Is it Okay to Judge Someone and Their Business Online?

The Growing Abuse and Hostility Faced by the Hospitality Industry Through Trip Advisor

Over the last few years, the unimaginable growth of technology has benefitted the hospitality and catering industry in many ways; from being able to simply book a table or room through an app, to discovering new methods of cooking in the kitchen. However, paired with this growth in technological advancement has risen an online platform that has become the arch-nemesis of the hospitality industry; Trip Advisor. Many moons ago, disgruntled guests would voice their grievances about dissatisfying food or disappointing service to a restaurant manager or member of staff before leaving the restaurant and they would feel either a) satisfied with the managerial response or, b) leave unsatisfied and pledge never to return. Complaints are always expected in the hospitality industry because unfortunately, you can never please everyone. Perfection is nigh impossible, mistakes do happen, and some restaurants are just goddam awful. However, with the growth of Trip Advisor; an online platform that enables restaurants, venues, and activities to be rated and reviewed, it has birthed a new generation of customer. Please welcome, ‘the keyboard warrior’. A self-righteous individual who believes that their opinion (all 3 pages of it and always negative) on where they have recently dined needs to be shared with the general public in order to cleanse them of their ‘awful and truly unforgettable’ experiences which more often than not, didn’t really happen in the way that they depict. 

I don’t think that Trip Advisor is all negative, and I believe that people should be entitled to form judgements and opinions on an establishment that they have recently visited. Through the platform, many businesses’ have gained online visibility and an increased number of bookings. However, what I don’t believe is acceptable and what I want to talk about today, is the concerning amount of negativity and twisted realities that lie within some of these reviews, and the wide-reaching impact that this negativity is having on hospitality businesses from an online platform that has 390 million monthly users. 

If you go to a restaurant and you are unhappy with the quality of the food or the service that you receive, am I unjust to raise the issue in question to the restaurant manager? On every occasion that you eat out, you expect a high quality of food or at least food that matches the price tag. I wouldn’t go to MacDonald’s, a perfectly good establishment that achieves great value for money and expect a gourmet burger topped with truffle shavings for £0.99. Neither would I take to Trip Advisor to write a review that their food ‘wasn’t gourmet’ when it is clearly a product fit for purpose; fast and cheap. Is it therefore acceptable for negative individuals to take to Trip Advisor to write backhanded reviews of establishments that are neither useful or insightful, to accuse a business of not ticking a box that they never aimed to tick? Is it fair that a customer will upon finishing their meal, pay up and leave without once raising an issue or complaint to then go home and write an abusive review?

The growing negativity on Trip Advisor to restaurants is difficult to monitor and impossible to stop, how are we meant to sort the wheat from the chaff? On one hand, a bad review may be completely legitimate, whereas on the other hand, the events may be twisted or even false. Recently, there has been a backlash on Twitter by chefs and restaurant owners against illegitimate reviews left on the online platform. Famous chefs such as Gary Usher have time and time again been inclined to respond on Twitter and other social platforms to highlight the devastating effects that these reviews are having on the reputation of their businesses and the teams of people that work day and night behind them. Hospitality is all about the entertaining of guests and welcoming people into restaurants with warmth and respect, why is it then that this respect is not returned online? Why do individuals gain enjoyment out of disrespecting businesses that are solely trying to provide a service? With the rise of the keyboard warrior, restaurants are left clueless to a dissatisfied customer who makes no complaint during their time at the restaurant but takes to social online platforms the next day. These abusive messages target restaurants and their staff in order to discourage new customers over minor issues, blackmail for discounts, and give malice over unreasonable expectations and unhelpful personal opinions and comparisons to different establishments. These Individuals opt to avoid confrontation and cast negativity over their experience from the safety of their computer under pseudonyms such as ‘purpleunicorn’ or ‘fluffy_duck1818’ and leave businesses powerless in their response to specifically targeted hate.

Perhaps these individuals have been conditioned into believing that their knowledge of catering gained through TV cookery programmes and easily accessible online content has left them entitled to share their opinions with a false sense of knowledge and superiority? Most people dining in restaurants aren’t chefs and it is the everyday customer that continues to beat the heart of hospitality establishments. Trip Advisor gives these customers a platform to photograph and share their experiences, but in turn, morphs certain individuals into inexperienced food critics who thrive off the power they gain by spreading negativity and affecting people’s pre-conceptions of restaurants, and that is if they still choose to visit. Despite the positive reviews, people are always more inclined to go online to write something negative as penance for their unhappiness. If you go out to a restaurant and enjoy a meal which is as expected, how many will take the time to write something positive online? 

It’s a tricky one, there is such a fine line between having a negative opinion and being respectful. For example, if you visited a highly renowned restaurant and you were unhappy with the quality of food, do you stand up and say something is amiss even though everyone else thinks it’s amazing? Or, do you keep quiet and save yourself from the personal criticism from other food critics (A.K.A the positive keyboard warrior gone sour) that perhaps ‘your taste palette wasn’t finely tuned enough’. Most professions and industries don’t have an online platform such as TripAdvisor where people are entitled to share, rate and review their experiences at bars, restaurants, hotels and cafés. There are no worldwide sites which rate teachers on their ability to teach, so it begs the question, is it morally correct to judge someone and their business online when they never chose to be listed in the first place?

I hope that this piece on Trip Advisor for this week’s ‘Food for Thought’ has raised awareness of the challenges that the hospitality industry faces through toxic online social platforms. There is positivity that comes from Trip Advisor and the site is used widely across the world, but an increasing number of twitter threads about false reviews prompted me to write on this topic of discussion. I have read tweets where chefs have had to challenge negative reviews of their restaurants that were written in spite from customers who have verbally abused staff, disrupted the restaurant, and been abhorrently rude to other customers. Attitudes towards the hospitality industry need to change, and in 2019 it would be nice to believe that everyone was capable of showing each other respect both inside and outside of the restaurant. 

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