Cafe owner hits back at 'toxic' online critic

CHRIS HYDE
Last updated 12:00 22/11/2013

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A Palmerston North cafe owner's online outburst at a diner who posted a MenuMania review criticising supposedly cold mince is symptomatic of a sector sick of being held to ransom by the website, restaurant industry leaders say.

A diner, who goes by the name of "Mike", posted a one-star review of Tomato Cafe in August bemoaning their experience as "the worst ever".

Two days later Tomato owner James Pettengill decided to give the MenuMania reviewer a "Menopausal Mania" review of his own, saying:"She [the reviewer] is truly a malignant mole that needs to be removed without hesitation .. . ." He also called the reviewer a "toxic personality", and compared her to Lord of the Rings character Gollum.

Hospitality New Zealand, the Restaurant Association and Mr Pettengill say they are frustrated at the power of MenuMania and are standing behind their right to respond to diners as they choose.

"It [MenuMania] provides a stage for people to hurl abuse, often anonymously, so you're a blindfolded village idiot in the stocks and people are hurling tomatoes at you," Mr Pettengill said.

"If someone blatantly lies, as far as I'm concerned it's fair game because it's my business, my staff and my integrity."

Hospitality New Zealand regional manager Chris Hince said the organisation was in the process of introducing a one-stop website for diners to get accurate information.

The website would have all necessary contact and menu information and would allow star-ratings, but not comment reviews, Mr Hince said.

"We want to encourage people to engage with the service provider, rather than just slating them without any justification.

"When you come across a disingenuous review there's often no way of undoing the damage. It's no wonder owners like James feel the need to vent a bit of pent-up frustration."

Restaurant Association of New Zealand chief executive Marisa Bidois said a study done by the organisation earlier in the year showed 13 per cent of diners posted reviews online.

"It definitely is a big can of worms for the industry and we get so many questions asking how to deal with bad reviews."

Mr Pettengill's response was the most "creative" solution Ms Bidois had seen but it was "perfectly acceptable".

MenuMania said in an email that its site had an effective filter which weeded out spiteful or inaccurate reviews: "Considering the large number of reviews it has to check, and given the remarkable number of people who try to ‘game the system' to either inflict damage on someone else's business or to make their own business look better, we think the review filter does a great job, but there's always room for improvement." the organisation said.

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"Mike" did not respond to requests for comment.

- Manawatu Standard

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