Reviewer Beware: Biz Owners Who Went Too Far Over Bad Reviews

Consumer protection, Crime

Yelp Online ReviewsThere is no question that the Internet is the primary place most people get information and reviews about businesses. Sites like Yelp and Travel Adviser feature customer reviews on everything from restaurants and hotels to salons, spas, and even dry cleaning establishments. If a business has customers, it probably has online reviews.

Even the most attentive, customer-service oriented business has a bad day on occasion, however. Sometimes you will have to wait, or a miscommunication will occur, or expectations will not be met. Sometimes service really is just poor or the food is awful or you were treated rudely. In this case, you are well within your rights to convey your experience online, but it’s important to realize that negative review can come back to haunt you. While most business owners will respond appropriately to negative reviews—by offering to correct the problem, or using them as feedback for improvement—growing numbers of businesses are suing negative reviewers or even worse. In fact, some business owners become incensed enough to retaliate in horrifying ways.

Business Owners Gone Mad

When Elayna Katz left a negative review of Ottowa eatery Mambo Restaurant in 2009 after a bad meal, she had no clue that it would end up affecting her life so significantly. Katz posted a negative review because the olive-free pasta she had requested came with diced olives, the drink service was slow, she was served the wrong vegetables, and then overcharged. Mambo owner Marisol Simoes, who also owns a restaurant called Kinki was so incensed by the review, she set up a raunchy dating profile in Katz’s name and sent graphically sexual emails to Katz’s bosses claiming that she was a “tiger” in bed, was transgendered, and was into group sex. The emails were signed with Katz’s name. Katz  sued Simoes for libel and just last week the judge found Simoes guilty of two counts of defamatory libel, a rare charge in Ottowa. Simoes is scheduled to be sentenced in November.

In a similar situation, Cecelia Groark posted a negative review on Yelp about Bottled Grapes, a wine shop owned by wine expert Krunch Kretschmar, after she bought a Groupon for a food and wine pairing class and was then told that he gave her seat away. Kretschmar responded to the review by creating a fake blog under Groark’s name, which claimed she had embezzled money to support a drug addiction, that she had done jail time, and turned to prostitution. Groark has filed a lawsuit against Kretschmar that includes defamation and intentional affliction of emotional distress.


The previous examples are extremes; of course most business owners aren’t insane enough to actually defame someone online. However, many are filing lawsuits against negative reviewers in an attempt to shut them up, claiming that negative reviews are devastating to their bottom lines. While some consider these lawsuits valid, especially if there is a dispute as to whether the negative reviewer is telling the whole story, many legal experts consider these cases to be SLAPP suits, which stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. SLAPP suits are brought by businesses or government officials who claim defamation in an attempt to silence critics through intimidation. Although there is no federal anti-SLAPP legislation, 28 states plus the District of Columbia and Guam have statutory protections against SLAPPs.

Leaving Effective Reviews

By this point you might be thinking that it’s safer to just suck it up and never leave a negative review about any business online no matter how bad the service is.  Oftentimes, especially if it’s a relatively minor problem, it’s better to address it in person, on site, with the manager or owner.  You’re much more likely to have your concerns attended to instead of being left to stew about it.

That’s not always possible, of course, especially with online businesses. So it’s helpful to know how to leave an effective review of either type. The first rule of thumb is to avoid hyperbole. If a review is so glowing it sounds like it was written by the owner’s doting mother or, alternatively, if it’s filled with venom and exclamation points, people are unlikely to pay much attention to it other than for entertainment factor. Reviews that are well thought out, offer concrete examples of positive and negative points, and that are written with proper spelling and grammar are going to be most effective and least likely to result in a fake website with your name on it. Don’t include extraneous details–stick with what’s relevant. Also, do not name names–resist the urge to call out your jerk of a waiter by his given name. Templates and guidelines for review-writing are readily available online to get you started.