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NZ restaurant picks apart bad customer review: Why this small business owner says the customer is not always right

Eloise Keating /

New Zealand wine bar and restaurant Molten has turned the tables on a customer who posted a scathing review of the venue online by reviewing the customer on its own Facebook page.

And Molten owner Sven Nielsen says all small business owners should “absolutely” follow his lead and stand up for themselves against their online critics.

Molten restaurant in Auckland recently received a review on online review platform Zomato from a customer who said they had “just had the worst dining experience ever!”

“We chose Molten as recent reviews were impressive,” said the customer, according to the NZ Herald.

“The Duck pate was wonderful and smooth and creamy. But sadly my Chicken main course was very salty! It was supposed to have been wrapped in prosciutto but it looked more like bacon to me. My husband said his Lamb was tender but quite salty as well. The side of Roasted vegetables was ok but some of the chargrilled root veges (sic) were so overcooked and tough that they were not edible.”

“We mentioned our concerns to the waitress and were offered complimentary desserts. The Semifreddo I ordered was tasteless with big chunks of very dry meringue scattered over it. I could not eat it.”

The reviewer went on to say Molten was “very noisy and service was slow”.

“A very disappointing meal. We will not return,” they said.

But Molten didn’t take the criticism lying down, instead choosing to pick apart the customer’s claims in its own review on Facebook.

“Table Six from last Saturday night; you were rather rude to the people that worked at our restaurant,” said Molten.

“Please bear in mind that we are not out to sabotage your evening, in fact quite the opposite – we are trying everything in our power to make your experience an enjoyable one so that you come back.”

“To do this we do need some participation on your part. For example, when we first asked how your meals were you said fine, then ate them in their entirety, then upon the plates being cleared you let us know that it was the worse (sic) meal you’ve eaten in a decade and that it was too salty for your tastes.”

Molten took issue with the reviewer’s description of the prosciutto on their dish as it was in fact pancetta and said “maybe next time you could let us know upon tasting the meal that it wasn’t to your taste so that we have an opportunity to fix it.”

“It did seem that you were intent on having a miserable time, which is entirely up to you, but attempting to spread that misery to staff and other diners is not appreciated. Being unhappy that a restaurant is far too busy and their customers were too noisy on a Saturday night seems to suggest a poor choice on your part.”

“In summary you get zero stars out of five.” 

Molten’s review has been liked by more than 2000 Facebook users and the post has been shared more than 200 times.

Molten is part of a growing trend for small business, particularly in the hospitality space, to hit back at negative online reviews.

Australian gelato chain Gelato Messina went to town on a customer who called one of its employees a “fat Asian bitch”, while Mike Duffy, owner of New Zealand burger chain Ekim Burgers, recently took to Facebook to slam a customer who had complained about his food.

Speaking to SmartCompany this morning, Nielsen says he had “turned a blind eye for years and years” to unfair reviews of his business but decided to act after recently receiving a number of similar reviews and discussing the issue with friends in the hospitality industry.

Nielsen describes the review as “widely inaccurate” and “unreasonable” and he wanted to “bring to light the fact that 99% of the dining population are great but there are some people intent on having a miserable time”.

Nielsen says he doesn’t mind criticism and he is not saying his business is “perfect”. But he believes his staff gave the customer a number of opportunities to discuss their dining experience, which they chose not to take.

Nielsen has been flooded with emails of support from members of the public since posting his review last week. Just one of the emails was negative, with the “overwhelming majority” supportive of his decision to stick up for himself and his staff.

Nielsen believes small business owners have a “right to be heard” amongst the growing number of anonymous online reviews.

“I own a small business. Fifteen people work here and I work in the business every single day. These people are my colleagues and friends as well as my staff,” he says.

“If someone is going to take anonymous pot shots at them, we should also have a voice.”

Social media expert Catriona Pollard told SmartCompany a “complaining culture” is being fuelled by online reviews sites like Zomato and Yelp.

“As customers we can hide behind anonymity to make complaints that we may not have made in person,” Pollard says.

“We can do that will very little thought or respect for the people that hear it.”

“But we have a responsibility to stop and think about the impact on small business owners or their staff or anyone who works in the service industry.”

Pollard agress with Nielsen that small business owners should have a “right of reply”, so long as the reply is done in a respectful and tactful way.

“There is a way of having a right of reply,” she says.

“We’ve seen it done very negatively and rudely only recently.”

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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