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In their discussion entitled - “Unfair” Restaurant Reviews: To Sue Or Not To Sue - by John Schroeder and Bruce Lazarus, Assistant Professors, Department of Restaurant, Hotel and Institutional Management at Purdue University, the authors initially state: “Both advantages and disadvantages exist on bringing lawsuits against restaurant critics who write “unfair” reviews. The authors, both of whom have experience with restaurant criticism, offer practical advice on what realistically can be done by the restaurateur outside of the courtroom to combat unfair criticism.”
Well, this is going to be a sticky wicket no matter how you try to defend it, reviews being what they are; very subjective pieces of opinionated journalism, especially in the food industry. And, of course, unless you can prove malicious intent there really is no a basis for a libel suit. So, a restaurateur is at the mercy of written opinion and the press. “Libel is the written or published form of slander which is the statement of false remarks that may damage the reputation of others. It also includes any false and malicious publication which may damage a person's business, trade, or employment,” is the defined form of the law provided by the authors.
Anecdotally, Schroeder and Lazarus offer a few of the more scathing pieces reviewers have written about particular eating establishments. And, yes, they can be a bit comical, unless you are the owner of an establishment that appears in the crosshairs of such a reviewer. A bad review can kneecap even a popular eatery. “Because of the large readership of restaurant reviews in the publication (consumer dining out habits indicate that nearly 50 percent of consumers read a review before visiting a new restaurant) your business begins a very dangerous downward tailspin,” the authors reveal, with attribution. “Many restaurant operators contend that a bad review can cost them an immediate trade loss of upward of 50 percent,” Schroeder and Lazarus warn.
“The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a restaurant owner can collect damages only if he proves that the statement or statements were made with “actual malice,” even if the statements were untrue,” the authors say by way of citation. And that last portion of the statement cannot be over-emphasized.
The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution does wield a heavy hammer, indeed, and it should. So, what recourse does a restaurateur have?
The authors cautiously give a guarded thumbs-up to a lawsuit, but you better be prepared to prove a misstatement of fact, as opposed to the distinguishable press protected right of opinion. For the restaurateur the pitfalls are many, the rewards few and far between, Schroeder and Lazarus will have you know. “…after weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a lawsuit against a critic...the disadvantages are overwhelming,” the authors say.
“Chicago restaurant critic James Ward said that someone dumped a load of manure on his yard accompanied by a note that read - Stop writing that s--t! - after he wrote a review of a local restaurant.” Such is a novel if not legally measurable tack against an un-mutual review.
Schroeder, John and Lazarus, John
""Unfair'' Restaurant Reviews:To Sue Or Not To Sue,"
Hospitality Review: Vol. 4
, Article 6.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/hospitalityreview/vol4/iss2/6