As a food blogger myself who dabbles in the fine art of amateur critiquing of restaurants, I hold the right to give a fair an honest review. That’s what makes food bloggers/independent reviews so vital to the overall perception of restaurants. And while many of us may not be as qualified as some to detect a good steak or wine from the next, we all have enough common sense to understand poor service.
Apparently the folks at Benihana didn’t like this whole concept and upon seeing a poor review of one of their restaurants, decided to take the fellow foodie to court for defamation of the company name. Now I’ve never had the opportunity to dine at one of the many Benihana chain restaurants so I can’t comment on whether or not such a poor review is warranted but the fact of the matter is, as food bloggers, as paying customers, we have a right to proper service and when we fail to receive that, it becomes our prerogative to share that experience with us. It’s not different than complaining about the treatment you received from a salesperson at a store or the customer service helper on the telephone.
The restaurant is suing the Kuwait blogger, Mark Makhou who runs a fairly popular local blog, for $18 000 after the blogger reported dissatisfaction with the meal he recieved. Here is an excerpt of the blog:
We ordered beef negimayaki for starters followed by an Orange Blossom maki and a Hibachi Chicken. The negimaki arrived looking good and was probably the best thing we had there even though I prefer Maki’s negimaki which has a richer teriyaki sauce. The Orange Blossom was very ordinary, wouldn’t order it again. Now the Hibachi chicken which is basically grilled chicken, that was the worst. The chicken was very chewy (I could swear it was undercooked if not raw) and tasted terrible. Even after I had the chef add some more teriyaki sauce in hopes of improving the taste it didn’t work. [...] Would I go back to Benihana? No I wouldn’t. Their sashimi and maki’s are pretty cheap (KD1.5 for 5 pieces of Salmon sashimi for example) but there are two other Japanese restaurants at the Avenues, Wasabi and Maki, and I would prefer either one of those to Benihana.
As a food blogger myself, this sounds hardly unreasonable should the facts be true. The blogger provides the facts of his experience and does not blatantly tell his readers to not visit the establishment. He just remarks that he will probably not return as there are numerous choices out there, a choice he has every right to make. It is a joke to think that all restaurants out there are putting forth the very best of the best all the time, most especially chains who are subject to direct guidelines in order to uphold the franchise.
In response, Benihana’s general manager in Kuwait, Mike Servo, posted a long and angry reply on Makhou’s blog that threatened legal action.
We are eager to know your name and meet you personally if you don’t have anything to hide.
You mentioned clearly on a detour way on not to go to Benihana and go to Maki or Wasabi or Chocolate Bar and we believe that this is against the law of Kuwait, We respect our rights on not to advertise in your website and if we don’t, this will not mean that we will be hurt by your side and if this done, the court in Kuwait will be in our side to give us our rights. to make this conversation short . We want you to give us your information, your name, your number and your address so our lawyer will take it from there and be sure that you in Kuwait were the jury is 100% clean and fair. [...] We will not let it go and we will follow you legally.
This is the last comment from my side and LPRC side; we wish that you will be free to give us your info. BTW are you Lebanese?
The last question is of significance because apparently non-citizen residents of Kuwait, including Makhou, have extremely circumscribed legal rights. Kuwaiti law is extremely favourable to businesses and non-citizens face significant barriers.
While the legal case continues on Benihana is now facing backlash from other potential patrons due to the incident. Angry patrons have been filling Benihana’s Kuwaiti Facebook page with threats and complaints, with the chain in turn deleting scores of Facebook wall posts.
That’ll teach the big guns out there; if you don’t want bad stuff getting out about you, don’t go after the guy who said it with no real intent of damaging you, you only make yourself look worse.