Legal

Restaurant forced to issue Facebook apology for refusing to allow a deaf man to dine with his assistance dog

Emma Koehn /

A Brisbane restaurant has been ordered to apologise on Facebook after it stopped a customer from dining with his hearing assistance dog in June.

The Courier Mail reports Queensland man Andrew Bell was prevented from eating at The Spice Avenue Balti Restaurant in Birkdale after the manager told him no dogs were allowed at the establishment. Bell reportedly showed the venue’s management his ID card, which was removed from him when a staff member said he would take it to show the business’s owner.

Bell and his partner eventually left the restaurant, according to reports. A complaint on the matter made it to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT), where both parties were given a number of directions on December 2.

The owner of the restaurant and his son were ordered to submit an apology to Bell for any loss or damage caused to him within 30 days, as well as ensure all staff were trained on the requirements under Queensland law for assistance dogs. The owner was also ordered to post a similar apology on the business’s Facebook page, with Bell reportedly agreeing to also post a statement to the restaurant’s Facebook page acknowledging the incident was “unfortunate”.

While an apology was reportedly issued to QCAT, it does not appear that either of the parties have posted the messages on Facebook.

Social media apologies “unusual”

LegalVision principal and general counsel Ursula Hogben told SmartCompany courts and tribunals are not known for commonly ordering social media apologies in a case such as this.

“Our view is that it’s unusual—it wasn’t a social media related offence,” she says.

“If they had done something on social media, yes, issuing a public apology [would be appropriate]. It would seem new to be requiring an apology on social media.”

Hogben says there are a number of conflict resolution measures available in cases where a customer has an issue with a business, and businesses should understand that each body has different powers they can use.

While the court system can be incredibly expensive for all parties, mediation, arbitration or hearings through administrative tribunals, like QCAT, are “definitely” a better option for finding a resolution.

“For example, for the Australian Consumer Law enforcement there’s the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. For telcos there’s the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman, and the Financial Ombudsman Service as well for independent resolution.”

Hogben says businesses should note the differences in the legally binding nature of mediation and arbitration.

“The term mediation itself is usually not legally binding, but people can choose to follow it and choose to sign. The term arbitration is a different kind of dispute resolution,” she says. In the latter, an arbiter can decide on a legally binding resolution for two parties.

As well as being aware of the different types of dispute resolution for customers and businesses to use, SMEs should also think about what conflict resolution clauses are written into contracts they sign with other businesses, Hogben says.

“The lesson for businesses is to put dispute resolution clauses in all of their contracts,” Hogben says.

This might involve deciding that the parties will go to mediation in the first instance and then use an arbitration process if no resolution is found.

Hogben also recommends SMEs consider how they would ideally respond to disputes before they happen.

“Time is a really precious resource in small businesses, they actually want to solve problems,” Hogben says.

SmartCompany contacted The Spice Avenue restaurant for an update on the Facebook post, but did not receive a response prior to publication. SmartCompany was unable to contact Bell prior to publication.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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