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Kuwaiti blogger Mark Makhoul recently wrote a very critical review of Benihana on his blog. The restaurant's reaction? It sued the blogger...
The reaction of the restaurant to this criticism provides an excellent lesson in how not to respond to criticism online, and it has seriously backfired so far, with the story spreading all across the Middle East and further.
Having posted the review, which was very damning about the quality of the food, the Benihana GM left this comment on Mark's blog, threatening legal action:
We are seeking and consulting our legal dept. on how we can form a type of law suit against your website to be brought up to the Kuwait authorities. We respect opinion, but we see it in a way that Benihana name have been destroyed and abused on your website. We are eager to know your name and meet you personally if you don’t have anything to hide.
The company then followed up this public threat by serving Mark with a lawsuit, and the blogger is due to defend himself in court in March.
There was also what seems to be an embarrassing attempt at astroturfing on Mark's blog, with several positive reviews of Benihana left from the same IP address:
Regardless of the outcome of the trial, and hopefully Benihana's case will be thrown out, the restaurant has attracted a wave of bad publicity across blogs, news media, and social networks.
There are thousands of comments using the Twitter hashtag #BenihanaKUW:
The restaurant's Facebook page was also flooded with comments, most of which have now been removed. A gesture which, as Fake Plastic Souks points out, could be seen as showing contempt for the views of the general public.
In another development, Benihana Inc left a statement on Facebook, and was keen to distance itself from the Kuwaiti version, saying this was a separate entity owned by Benihana of Tokyo, Inc.
Benihana Inc must be pretty worried about the actions of its namesake, as the brand damage may well affect them both.
It's hard to see how the company could have handled this matter any worse, and it clearly didn't understand that consumers have the right to express their opinions online, as well as the potential consequences of attempting to silence critics with threats.
The restaurant could have responded to the bad review with a comment expressing regret for the bad experience, a promise to improve, and perhaps an invitation to Mark to revisit the restaurant and review it again.
There is now a campaign against the Benihana lawsuit, and it doesn't look like its going to go away anytime soon.
Now, the company needs to realise that it is fighting a battle it simply cannot win, and that the only course of action should be to stop the lawsuit and begin the hard work of repairing the damage done to the brand.