Social media is a very important, powerful part of life today. With most customers checking online reviews before booking a restaurant, bar or hotel operators know only too well the importance of good reviews and the dangers of bad ones.  As it is not possible to opt out of review sites such as Trip Advisor it is important that you actively monitor the reviews that your outlet is receiving and know how to deal with bad reviews in the best way possible.  As well as genuine concerns, operators have found some reviews are bogus or occasionally written with the intention of blackmailing the operator to give discounts.

Can you sue over a bad review?

In short yes – but it isn’t an easy or necessarily a desirable thing to do.

If you believe that an online review is libellous then you could consider bringing a defamation action. In order to bring a successful case you would need to show that the content of the review referring to your business was negative and false and that it “caused” or was likely to cause “serious financial loss to the business“.  This is often problematic as the author’s defence is that they were “merely expressing an honest opinion based on facts which existed at the time“.  In addition, you would need to quantify the loss suffered by your business as a direct result of the individual review – this is often difficult to prove.

Other legal action?

If you believe that an online review is factually inaccurate, or the author cannot have based their opinion on fact, but you do not have the author’s contact details to enable you to pursue them directly, then you can also consider sending a Complaint Notice to the operator of the website where the review was posted.

This Notice of Complaint must comply with the requirements of the Defamation Act 2013 and the Defamation (Operator of Websites) Regulations 2013. The website operator is then obliged to contact the author of the review and ask them whether they consent to the review being removed and to their contact details being passed on to you. If the website operator does not have the author’s contact details or does not wish to become involved in a potential action for defamation there is a good chance that they may simply remove the review from their website when they receive the Notice of Complaint.

Can you get a bad review removed from the website?

If it is libellous – yes. Website operators such as TripAdvisor have terms of use and content guidelines conditions which prohibit the publication of libellous or defamatory material.  If you report a defamatory review then the operator is likely to take the allegations seriously, carry out an investigation and remove any content which it finds to be in breach of its guidelines.  The drawback is that the investigation can sometimes take time and the review may remain in place while the investigation is carried out.

Can you prevent the publication of a bad review?

Possibly. Sometimes a customer will make a complaint whilst in your restaurant or hotel and threaten to post a negative review about your business.  In some cases customers may even try to blackmail you to give them a refund or discount by threatening to post a negative review.  In such circumstances you would be advised to contact the website operator and alert them to the threats that you have received and from whom. They will then actively try to identify any resulting review and prevent it being posted.

Practical tips for responding to a bad review

Taking legal action will be uncertain, time consuming and expensive. As a first step you need to ensure that you reply to a negative review in a measured and effective way.

  • Do not respond in haste and avoid an aggressive and ill thought through post in reply.
  • Make sure that you investigate the complaint including speaking to members of staff involved.
  • Respond with an apology and a promise to take action as a result of the complaint. This aims to make the customer feel valued and listened to – who knows with the right tone you might even get them back!
  • If the customer included positive feedback then repeat this in your response to show other readers that positive comments were also made.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.