Culture Etc.

The Customer Is Always Wrong

Some top-tier TripAdvisor clapbacks from a series of furious restaurateurs.

As a nation of shopkeepers, ‘The customer is always right’ seems like an Americanism the British would naturally be wary of. But when TripAdvisor and its ilk started websites that allowed customers to leave reviews, it tapped into another part of the curtain-­twitching British psyche: the complete inability to complain about anything in person. Google Reviews became a kind of neighbourhood watch for restaurants, a digital wish-fulfilment where the desire to make a fuss could be realised without any consequences.

The British customer, it turned out, was far happier to silently have a bad experience rather than resolving it in person, just as long as they could post about it later. Rather than fight back, cowering chefs and restaurant owners refused to call out these customers in fear of being downgraded or, even worse, cancelled, and respond­ed with either obsequiousness or nothing at all. The customer became king, if only to protect a 4.5+ rating on Google Reviews.

This is why the unspoken rule that chefs should never respond to their reviews is primarily being challenged in one arena: the diaspora restaurant. Non-British restaurant owners have no truck with the idea that the customer is always right, because they know that the customer is quite often a prick. They also know that hospitality only works when it cuts both ways – as soon as a someone leaves a negative review, then that contract has been broken. The hospitality industry could learn a lot from these patrons on how to deal with complaints: from complex argument, misdirection, mockery, to outright insults. Handily, The Fence has compiled a list of notable Google Review clapback techniques for restaurateurs everywhere to study, and asked a few of these saucy patrons why they feel the need to reply. (All misspellings and typos have been retained as an authentic expression of the inchoate anger all Google reviews are written in.)

1. Call them nerds
Trinidad Roti Shop

Review from Customer

Loved the fiery owner. However, I’ve tried roti before and it was different than this one. The taste was good but not the best I’ve had. Didn’t really care for the mac and cheese, it was quite stiff and needed salt. Some of my lamb was quite fatty, but I ate it. Good prices for the roti. And the portion size was big.

Response from Owner

Many thanks for taking the time for including us in your 200 plus review and 11 thousand posts however if you were unhappy perhaps talking to a member of staff would have rectified your issues.

Having eaten at Trinidad Roti Shop many times, I can confirm that the rotis are excellent and the service curt, but not in a way that betrays carelessness.

When I told Dulcie I wanted to talk about her clapbacks, she suddenly came to life, as if prouder of her insults than she was of the recipe of her roti. She told me that she started replying to reviews four years ago, when she noticed that some of her customers use Google Reviews as a form of ‘hostile entertainment’. She then promptly sent me an ordered list of reasons why the shop receives one-star reviews, ascribing to her customers a hierarchical list of sins, like Dante’s damned souls. These sins in order of gravity are: ‘having life problems’, ‘hiding behind aliases’, ‘not having a life’, ‘being representatives of other Caribbean restaurants’, ‘faking their Trinidadian heritage’ and, most serious of all, being ‘life jokers’.

Dulcie assured me that her customers, particularly the Trini ones, love her responses as much as her food. She’s also hit upon a surefire response technique: anyone not from Trinidad simply doesn’t know enough; anyone from Trinidad is almost certainly jealous.

Review from Customer

Roti does not taste like people from Trinidad made it. No sauce, taste awful. Please hire people who can actually make roti for your shop. Cannot eat anymore. Wasted my money.

Response from Owner

I was hoping you’d be more specific about which of the 1.3 million Trinis made rotis to your exacting taste.

2. Invoke the powers of relativity
Sim Sim Bakery

Review from Customer

Nadeem Khan. Not much meat in their sandwiches. (3 stars)

Response from Owner

sorry to hear that , might be the hand made bread quit big … we wish you luck with anther visit

3. Offer dire words of warning
Taste of Pakistan

Review from Customer

Cyberian. Unwelcoming service, waiter appeard with menu after 20 minutes wait that’s upon asking twice for it. Food was less than mediocre, hygiene standards are way below acceptable, not to mention overpriced. Will never go there again. (one star)

Response from Owner

You seem to have a problem with service everywhere you go. I am happy that people like you receive unwelcoming service. I am happy and glad that you feel the way you do.

I wish they never gave you the menu at all and kicked you out of hounslow instead.

We don’t want negativity at this very busy place. Cyberian stay away for good.

Nas, the owner of the perma-busy, lamb-based Berghain that is Taste of Pakistan in Hounslow, is well-known for his Ciceronian rhetoric, to the extent that many of his replies to the one-star reviews on Google can be classified as a kind of domming – a safe play of prowess and domination for people who want to be publicly shamed. In the review above, he deftly shifts through registers, from the serene (‘I am happy and glad that you feel the way you do’), to issuing a dire warning. He’s so good at what he does he makes the act of capitalising the name of one of London’s most suburban boroughs seem like a threat.

Nas started replying to reviews five years ago, provoked by the ignorance of customers to how a business actually operates. Like many immigrant restaurant owners, this was an enterprise that meant he had to leave his family behind, sacrifice his social life, haemorrhage money, only for some clown to rate him down because a freshly made karahi costs £2 more than the competition. He is a strong believer that the customer is not always right, but equally that the role of the restaurateur is not to treat customers with contempt, rather to give your best, to never cheat them, to instill that same care in the staff and to try to please, even when customers cannot be pleased. However, this does change when threats of physical violence are made. Having met Nas many times, I can only describe his physique as pious-hench, and anyone who lays a finger on him or his staff would almost certainly be bodyslammed through a table.

Review from Customer

Haider Ali. Absolutely terrible place the staff always fight with eachother and also with customers. To make it specific it was the short man wearing a jubbah, if i was the customer and he started on me he would get sparked out clean no doubt about it. do not visit this place you will be wasting your money.

Response from Owner

Yes Hater Ali With your only 1 star fake review. you couldn’t get a table. You think you are Mike Tyson?? You touch anyone here, you will be carried out on a stretcher. do not visit this place you will waste your life hater haiderbang

4. indirectly, but very blatantly, call the customer a moron
Josephine’s Filipino Restaurant

Review from Customer

I see the menu, outside their restaurant, but i didn’t eat there because it does not mention if the meat they use is halal or not. The restaurant should provide please, halal meat also to muslim customers, i like asian food where they use the halal meat thanks, Hussain Khan.

Response from Owner

The majority of the menu is pork

5. Accuse them of being disgruntled ex-employees

Review from Customer

Silviu Lucian (one star)

Response from Owner

Well done silviu. that why you lose your job.

6. Accuse them of being disgruntled competition
Falafel and Shawarma

Review from Customer

Zarife. I strong don’t recommend as the falafel is not cooked fresh and the shawarma full of spice hardly any flavours avoid avoid. Trust me theres a lot better Lebanese that is New Cross Road Beirut canteen. Go there strongly recommend Fresh cooked falafel at order in Beirut canteen and the best tasting shawarma in South East London

Response from Owner

Hello Zarife, According to Companies House you are the owner of Beirut Canteen.

It’s a bit sad for us that this is how you choose to advertise. We think there’s plenty of room in South London for delicious food!

Often there’s no way to tell for sure that the competition is surreptitiously leaving fake one-star reviews, and besides, Google do not enforce any code of conduct if you do happen to spot it. Therefore, leaving a one-star review is often the perfect crime for any jealous restaurateur. However, in this case, Mahmoud, the legendary owner of Camberwell’s premier falafel and shawarma joint, Falafel and Sharwarma, asked one of his tenants to do some amateur sleuthing to find out who was behind the mysterious reviews. Payment for the detective work was made with falafel.

Review from Customer

The Shawarma did not have any taste at all. I was charged for the garlic sauce- which was ok, however it did not have any garlic at all. If you want Authentic Shawarma Go to “Village fresh Naan” in Plumstead – now those are real Shawarmas.

Response from Owner

Hahaha. kishore, you wouldn’t happen to work for “Village Fresh Naan” would you? Nice try 😉

7. Neighbourhood watch
Josephine’s Filipino Restaurant (again)

Review from Customer

Dom. Food Hygiene rating of 0. Think I’ll give it a miss.

Response from Owner

Are you Dom the guy from next door? The one who’s always sheepishly looking in our restaurant from our restaurant, when we’ve got customers?

Are you the little filipino accross the road who gets angry when we get customers?

We see you watching us! (#^.^#) Hello!

1st thing.

If the hygiene level was 0 the council would have closed the place already. Guess what…

2nd thing.

Check the photos jealous boy Dom! We are well and truly open! Ha!

8. The Twin Peaks defense
Taste of Pakistan (of course)

Review from Customer

We ordered takeaway yesterday 14/09/21. We had haleem, sheesh kebabs and naan. The haleem tasted slimy with oil very spicy and looked like vomit not going to try this again kebab was ok but nothing special had tummy ache after and felt sick

Response from the Owner

This review doesn’t belong to Taste of Pakistan Hounslow. You had a dream.

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