Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Online reviewers 'blackmail' Edinburgh restaurateurs

Woman taking photo of meal on phone Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Online reviews can have an "exceptional impact" on business, says Jean Michel Gauffre

A number of Edinburgh restaurateurs have spoken out against customers abusing online review sites to get discounts and freebies.

Some claim they have been "blackmailed" by diners who threaten to post negatives reviews on websites like Twitter and Trip Advisor.

Jean Michel Gauffre, director of La Garrigue, said online reviews can have an "exceptional impact" on business.

Trip Advisor said it took allegations of blackmail very seriously.

It added that it was "absolutely against the terms and spirit" of the site to use Trip Advisor to try to claim discounts, compensation or freebies.

The claims have led to calls for more action to tackle the problem, and to protect businesses and consumers.

Mr Gauffre told BBC Radio Scotland's Kaye Adams Programme that he was threatened by a "so-called celebrity" who had lunch at his restaurant a couple of years ago.

He said the man had complained about the price of his meal, and later returned to the restaurant to demand a refund.

The customer threatened to highlight his experience on Twitter, where he had thousands of followers, unless his money was returned, Mr Gauffre added.

"We got a lot of really nasty comments... it was really, really nasty but people didn't have clue what happened on that particular day."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Experts say the rise of social media has "empowered" consumers

He said websites like Trip Advisor need to tackle the problem of fake reviews or they will "lose credibility".

Another restaurateur, Paul Brennan, of Dine in Edinburgh, told The Scotsman that one customer recently drafted a one-star Trip Advisor review while still in the restaurant.

He said the diner threatened staff with it and demanded a sizeable discount.

Dr Dimitrious Tsivrikos, a consumer psychologist at University College London, said the rise of social media has empowered consumers.

But he warned that people are more likely to focus on the negative aspects of an experience, rather than the positive.

"Think about the last time you looked through TripAdvisor. You were not really focussing on the positive experiences relating to a restaurant, but you were always focussing or detecting the really negative comments," he said.

'Fraud detection experts'

Dr Tsivrikos called for more to be done to tackle consumers who are "systematically negative" on a series of websites.

"There's no one out there to really protect consumers and retailers alike from individuals who do engage in criminal offences on a cyber level," he said.

"Consumers feel that if they do fabricate something online, it will not actually have an effect. In reality it does, and it does cost businesses a serious amount of money."

A spokesman for Trip Advisor 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 Trip Advisor's name to try and claim discounts, compensation or freebies that would not be available to other guests.

"We have a dedicated tool that business owners can use to alert to us to the threat of a blackmail review before any such review is submitted to the site.

"Our fraud detection experts will investigate any reports and if they find a report from an owner matches that of a review which has been submitted, they will be able to take action to stop the review being posted onto the site."

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