I once visited the Piccadilly branch of Benihana, the international chain of Japanese restaurants, on the recommendation of The Bastard. I wish I hadn’t as I was underwhelmed and disappointed by the food, which was mediocre at best. It might be dangerous to write such opinions though, given the news that the Kuwait branch of Benihana is suing blogger 2:48AM for defamation over his unfavourable review.
As a restaurant review blogger myself, my initial sympathy immediately went out to 2:48AM, identified in some news reports as Lebanese ex-pat software developer Mark Makhoul. Whether the Kuwait branch is run directly by the Miami-headquartered parent corporation, or a local franchisee, suing a writer over his opinion seems like a disproportionate response and a massive PR blunder.
If you wade through the many comments on Makhoul’s original review, you’ll find a defensive and agitated response from Mike Servo, apparently the general manager of Benihana Kuwait, which generates even less goodwill for Benihana Kuwait. According to Fast Company‘s coverage, Servo later claimed that Makhoul faked his review to generate publicity for his blog and Benihana Kuwait is claiming $US18,000 in damages.
Although I have no knowledge of Kuwaiti defamation laws or the evidentiary burdens in Kuwaiti civil cases, from what I can see Makhoul may have opened himself up to legal liability. In his original review, he states (emphasis added) “The chicken was very chewy (I could swear it was undercooked if not raw) and tasted terrible.”
As we all know, eating raw or undercooked chicken can lead to severe food poisoning. Claiming the chicken tasted terrible is one thing, claiming it was raw or undercooked is much more serious. If Makhoul was writing literally, I hope he has photographic evidence (his review does have apparent video footage of his visit).
It will be interesting to see how both Benihana Kuwait and Benihana head office respond to the negative publicity generated by the lawsuit and Servo’s comment.