The democratization of information has benefited everybody. Well, almost everybody. Maybe not those in the restaurant industry, who have to deal with overzealous reviewers whose sense of entitlement borders on pathology and who think it fair to write brunch reviews comparing an unfavorable meal to 9/11.
In France, things are a little different. When an anonymous reviewer wrote a scathing Pages Jaunes review of a Michelin-starred restaurant in Burgundy, management took notice and got litigious. "Very overrated, it was all show and there was very little on the plate. The only thing that was well-loaded was the bill," the review, posted on July 11, 2013, read.
While brutal online reviews are just a reality of owning a restaurant in the age of the smartphone, this review of Loiseau des Ducs de Dijon, in Dijon, France, stood out because it was posted five days before the restaurant even opened.
According to local newspaper Le Bien Public, Loiseau des Ducs de Dijon spent 5,000 euros to track down the author of the fake review, who was eventually found and sued by the restaurant group. And while the motive for the malicious review remains unclear, the anonymous reviewer was fined 11,000 euros for "disparaging and untrue remarks," the court ruled, adding 2,500 euros in damages as well as the restaurant's costs for tracking them down.
Ahlame Buisard, general manager of Loiseau des Ducs de Dijon, told Le Bien Public that she was very satisfied with the decision, saying that the lawsuit was a matter of principle and that the result is "a great lesson" for the fake reviewer whose blurb was found to be "potentially dissuasive for customers."
Last year, another French court came down hard on a review of Giardino in the western French beach town of Cap Ferret titled "The place to avoid in Cap Ferret: Il Giardino." The reviewer also mocked his server by calling her "a harpy (bad tempered woman) in a fluorescent vest." Eventually, that case would end up in court and be found defamatory, despite the defendant's free speech argument. The judge also estimated that the online insult was worth 1,500 euros in damages and 1,000 euros in court costs.
"Customers showed us the blog and told us they had hesitated before coming in because of the review. It's the neighboring businesses that convinced them to come nonetheless," the unnamed owner told French newspaper Sud Ouest. "We've been here 15 years, it hurts to get insulted."
But with this case setting the precedent, maybe restaurateurs who daydream about how rich they'd be if they had a dollar for every time somewhat wrote an obnoxious and unjustified review may finally come into their fortunes.