Thursday, 12 June 2014

Dine and whine

An eleven year legal battle over a scathing restaurant review has finally ended in Sydney with the restaurant getting £349,000 damages. But just how did the court come to its decision when the evidence in the case (the meal) has either been eaten or thrown in the trash?

In any case, I shudder to think what state the food would be in if it had actually survived for eleven years. Everyone in the court would need clothes pegs on their noses or gas masks to shut out the overpowering stink of rotten food.

Seriously though, how on earth did the court make their decision? In the end it boils down to one person's word against another's. The journalist who said the meal was crap from start to finish, against the restaurant that insisted their food was the finest haute cuisine. So who's right? Was it simply a question of who sounded most convincing?

Even if the journalist had called on other diners to confirm how disgusting the food was, it would still only have been an opinion, as their meal would also have been disposed of.

As it was, it was all so nebulous that the case went to two jury trials, a trial before a judge, two appeals, two special leave applications to the High Court, a full High Court hearing and a Supreme Court hearing before a final decision was reached.

I also wonder why the restaurant closed down six months later, supposedly because of this one appalling review. Are diners really put off by a single review, however vitriolic? There must have been other reviews (or just word-of-mouth) that were equally damning. Personally, I would regard one dreadful review as an unfortunate mishap - the reviewer was in a foul mood, the chef was having a bad day, whatever. It wouldn't put me off trying the restaurant.

Perhaps restaurant reviews should always have a disclaimer at the bottom - "This is merely one person's opinion on one particular day and may not truly represent the general quality of the restaurant's meals."

In other words, it might be the review that's three courses of crap and not the food.


  1. I read the description of the food. It was funny. I would make a horrible food critic, since I like pretty much everything that I don't have to cook myself.

  2. Susie: The descriptions were amazing! I must say I've had an awful lot of restaurant meals that were no better than home-cooked meals. Nothing as infinitely awful as the meal described in the court case though.

  3. Interesting case! Food critics for our newspaper always visit multiple times before writing a review. Restaurants and staff can have bad nights, so it only seems fair to give them a few chances.

    What is most distressing are the lawsuits now over bad reviews that people give online. It makes you scared to voice an opinion. Our right to free speech is going to hell in a hand basket!

  4. On a few occasions I have been to a restaurant and had a great meal, then on a different visit, the food might not come up to scratch - in my opinion. Chefs have time off, holidays or bad days, just like the rest of us,so I am loathe to recommend someplace to eat.

  5. Bijoux: Visiting several times makes a lot of sense. As you say, restaurants can have bad nights when everything goes wrong in the kitchen.

    I haven't noticed any lawsuits over bad reviews in the British media. But I've noticed plenty of totally abusive "free speech" which really needs to be curtailed.

  6. Grannymar: Exactly, chefs can have time off or bad days and then the standards start slipping. I do recommend restaurants to people but it's probably wiser not to do so for that very reason.

  7. That's very true what you say. But it's hard to escape tre idea someone was playing silly b*ggers somewhere along the line there. Do you agree?

  8. There is a certain chain of pubs that come under the name of one famous brewery. Every one of the said pubs is a franchise run independently of the others. Consequently the meals vary from one pub to another. Now I have visited one and found the food was really good. I went to another pub of the same chain in a different town expecting the quality to be the same, but the service and meal was appalling to say the least.

    If I had written a scathing review of the second pubs food using the name of the chain, the good pubs in that chain would suffer, and probably lose custom because people would assume from my review that all the pubs with that name would be the same.

  9. I see that the judge's decision hinged on the fact that there were two restaurants under the same roof and that while the review dealt with one restaurant it was - in his lordship's view - possible that from the title of the review potential clients would think it referred to both and be chary of giving either their custom.

    Although one of the owners - an ex Miss Adriatic - put on weight, the judge took into consideration only the mental pain and suffering caused by having the review live on the internet for years afterwards....goodness only knows what he would have awarded if the weight gain had been taken into consideration.

    Reading it, the old legal tale of what an exasperated barrister is said to have said to a particularly dense and obdurate judge seems to be in point...

    'If Your Lordship would be pleased to turn it over in what Your Lordship is pleased to call Your Lordship's mind...'

    The case should have been thrown out at first instance...and if the newspaper had had any sense they would have engaged a forensic accountant to look at the restaurant's books.

    I hesitate to suggest places....and am quite sure that no one I know would like to eat in some of the places I visited in Honduras...the place where the only water was brought in every day in a clean dustbin and the plates were covered in cling film to avoid having to wash them...but the fish that lady cooked was the best ever..anywhere!

    The pool bar with paint flaking off the walls where the flavouring of the beans was so exquisite that I remember it yet...

    The wooden shack where the grandads were pushed up to make room for us to taste the owner's beef stew with peppers...

    Simple...but I'd challenge the foam obsessed chefs to equal these ladies for flavouring which made the best of their ingredients.

  10. I just checked the reviews on Amazon that I've written. Even if I gave low marks for a couple of items, there was no vitriol or slander --- just the fact I didn't like them, and that might not be true for everyone.

    In this day and age one can't be too careful. I've heard of cases where professors were sued for giving poor recommendations for students.

  11. Jenny: There certainly seemed to be a total inability to compromise and a determination to let the case run and run. With very expensive results.

    Keith: Good point about franchised restaurants. And a good reason not to review just one of them. Or at least not without a disclaimer that other restaurants in the chain might be very different.

  12. Helen: Indeed, a good look at the restaurant's books might have been illuminating. Maybe they had financial problems right from the start, and the bad review was merely another nail in the coffin rather than the cause of the shutdown?

    And you're right about fantastic meals served up in very shabby and seemingly unhygienic surroundings. I've had that experience a few times!

  13. Jean: I note you had a caveat about your opinion not necessarily being true for others. Very sensible.

    I haven't heard of any professors being sued for poor recommendations over here, but I'm sure Jenny (being an academic) would tell me if she heard of such a case!

  14. Eleven years, Nick? What a waste of life (time).

    As hollow victories come this is a puff in the wind.


  15. Ursula: I know, what a ridiculously long-drawn-out saga. With a bit of common sense, both sides could have settled long ago.

  16. Can't believe this shyte earns such attention.
    And over a decade's.
    As we're all slowly sliding into oblivion.


  17. www: Well, even if we are sliding into oblivion, I think it's still worth examining journalistic standards and how they could be improved.

  18. Modern social media like twitter and facebook spread the good or bad word about these matters much better than the ole review system and I have not come across any restaurant suing anyone for bad reviews!

    It is well known among the cognoscenti that the reviewers except to be fed along with their guests and also paid to get good reviews for restaurant reviews. At least that is the impression over here and no one takes the reviews seriously. I am glad that the courts and jurors settled in favour of the restaurant.

  19. Ramana: It would be hard to sue social-media food reviewers, there are so many of them! I think an intelligent restaurant getting a bad review would respond by having a good look at what they were serving and trying to improve it. Suing is a mug's game, it just means lots of money for the lawyers. Also, as I said, once the food has been disposed of, who can prove anything one way or the other?

  20. Good grief. That definitely seems to fall under the heading "frivolous lawsuit."

  21. Agent: Frivolous indeed. Perhaps it's the eleven-year lawsuit that's three courses of crap. Or more like thirty three courses.

  22. What a monumental waste of energy, time and money!

  23. e: Totally. There could have been an agreement within a week if those involved had just dropped all the defensiveness and settled their differences.