Fast Company

Chop Sue-y: Benihana Takes Blogger to Court Over Poor Review

One good reason for food bloggers not to move to Kuwait: The Benihana restaurant chain is seeking $18,000 in damages for a poor blog review.

Benihana KuwaitPlenty of bloggers post reviews of their restaurant experiences. But Japanese-style restaurant Benihana has taken a unique approach to quashing critics. It's suing one Kuwaiti blogger for saying he didn't like the food at the Kuwait restaurant.

Mark Makhou, a Lebanese national working in Kuwait, operates the extremely popular local blog Twofortyeightam. In a recent blog post, Makhou posted a frankly innocuous poor review of a Kuwaiti branch of Benihana:

We ordered beef negimayaki for starters followed by an Orange Blossom maki and a Hibachi Chicken. The negimaki arrived looking good and was probably the best thing we had there even though I prefer Maki’s negimaki which has a richer teriyaki sauce. The Orange Blossom was very ordinary, wouldn’t order it again. Now the Hibachi chicken which is basically grilled chicken, that was the worst. The chicken was very chewy (I could swear it was undercooked if not raw) and tasted terrible. Even after I had the chef add some more teriyaki sauce in hopes of improving the taste it didn’t work. [...] Would I go back to Benihana? No I wouldn’t. Their sashimi and maki’s are pretty cheap (KD1.5 for 5 pieces of Salmon sashimi for example) but there are two other Japanese restaurants at the Avenues, Wasabi and Maki, and I would prefer either one of those to Benihana.

Shortly after Makhou posted his review, Benihana's general manager in Kuwait, Mike Servo, posted a long and angry reply on Makhou's blog that threatened legal action.

We are eager to know your name and meet you personally if you don’t have anything to hide.

You mentioned clearly on a detour way on not to go to Benihana and go to Maki or Wasabi or Chocolate Bar and we believe that this is against the law of Kuwait, We respect our rights on not to advertise in your website and if we don’t, this will not mean that we will be hurt by your side and if this done, the court in Kuwait will be in our side to give us our rights. to make this conversation short . We want you to give us your information, your name, your number and your address so our lawyer will take it from there and be sure that you in Kuwait were the jury is 100% clean and fair. [...] We will not let it go and we will follow you legally.

This is the last comment from my side and LPRC side; we wish that you will be free to give us your info. BTW are you Lebanese?

Servo's reply alludes to the fact that Makhou is Lebanese. Non-citizen residents of Kuwait, including Makhou, have extremely circumscribed legal rights. Kuwaiti law is extremely favorable to businesses and non-citizens face significant barriers.

Shortly after Servo made that blog post reply, Makhou was served with legal papers seeking approximately $18,000 in damages. In the legal papers, Servo asserts that Makhou faked his review for publicity purposes. Makhou is scheduled for a March 8 court date.

In the meantime, the poor review lawsuit has turned into a PR fiasco for Benihana.

According to Abu Dhabi's The National newspaper, angry patrons have flooded the chain's Kuwaiti Facebook page with threats and complaints. However, an examination of the chain's Facebook page on Feburary 2, 2011 showed that Benihana has been deleting negative Facebook wall posts en masse. One user, however, did enter into a humorous Q&A with the restaurant's Facebookwall where he asked if he could get sued for a negative review as well.

A new Facebook page, “Boycott Benihana Kuwait,” already has over 100 members. Attempts to reach the Benihana chain by press time were unsuccessful.

Follow the author of this article, Neal Ungerleider, on Twitter.

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