Tommy Banks of the Michelin-starred the Black Swan at Oldstead has said his restaurant has been repeatedly threatened with bad reviews by customers angry about its cancellation fee policy.
When booking with the restaurant, customers agree to a policy which sees an initial payment withheld in full in the event that a cancelled booking cannot be filled by another party.
But Banks, who owns the four AA-rosettes restaurant in North Yorkshire with brother James, said it has received threats from cancelling customers demanding a full refund.
He tweeted: “Not for the first time we seem to have been threatened with bad reviews online unless we let them off the cancellation policy to which they previously agreed. As an industry how do we deal with this? I think we should never back down to what appears to be blackmail.”
Other chefs were quick to offer their support.
Paul Foster, chef-owner of Salt in Statford-upon-Avon tweeted: “Don’t back down mate, standing firm is the only way. I can’t even let people re-book for another night, as that night will never come back round. We have to be so black and white as people will try anything to get round it.”
Sat Bains, who runs the two-Michelin starred Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham, added: “Tell me about it chief! Stick to your guns. We are in Business not Charity. I lost 3k recently with BA and hotel in Russia and knew the policies prior booking. I took it. Still hurt me but I knew the consequences.”
Meanwhile, celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson tweeted: “It’s the bane of a restaurateur’s life, late cancellations or no cancellations at all. Nouveau riche tossers trying to impress their friends by booking in four restaurants and saying ‘where would you like to go’, then not cancelling the other three. The restaurateurs association needs to introduce a firm policy with all their members of taking deposits when customers make reservations, no refund when cancellation is less than 24 hours before. It can only work if all the best restaurants stick together, hold firm despite the undoubted backlash #shithappens.”
Craig Walker, a partner at commercial law firm Goodman Derrick, told The Caterer that it is important that customers are clearly notified about cancellation policies at the time of booking.
He explained: “If they have accepted the terms that the restaurant has offered the only other question would be if it is a reasonable term under consumer legislation.”
Walker said the definition of “reasonable” is not set out in case law, but that the amount taken would need to correlate with the losses or costs incurred by the business as a result of the cancellation.
He advised restaurants to inform customers threatening to post negative reviews that they are making a malicious threat and to contact review sites.
Banks said that TripAdvisor was the obvious place for angry customers to go, but added that some have threatened to write to Michelin.
A spokesperson for TripAdvisor said: “We take very seriously any allegations of blackmail or threatening behaviour by customers against business owners. It is absolutely against the terms and spirit of our site to use TripAdvisor’s name to try and claim discounts, compensation or freebies that would not be available to other guests.
“We have a dedicated tool that business owners can use to alert us of the threat of a blackmail review before any such review is submitted to the site. We strongly encourage owners to make use of it. When reporting such threats, we advise owners to provide as much information as possible to aid the investigation efforts of our fraud detection team. They will then be able to take action to stop those reviews from ever reaching the site.”