‘It’s not right to be banned for a negative review,’ says food blogger in review spat

Food blogger Samantha Wood has expressed disappointment over her ban from Greek restaurant Gaia, placed on her by Chef Izu Ani following a negative review she published on her well-known Dubai food blog Foodiva.

Ani claimed the review, which was written by guest reviewer Matt Broderick, was ‘personal’ and relates to a previous clash with Wood after he refused her request to pay thousands of dirhams to be included in her commercial concept Dine Around Dubai. The Chef behind concepts such as La Serre also accused Wood of asking for ‘freebies’ at his restaurants.

Speaking to Arabian Business, Wood denied the allegations and said the review was ‘objective’ and did not warrant a ban from the DIFC restaurant.

“No, it’s not right, but it’s a restaurant’s prerogative to treat customers, impartial reviewers included, as they see fit. I obviously don’t think it’s right to be banned for a negative review, especially one that is objective and constructive, but I have no personal issues with a ban as it’s one less restaurant that I need to have on my radar and I can use that money for other deserving restaurants,” she said.

Wood added that the move by Ani will likely cause reputational damage to his brand, going as far as to suggest a possible public boycott.

“All a ban does is create more negative press for the chef and restaurant, which can also lead the trade and public to boycotting his/ her restaurant,” she said.

While the food blogger has not personally dined at Gaia, she defended Broderick’s review, calling it ‘an honest portrayal of the dining experience’ at the venue.

The review describes Gaia as being “fawlty-esque”, in reference to the poorly run hotel featured in British sitcom Fawlty Towers. It also criticises its limited water options, tight seating plan and strict door policy.

But Dubai food blogger Food Sheikh, who also writes independent reviews, told Arabian Business that Gaia’s operator Bulldozer Group follows similar strategies for all its venues.

“I have been to Gaia with some friends and thought it was quite pleasant. Sure, the tables were tight together, but no closer than La Petite Maison, for example. Bulldozer group have a certain way of operating restaurants, evident in Sass Café, Novikov and Cipriani, so I was kind of expecting it at Gaia as well. They love the glamour, the beautiful people, the security guards etc. It’s their modus operandi,” he said.

However, Food Sheikh, whose identity remains anonymous, believes the clash highlights an underlying issue restaurants face from reviews by bloggers and social media influencers who demand free food in return for reviews.

“[Ani’s] subsequent response raises a larger, more important topic of influencers and their relationships with restaurants. Although Foodiva certainly doesn’t fall into this category, I think restaurants are getting tired of the parasitic influencers who hover around new restaurant openings like hungry flies to a pot of honey looking for freebies and preferential service,” he said.

It’s not the first clash between restaurateur and food blogger in Dubai. Restaurateur Samer Hamadeh in July revealed that a blogger had threatened his Akiba Dori restaurant with bad reviews unless they were allowed to dine with six friends for free on a Friday night.

“Just got legit ‘threatened’ by a food blogger after this sequence of events,” Samer said on Twitter under the user name @IAmMrBrightside.

Hamadeh had offered a blogger, who had reached out for a review, a meal for two at specific times, to which the blogger reacted with a threat.

“Blogger replies saying that they never get limited by any restaurant in the world and that they can pretty much make sure no one from the blogger community visits my restaurant EVER with one review so I need to decide. I reply saying I look forward to reading it,” Hamadeh’s tweet said.

Food Sheikh said such reactions show that restaurant operators are starting to push back, and that clashes such as Ani’s and Wood’s reflect the growing change in the relationship between restaurant and influencer.

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