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Crisis Management: How Not To Handle A Bad Review

By Laura King, MatchFit Media
Tunbridge Wells restaurant High Rocks found itself getting negative publicity – after embarking on a legal pushback against a disgruntled diner who left a one-star review on website Trip Advisor.

Crisis Management: Restaurant sues reviewer

Crisis Management: Restaurant sues reviewer

Nurse and mother Sarah Gardner, 44, was stunned to find herself the recipient of a letter from a London law firm threatening legal action and claiming: “The material you have posted about our client on TripAdvisor.com is defamatory and therefore unlawful.”

She was also somewhat alarmed the restaurant had got hold of her personal contact details rather than passing their complaint on to her through Trip Advisor or replying to her review employing the standard method of leaving a response underneath seeking to acknowledge and address her disappointment.

Sarah considered that this response threatening legal action was “taking the nuclear option” on “an honest review” following her meal there.

The solicitor said that Sarah had previously been “very rude and offensive” on the telephone and had not been welcome at the venue and that her review was as a result of this and did not relate to specific visits.

Journalists subsequently discovered that Sarah was not the first diner to be threatened with legal action by High Rocks’ solicitor and previous diners had been forced to remove less-than-glowing reviews or been told they had been watched on CCTV and appeared to “enjoy” their meals.

If so, perhaps the only surprise is that Sarah was the first to blow the whistle on what seems to be a disproportionate response.

Crisis Management

Granted, Trip Advisor can be the bane of many a venue’s life, and a well-known harbinger of the serial whinger, but most sensible establishments respond to feedback in a measured way and seek to remedy all reasonable criticisms. Threatening legal action is hardly good crisis management.

Crisis Communication Training

Some crisis communications training could help the restaurant cope better.

High Rocks would have been better advised to contact a crisis communication specialist than a lawyer who might only worsen any damage to their reputation caused by a poor review.

If someone is unhappy with your service, it is sensible to try to get to the bottom of the complaint without generating bad publicity. That is basic crisis management practice. In this case, the opposite happened.

Hundreds of people took to social media and the message boards of online newspapers, some of them vowing to never visit High Rocks if that is how it treats its diners.

Meanwhile, Sarah Gardner awaits a High Court claim against her which the solicitor is said to intend to serve “very shortly” and has obligingly taken down her offending review.

But there is no knowing how much reputational damage the well-publicised row will cause the venue in the long term.

* This article is purely the view of the writer, who is a Brighton-based media trainer and crisis communication training specialist, working in Sussex and London.