The gnocchetti was overcooked, the music was deafening and the waiter had a smirk I just didn’t appreciate.
Ever post a scathing restaurant review on Yelp or Urbanspoon?
Owners scan these sites, sometimes responding to the reviews with their side of the story, offering to make amends or remaining silent, if they’re smart. Others just go ballistic.
On Thursday, a restaurant owner in Ottawa’s ByWard Market was found guilty of criminal libel after harassing a customer who posted two less-than-favourable online reviews of her eatery, Mambo Nuevo Latino.
The owner, Marisol Simoes, took revenge on diner Elayna Katz by setting up a racy dating profile in her name. She also posed as Ms. Katz, sending sexual e-mails to the woman’s employers. The profile and e-mails suggested Ms. Katz was a frisky transsexual who enjoyed group sex – a “tiger in the bedroom.” This mischief went on for two-and-a-half years.
Ms. Katz told the Ottawa Citizen she was vindicated by the verdict: “When you are in the business of owning a restaurant and serving the public, people have a right to express their opinion,” she said. “There is no crime in that.”
“Ms. Katz enjoys freedom of speech as do all people in this country,” said Ontario Court Justice Diane Lahaie Lahaie.
So just what did these harsh reviews say?
Ms. Katz complained that her pasta dish came with diced olives – this after she’d asked for none in her dish. Celery and peas had also mysteriously replaced the asparagus. Ms. Katz was then charged for the dish she’d sent back.
Now, instead of having a handful of tepid reviews on her hands, Ms. Simoes has garnered international attention, and a criminal record. “It’s slightly ironic that the one thing she was trying to avoid was the one thing that came out of all of this,” Ms. Katz said of the bad publicity.
Restaurant owners are painfully aware that Yelp reviews affect business; this was confirmed by a recent University of California, Berkley study that found restaurants with an improved rating of just half a star are between 34 to 49 per cent more likely to sell out their 7 p.m. reservations.
On the other end of the spectrum, diligent managers actually want to hear complaints – and rectify them privately. A recently launched service called Talk to the Manager allows diners to text their complaints directly (and anonymously) to the restaurant owner and manager.
Probably better than going all tiger in the bedroom.