Is TripAdvisor Every Chef’s Dream or Nightmare?

It holds out so much promise on one hand – genuine feedback from real customers – but can also deliver devastation with the other: cruel, deliberate, reviews aimed at hurting a business or a chef.

The Chefs’ Forum takes a look at a recent example of a spiteful review and asks the important question: what do you do when this happens to you?

Chefs Trip Advisor The example in question is a review of Sticky Walnut in Chester run by formidable chef Gary Usher. He is rarely tempted to get personally involved with a review, as he says, but in this case found himself unable to resist.

Reviewer emalinaker wrote, following a visit to Sticky Walnut, recently:

“If you want to pay 45 POUNDS each for an average piece of sirloin steak and some Parmesan chips then this is the place to go! A really misleading menu along with EYE WATERINGLY expensive steak which is NOT worth it. When we mentioned to the waitress we thought the menu was misleading instead of apologising and trying to fix our dishes she got extremely agitated, defensive and frankly rude. Sticky Walnut was somewhere I used to look foreword to but I would council (sic) EVERYONE heading to Chester for a decent meal to avoid this place like the plague unless they like being ripped off.”

On Tripadvisor Usher replied personally barely able to restrain his fury:

Good morning Emma

I only personally respond on here every few years so well done getting me out of Twit-advisor hibernation.

The essence of your “review” should be quite simple. You think we’re a rip off which is probably the most common complaint across the whole of the Twit-advisor website. So nothing new there. So why am I responding? Simply because you wouldn’t allow Becky the MANAGER to explain at the time. In fact it was YOU who got extremely agitated, defensive and quite frankly rude.

The menu is set at a fixed price of £39 for 3 courses. With all set menus there are supplements. On ours it’s our dry aged Aubrey Allen sirloin. In Sticky Walnut it will cost an extra £15 per person to have the sirloin instead of, for example, the feather blade of beef. Your last Twit-advisor review was for The Dorchester “to celebrate Mummy’s birthday”. Their menu is £53 for 3 courses, also with a supplement for the sharing beef of £22 per person. Ironically we use the same butcher. Why Emma did you not complain about your bill there not take a photo of your receipt? Going by your review I’ve calculated that you spent over £500 for four guests which included a bottle of Chapel Down Rose Brut at £87. It’s available at Waitrose for £26. However you gave them a glowing 5 star review.

Whilst your online presence is a display of your love of luxury we are a humble neighbourhood bistro, serving the best produce we can source, served by fantastic teams, whilst trying to survive a global pandemic. You are a self-professed expert in comms and brand awareness and still manage to be so short sighted not to see how devastating your words can be. “Avoid this place like the plague” really Emma? My COUNSEL to you in this recession we find ourselves in is to think before you write.

Be kind. It won’t cost you as much as a first class flight to Dubai.

Brand ambassador & comms

What’s interesting about Gary’s response is how restrained he actually is. This comes from years of dealing with the same problem. His twitter feed is filled with run-ins he has had in the past.

The review was unjust in that the writer did not isolate a problem in a rational and considerate way but used offensive and ill-considered language designed to hurt those that she was writing about.

But this doesn’t answer the question. Was Gary Usher right to respond? Chefs may come across as bullish and opinionated in the media but anyone that knows them personally knows that underneath the bluster they are generous, considerate and kind.

Gary Usher is trying to run a business. He explains what happened in a humble way. He doesn’t reposed “like with like”. He urges kindness. The story was picked up by The Daily Mail. Now, a huge amount of the restaurant-going public can see how polite he was and also see how cruel the review was. This is what you must weigh up when responding to a bad review. Don’t fall into the trap of being rude back.

We think Gary Usher made the right choice.