Business’ Pouty Response to Negative Review on YELP

I am not an infrequent YELPer.  I like to write.  I like to write about food about as much as I like to eat.  To be honest I like to eat far better.  But, I can write more often than I eat.  At least, that should be the way it is.  I write about my experiences making them fair reports and sharing my observations with the universe.  I do not seek out comments, referrals, or readers. If someone happens across my review or blog, even, they are free to read it or not.  I am not pressuring anyone to do anything.  Readers do not even have to believe anything I write.  As for my review of your business you may choose to read customers reviews or not.  For those with negative reviews business owners may choose to take the reviews to heart and change what caused the negative review(s).   Or not.  Attacking the author is not in any business best interest.

As I see it YELP is the modern day equivalent of word-of-mouth.  Like any other piece of information on the internet you can take it or leave it.  The internet, my blog, or other writing outlets are my “bullhorn” and “soap box”.
YELP even has a FAQ that provides the answer to someone’s question if the business is threatening a reviewer with a lawsuit.

“I’m not happy with what consumers are saying about me on Yelp – should I get my lawyer involved?
We have nothing but love and respect for lawyers (ahem), but you may want to consider the following. First, beware of the so-called Streisand Effect, which can quickly turn a manageable customer service problem into an unmanageable disaster. Lawyers love to draft threatening letters. However, far from being cowed, recipients will sometimes go public with them as a warning to others not to patronize your business. Second, beware of lawyers who are quick to file lawsuits without telling their clients that it can cost them dearly (see example here). Last, take a step back: if you find yourself insisting that a review is obviously untrue, there’s every reason to think that your customers will draw the same conclusion as you. Even if they don’t, Yelp’s review filter is always on the prowl, and it may be able to put enough pieces of the puzzle together over the long-term to filter out the bogus review.”

You have been warned!

Here is the story.

Several months ago I attended a private party at a business that rented its venue to the hosts.  The party was excellent.  The reason for the party was even better.  The venue and food were not good.  The party was quite fun.  I was glad to have been invited to the party.  Which is not an unusual occurrence after the type of event that precipitated the party.  Some time later I posted a negative comment on YELP specific to the venue and the unknown caterer.  Both, venue and caterer were, as I experienced it, pretty bad.  This was not the venue’s first negative review by any means.

Needless to say I was pretty surprised when seven months after the original post I was contacted by the business.

In my review I was specific as to why I did not like the venue.  Funny enough the business validated in their email that many of the items in my review were correct.  The business confirmed the chairs were unmatched garage sale finds.  They were awful.  I pointed out that I (as I often do in my YELPs) that I have problems sitting on non-cushioned chairs.  These were particularly painful.  I stood.  A lot!  The layout of the food was either poorly thought out or not at all considered.  I wasn’t sure which.  I reported the food tables were placed too close to one wall making self-service difficult down both sides.  Though, the room was quite large. Restricting food accessibility to only one side of the table for over 50 people.   It could have been more people or slightly less.  I didn’t count them.  It was unnecessarily crowded.  There were hors d’ouervrs on the bar under where the bartenders were serving drinks.  In my review I pointed out that any spillage of beer, wine, soda, or water onto a tray of hors d’oeuvres nearly ruined an entire tray.  It also made it ridiculously crowded.  Again, unnecessary.

I acknowledged in my review I did not know whether the venue was also the caterer.  I felt that was fair.  The food was really mediocre.  Maybe for vegan fare it was delicious.  Though, I heartily doubt that.  If so, all the more reason I will NEVER be vegan.  Besides, I like meat way too much.  Though, the caterer did make a compromise for their non-vegan friends and had, what I was told by an adventurous friend was tuna.  It was the most unappealing color of grey.  Ergo, the adventurous friend.  There was no way of knowing what it was before they bit into it.  Though, as I remarked in my review the cubes were large and my friends who like fish said it was actually quite good.

The business owner asked me to remove my post.  He said because it was a private party he felt my review of his venue was unfair.  More over he felt that it was wrong for me to write a negative comment about the food set up.

I initially refused to remove my post.  That is the whole point of YELP and similar websites, like CitySearch, UrbanSpoon, ChowHound, and NYMag just for openers.  To pass on word-of-mouth internet style of my experience.  My entire life myself and my friends and many acquaintances do exactly that when we are looking for a place to hold an event, go out for dinner, or take visitors to an event.  We share our experiences with one another.  We generally do not hold back.

The real problem is that this business’ owner, as nearly as I can tell, brought this review to the attention of the hosts.  Who, supposedly, are the business owner’s friends.  If I were their friends I would have to rethink our friendship.  Not to mention whatever they were charged.

I was not particularly close with the hosts.  We do tend to run in the same circles.  And it is likely that I will never be their friend in the future as a result of a) my review, or b) the business owners selfishness, and c) insensitivity to his friends.  Either way, I got a telephone call first by the male host asking me to remove the post as venue owner was their “friend”.  Not mine.

About  24 hours later female host called me and cried that her friend the caterer, separate from the venue, had bought the tuna directly from the person who caught it and then, cooked it in her backyard.  Unfortunately, that did not change the color of the fish to something palatable.

I have apologized to both of my hosts for any damage I unintentionally caused to their wonderful memory of the party.  It was not their party or the reason that was the issue of my review.  It was the surroundings and accessories thereto.  I felt it was they who actually got taken.  Though, I suppose the reality is that whether anyone was taken it would be for my hosts to decide.

It was never my intent to taint their golden glow of memory relating to the the event precipitating the party.  That is why I ultimately removed my negative post’s explanatory text.  Not because the review was invalid.  In the aftermath seeing how the business threatened to sue me in an effort to bully me into submission I am now thinking otherwise.

I figure if I put it here without the business name or dates then, there is a record.  What is my point?  I am not entirely sure.  I wish I had the courage not to have taken the original post down.  I wish I had not initially felt that others wanting to hire this venue should be forewarned.  If this were on Emily’s List I wonder if the business would have acted as poorly.

This is the first online response of the business to my review which, they posted on YELP:

“This person is commenting on her experience of a private party at which all of the catering, table arrangements, hors d’oeuvres placement, in fact all the details, were decided on by the hosts who invited her to this party.  The caterer had some staging problems that day, so periodically certain trays of food would run out. This was completely out of our control. It is sad that the person invited to this party did not check with her host on her facts, or complain about the food to her host, before venturing to publicly trash our business, but that of course would have been uncivilized. As for the furniture, all I can say is ‘welcome to Portland’ – we believe in reuse here.”
The business just couldn’t accept that they blew it.  So, they sent this email:

Then, directly to me at my personal email.  Which, I have since removed from the settings.

“Dear Mishl53,
    At issue is that what you are really reviewing here is the caterer and the arrangements made by the host who invited you, yet your comments cast aspersions on our place, to the detriment of our business. This is patently unfair, and it may interest you to know that even such details as placement of hors d’oeuvres on the bar and the placement of the food table in the room, were decided by the hosts of the event, working in consultation with their caterer. There are other details which are too lengthy to go into, but in order to avoid any more unpleasantness, we are requesting that you remove your posting.  I have contacted Yelp as well, and I am awaiting their response. I have indicated to them that we will pursue a defamation suit if these comments are not removed, although I am certain they will pass the legal buck to you. If all comments directed at things we had control of were removed, we would be left with the comments about the chairs! And, for heaven’s sake!–what do you mean in your latest addition by the comment that perhaps we should be “more selective” about outside caterers? Surely you understand  that the host chose the caterer, because they like her and her food!!!  Since they were holding a private event, that is up to THEM, so in what way were we to be “more selective”? — by refusing to let the people paying for the event choose their own caterer? How ridiculous.   We thought that once you were apprised of the facts, you would apologize and remove them, but this comment shows that you are for some reason fixated on blaming us. We have finally grown weary of the unfairness of these negative remarks continuing here with the effect of damaging our reputation, and possibly costing us business. Far from “pressuring an objective reviewer”, we respect both the host and hostess of the party, the caterer in question, and our own hard work too much to let these misdirected comments go unchallenged — a principle is at stake here that goes far beyond whether a review is “uncomfortable”; it relates instead to whether it is just. We do not think that we deserve to bear a financial cost for your rant against a caterer and the party hosts’ choices, and since potential customers read quickly and may not be able to discern the context, there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between your comments and a potential loss of business, and this we will be able to show in court. We would like to avoid that route with a retraction and an apology, and in turn we will (and do!) deeply apologize for your uncomfortable chair, but we cannot apologize for things over which we had no control.”
My response:
Dear Business,

If [your business] does not want negative reviews [your business] should take more care in presenting the  venue, staff, set-up, blocking, and customer comfort. As for being selective about which caterers [your business] allows that is exactly what I meant.  It is after all, YOUR venue.  What goes on there is ultimately and fully under [your business]’s control and responsibility.

Many venues restrict which caterers they allow.  Some venues prohibit outside caterers entirely.  Strictly allowing only their own.  To protect and enhance your business [you] may wish to review its catering policies.
I was very clear as to who I believed was responsible for what.  There is no lawsuit here.  The legal cost of, and the burden of proof of a defamation suit, or the actual loss of business is [your business]’s to prove.

It is truly a shame that this how [your business] chose to react my singular review.  Even without my review [your business] has several other negative YELP reviews that include NO catering involvement.  Under what legal theory will you threaten to sue them?

I do not know whether or not it was you who brought my review to the hosts attention seven months after its initial post.  If you did so, it appears [your business]’s intent was to have them pressure me to remove an honest review of my own experience.  If you want to throw lawsuit threats around, you may want to consider, if that is what you did, the hosts of that party may have a suit against you for intentional infliction of pain and suffering or harassment.

I think a better response to my review might have been along the lines of:  “[your business] regrets this reviewers bad experience. Ultimately, [your business] disagrees with this review.  However, [your business] recognizes an individuals right to speak their mind there were many at that event who left quite happy.  Including, the hosts.”

Signed by: Business Owner? W.

Business next email.

Dear [Mishl53],
I repeat, you are in reality reviewing a free-lance caterer and your host’s choice thereof, but the damage accruing is to our business; this is the essential point as to why it is unjust. That is also the critical difference between your review and the others you mention.  In fact, you were NOT clear in your initial review as to who you believed was responsible for what, you did not bother to find out, and have created confusion and a negative impression of our business in the minds of potential customers. Your partial revision is unlikely to be read by anyone, and then continues on with more blaming, a perfect example of ‘adding insult to injury’.

The hosts of the party (and myself!) actually enjoyed the caterer’s food, and believe me when I tell you that  everything in our power was done to get the caterer to expedite her food, but there was nothing that could be done, since the food was being brought from a second location by a runner.  Both Steve and I agree your comments are misdirected, and when it came to light that they have actually caused damage, my partners and I were moved to react to this injustice.  Since this has now been pointed out to you, your refusal to do anything about it means we have little recourse.

There is still time to avoid any further unpleasantness, and I ask you again, politely and in good faith, to consider whether it is worth it to you to take this any further.  I’m sure if you got to know us you would see that we are good people, with good intentions, and I’m sorry you had such a bad time at your friend’s party, but we will no longer sit by and take the blame for that.

My response:
Dear Business,
I am rather surprised that you are comfortable throwing around [a hosts] name. Yet, you do not sign your own name to your email threats.  As for your personal tastes regarding the food I am glad you enjoyed it.  I and others did not.

You have now admitted, in writing, experiencing some of the exact same problems at the party that I pointed out in my review. Unfortunately, once you were aware of the problems with the caterer you might have chosen to exercise your prerogative to protect your business, your friends, and their party by demanding the issues be immediately corrected.

You could have stepped out of your party goer role and into your owner role to ensure the corrections.  For whatever reason you chose not to act as your business’ best steward.  You were knowledgeable of the catering problems.  Yet you chose to do nothing or at least not enough.  At the point where you had knowledge of the problems and chose not to do more you became complicit in the problems making them your own.

It escapes me how, as [your business]’s owner, “everything in our power was done to get the caterer to expedite her food, but there was nothing that could be done”.  My hands tied? Yes.  Yours?  Absolutely not.

You cannot say my comments were untrue when you admit in your email that you had some of the same experiences.

If you choose to continue to harass me I may choose to explore my legal options to get you to cease and desist.

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About mishl53

Pro-Choice, Pro-Women, Pro-Social Programs, Pro-Fiscal Responsibility, Pro-Common Sense Return to Government and USA Society.
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