Give Me Money or I’ll Review: A Case of Restaurant Ransom

Most business owners agree that online customer reviews are important, but how far would you go to protect your restaurant’s online reputation? A recent report issued by Fox News suggests that cases of cyber-extortion are on the rise in the foodservice industry. In most instances, criminals threaten to post negative reviews on sites like Yelp! and CitySearch if restaurant owners do not comply with their requests for money. Sonny Mayugba, owner of the Red Rabbit Kitchen and Bar, was recently the intended victim of this type of scam. One of his customers claimed that he had gotten food poisoning from the restaurant, telling Mayugba that he and his girlfriend would write a scathing review on Yelp! and turn him into the health department if Mayugba did not buy him a $100 gift card to a nearby upscale restaurant. When Mayugba did not fulfill the customer’s demand, the customer posted a review on Yelp!. Although the review was negative, it did not refer to the food poisoning, making Mayugba certain that the allegation was false.

If the customer had posted a scandalous review about the Red Rabbit Kitchen and Bar, how much would it have affected Mayugba’s business? It’s hard to say, but the 2012 Local Consumer Review Survey indicates that online reviews are playing a larger role in consumers’ decisions about which businesses they patronize. Conducted between January and March of this year, the survey asked 4,500 local consumers to answer 18 questions about how they use online reviews. According to the study, online reviews are just as effective as recommendations from friends and family: 72% of respondents said that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Furthermore, 58% of consumers in the study stated that they trust businesses with positive online reviews. Additionally, 52% of respondents indicated that they are more likely to use a local business if they have positive reviews. The impact of online reviews on businesses is expected to continue to strengthen as smartphone and tablet usage rises, driving more and more consumers to review sites.

What should you do if you are approached by a cyber-extortionist? Experts warn against rushing to file a lawsuit: negative press surrounding litigation could be more harmful than a salacious review. However, reviews with defamatory content intended to destroy your business should be addressed with legal action. Use your best judgment when reading reviews; if you believe the content within a review could deal a fatal blow to your business, contact your attorney.

Social media is a great tool for protecting your restaurant from the ill effects of negative reviews. Using your restaurant’s Facebook or Twitter account to discuss the situation and explain your side of the story shows that your restaurant is responsive to customer complaints and willing to work hard to make patrons happy. Launching a review campaign to solicit positive reviews from customers is also a great way to mitigate the damage from a negative review. 65% of consumers read between 2 to 10 reviews, so having more reviews available for them to read is beneficial.

Has your restaurant received negative reviews? How did you handle them?

Image courtesy of EV GRIEVE