The ongoing saga that was the Sydney Morning Herald vs Coco Roco, a Sydney restaurant which sued over a less than favourable review in 2003, has finally come to a close. But what does the restaurateurs' legal win mean for reviewers and bloggers?
Nearly ten years ago, SMH restaurant writer Matthew Evans, reviewed Coco Roco, slamming its food, including lemoncello oysters which were described as "sickly sweet, overtly alcoholic, slippery, salty and bitter', not to mention pork belly, which resembled "parched Weetbix".
The key issue in the defamation case was that Coco Roco was actually two restaurants, and Evans neglected to clarify that he was actually reviewing the Coco arm of the business, a more upscale restaurant than the bistro, Roco.
Within six months of the review going to print, Coco Roco had shut, and its owners kicked off a defamation case against SMH's publisher, Fairfax. The lengthy case has involved a High Court hearing and appeals, with the restaurateurs finally emerging victors late last month, although compensation is still to be determined, according to Crikey.
But what does this case mean for restaurant reviewers or - perhaps more relevant in today's world - bloggers?
Not much, according to Ed Charles, social media consultant for some of Melbourne's top restaurants, and director at Tomato Media.
"The laws that apply for blogs are exactly the same as the laws that apply to traditional restaurant reviews. The difference is the practicality of suing someone - it costs a lot of money. So if you look at it, people who take legal action, because it's so expensive, are only going to do it against an organisation that has a lot of money. So if you're Fairfax or News Ltd you're more likely to be sued than an individual blogger," Charles told Hospitality.
"I don't think it [the case] is going to put reviewers off. It was very clear that the issue was that he [Evans] didn't make it clear which restaurant he reviewed. He reviewed Coco but said it was Coco Roco ... I think reviewers will carry on with what they're doing and bloggers will carry on with what they're doing."
Charles explains that the environment in which Evans' review was published is very different to today's, where everything digital dominates, and he says restaurants should be more concerned about their reputation on review sites like Urbanspoon and Yelp than on what a newspaper title reports.
"I see the statistics of a lot of websites and you'll find that something like Urbanspoon will drive 20 times more traffic to a restaurant website ... than any of the other traditional media, because they don't really share links," said Charles.
Restaurants can get far more traffic to the website from review sites nowadays than any other media site, that's what's driving people into their restaurants. That and things like Twitter. They [restaurant owners] are much better to be concerned about the negative comments there than the reviews."
In general, Charles said, bloggers with high profiles and a substantial following tend not to publish negative reviews, instead preferring to share their positive experiences and recommendations. Review sites, which allow users to comment on their restaurant experiences, aren't as forgiving so restaurateurs should focus more on managing and responding to any negative comments on these type of sites.
"Research shows that having some negative reviews alongside the positive reviews actually validates the positive reviews. It shows that you haven't sort of astroturfed [them] and put them up there yourself. And the minority of reviews are negative, but if you are getting a lot of negative reviews, it probably means there is something wrong with your restaurant and you need to run a better business," he said.
"Negative comments are a massive opportunity for restaurants because if you are a reasonable restaurant and negative comments are the minority, there's actually a golden opportunity for you to answer those comments in a nice, light way, in public."
Do you think blogs have the potential to damage a restaurant's reputation? Or do you agree with Charles and think that review websites pack more of a punch?