to their acclaimed reputation. “This needs to be stamped out in the industry,” Vikki posted on Twitter. In response, lawyers for the customer said she was considering a counterclaim. So how on earth did we get to this point?

Twenty years ago, Edinburgh was a culinary wasteland. If you wanted to eat out somewhere nice you checked restaurant reviews or asked friends with bulging waistlines and that was it. Nowadays online reviews are here to help, or are they?

In London, there are nearly 20,000 restaurants but Trip Advisor can tell us that the top place to eat is an Indian Vegan spot called Amrutha Lounge, just around the corner from Wandsworth Cemetery. Bizarrely, it is not in the Michelin Guide.

However it is listed on Deliveroo so if Gordon Ramsay, Tom Kerridge, Angela Hartnett, Jason Atherton or Mr Michelin want to sample the best food in London they can call for a special takeaway box which costs £7 and features curry, rice and two salads.

In London, that is amazing value and I’m sure it is delicious, but that doesn’t make it the city’s best restaurant and there lies the problem with online reviews. Weird algorithms and the peculiarities of human nature can produce some odd and surprising recommendations but that is not the restaurant’s fault. We are to blame.

Think about the motives of someone posting a restaurant review. If the place is great and an undiscovered gem, why would you want to make it harder to get a table next time? If it is bad and something went wrong, speak up, tell them and then get on with your life.

And for everything in between, the meals that are just nice, why would you want to waste time trying to be a Poundshop Michael Winner? It is hardly surprising chefs flocked to social media to support The Wee Restaurant in their war of words. With more restaurants than ever before in the capital, everyone is having to work harder than ever just to stand still. Anything that could damage a business is a worry. So what kind of review would you give yourself so far today? Anyone who posts on these platforms needs to think about that before they cast the first stone.