Diners threaten Gold Coast cafe with bad reviews if they don’t get refunds, as small businesses urged not to give into customer blackmail

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Small business owners are urged to be proactive about generating the best online reputation they can, amid reports that a Gold Coast cafe was ‘blackmailed’ by patrons who threatened they would post bad reviews about the business on TripAdvisor and Zomato if they didn’t receive cash refunds for meals they had paid for.

The Gold Coast Bulletin reports Goji Granola Bar and Cafe was recently hit with Facebook complaints from multiple customers who had already dined at the venue and paid without complaint.

After the business offered vouchers to two customers to give the cafe a second chance, they allegedly demanded a cash refund instead, saying they would write negative reviews about the business on sites including Zomato and TripAdvisor if the demand wasn’t met.

The venue owner, Monica Tjong, reportedly passed the correspondence on to the review platforms to have the customers blocked from posting.

Reviews site TripAdvisor tells SmartCompany the platform tracks any threatening behaviour by guests and has taken steps to give businesses more power to report any reviewers they feel are trying to take advantage by using the threat of bad reviews to gain freebies.

“We now have a way for owners to proactively report such threats before a corresponding review is submitted by using our Management Centre, where owners can register for free. Our fraud detection experts will then investigate and, where we find evidence of threatening behaviour, take action to stop their reviews from ever reaching the site,” a TripAdvisor spokesperson said this morning.

The TripAdvisor fraud detection team also tracks user behaviour to pick up on irregular patterns of complaints from businesses, which could lead to users getting blocked from the site, the company says.

However, marketing expert and director of Marketing Angels Michelle Gamble says she tells her clients they must understand you have no real control over what happens on review sites.

“You really are at the mercy of the great unwashed — you literally cannot do anything about influencing reviews,” Gamble says.

Read more: Gelato Messina goes to town on complaining customer who called employee a “fat Asian bitch”

But while the bad behaviour of a few can try to force the hand of an honest business, there are some things SMEs can do to minimise the damage of troublemakers.

The first is to put processes in place to catch any disgruntled customers at the time of payment, so if someone is considering raising a problem later, they have the opportunity to vent, says Gamble.

“Ask someone at the point of purchase if they are happy. And if they are satisfied, perhaps you can ask them to write a positive review at the time,” Gamble suggests.

Then, it’s up to playing the numbers game, to get the largest number of people who are satisfied with your business talking about this, and drown out any troublemakers.

“Everyone has the risk of receiving a negative review; you simply can’t avoid it. But it’s about making sure you have enough positive reviews to counteract the negative ones,” she says.

Both TripAdvisor and Zomato advise businesses to never give in to customers who issue demands linked to online reviews.

“Fulfilling the demands of customers who ask for benefits at the threat of bad reviews or ratings, sends a message that this behavior is tolerated,” Zomato’s guidelines for restaurants read.

SmartCompany contacted Zomato’s Australia operations, but did not receive a response prior to publication.

A TripAdvisor spokesperson said any businesses on the receiving end of threats should resist the urge to deliver the demands, and then notify the platform of the situation. There is a report button in the dashboard of company accounts.

“Our advice to owners confronting this threat would be this: firstly, do not meet the demands of the person threatening you; secondly, report the threat immediately to us with any additional information you may have about the reviewer,” the spokesperson says.

SmartCompany contacted Goji Granola Bar but did receive a response prior to publication.

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4 years ago

It’s great reading all of the expert comments, but perhaps we need to pause for a reality check. I think that blackmail and extortion are actually criminal offences and perhaps the perpetrators should be reported to the police?
Just because it’s all happening on-line doesn’t make it any less of an offence. These people might be serial offenders and should be dealt with by the law. Each individual threat and demand for money may be small but it’s still extortion and it is still a criminal act.

Bob Skepper
Bob Skepper
1 year ago
Reply to  BJG

See my comment – there are of course other sections of the CC which may be relevant such as blackmail and extortion.

Bob Skepper
Bob Skepper
1 year ago

“Section 543 Criminal Code QLD

Other conspiracies 
Any person who conspires with another to effect any of the purposes following, that is to say— 

  • (d) to injure any person in the person’s trade or profession;

is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for 3 years. 

  • A prosecution for an offence defined in this section shall not be instituted without the consent of the Attorney-General.” 

My note: The full contents of The QLD Criminal Code is available for anyone to read on the internet for free.