Tripadvisor - my personal view

I've rewritten this piece a few times so as not to respond emotively.

Its really frustrating to be targeted by a campaign of abuse by anonymous sources. This is exactly what the restaurant has been subjected to recently in a deliberate attempt to damage our business via the Tripadvisor website. Should I just ignore it and rise above it ? Maybe.

I like the idea of independant review sites but I genuinely have serious doubts as to how they can be valid, it is just far too easy to manipulate and fake reviews. I think they cannot be entirely ananymous without any review being suspect ... and I say this as a restaurant with many more positive than negative reviews.

Why the campaign ? I'm not sure, perhaps a member of staff that I have sacked or perhaps a competitor or someone I have upset ... I don't really know. I have only sacked staff go for reasons of incompetence, non-attendance (or both) so I guess there might be some resentment there. My local competition in town I have a good working relationship with and we share after work drinks so I certainly don't cast any aspersions their way ! We have had a few customers who take extreme umbrage, out of all proportion, to how we cook and/or serve food at the restaurant and to be honest I'm fine with them posting a negative review as we have a very defined style that will not suit everyone. We do go to a lot of effort to be clear about the style of the restaurant via website, sample menus and photos.

How do I know its a campaign not actual issues ?
  • The dishes that are referenced we don't serve (Rump steak)
  • The layout of the restaurant has been made up ('the cutlery was spilled outside the toilets' ... the loos are on another floor altogether)
  • Conversation that didn't happen ('Matt laughed at a fly in my salad')
The tone of some of the reviews is of such fury it actually makes me feel uncomfortable ... surely no one should get that upset over a meal ??

Don't get me wrong, there are negative reviews on Tripadvisor that are certainly fair and I'd love to be able to respond. We did have a vegetarian waitress who sneered at meat eaters ... for about two days until we parted company, some dishes have stayed on our menu for a long time, Fillet steak, bearnaise and smoked mash is a keeper but the goat's cheese salad has finally been replaced with a lovely goat's cheese pannacotta with beetroot crisps, poached and powdered rhubarb for the winter. There has been the occasional booking issue, some our fault, and some, I suspect a result of there being more than one restaurant called The Wild Garlic, at last count there are three in the UK I'm aware of.

I'm not going to respond to Tripadvisor, I find the anonymity of the site an invitation for some very unfounded reviews. I know approx 10% are fake for the reasons above. I know a number have been put up by a couple of single parties who have very strong ties to a competitor, I would like to think the competitor hasn't asked them too and they are acting out of a sense of loyalty. I know a number have been written as a result of me not acceding to blackmail and giving a free meal 'or we'll put negative reviews about you'.

If you are happy or unhappy with the restaurant in some way please post a comment to this blog entry, like all of my blog comments I will publish as long as you don't hide behind anonymity.



  1. Blackmail! bloody hell. Good job I am not in a customer facing job. The air would be blue as would their arses if they said something like that to me. I'm not that taken with Tripadvisor as some of the reviews seem overly critical. If I am unhappy I complain at the time, Foil in my steak (not at your place) - yes I complained, no point writing a bad review though as they gave us free pudding. No kitchen is perfect. We all make mistakes. Only time I resisted complaining about bad food was when I knew a waitress. I did not want the bad food to reflect on her great service.

  2. fair play matt, totally respect your comments! i have not eaten at your place but do intend to on my travels this year. you have some great reviews (in addition to tripadvisor) and if your cooking meets some of the feed back i have heard you have nothing to fear. smear or envy seem to be the driving source.. as well as fear i assume. keep up the work and bums on seats count more!! of which i am sure you have enough
    @bugchef74 oops @bigchef74

  3. Mat, this is a good post, and as far as I am aware, Tripadvisor allows you to respond to reviews. Perhaps you should put this piece there too? Don't sound defensive, just state your case.

    You'll find that this works remarkably well.

    Unfortunately, you will never be able to plaease everyone, but if there are malicious reviews on the site you should certainly be able to get them taken down, or at least rebutted. Its easy to spot a fake id, they won't have many reviews, and they owuld have been created specially to review you. That's a big red flag, and I wouldn't hesitate to complaint to the site about this.

    I am sorry to read about this, for sure, as the majority of reviewers are honest people who would just like to state their opinions and people like me do follow some recommendations, but on the whole, we also are sensible about knowing who has avendetta and who doesn't.


  4. My review in Olive magazine at the end of 2009 speaks for itself. I had never set foot in Beaminster before, let alone the Wild Garlic, yet left in the sure knowledge that we had eaten some of the freshest, least pretentious, most beautifully presented food, by the friendliest and most 'comfortable' staff of anywhere we'd visited. It's a fair trek for us but we've visited 3 (I think!) times since, once with a family party for a rather special birthday, which says it all. It saddens me that there are such bitter and negative people out there but they have a problem. I know who I'd rather be - someone who sees all that is good and has the deepest respect for those who give 100% of themselves. Shame the goats cheese salad has diappeared Mat - it was the most memorable and perfect dish I've ever seen or tasted! (That's not a critisism of anything else and Simon would probably prefer your venison!) Perhaps I'll order one specially next time!

  5. I'm not responding to false reviews on the site as it feeds the attention seeking that these people are wanting. We have asked the site to take down the false reviews. If they are fairly negative then perhaps I should respond but few of them really need a response ... I'm more than happy to take some of those on the chin

  6. Mat, I did in fact read the Trip Advisor reviews and realised that the very bad review had been made up for the reasons you state above - I have previous knowledge of your restaurant but others may not. This could have a damaging effect BUT just remember all the very positive reviews you have had from the critics who matter - the papers!. I remember when we first came to you not long after you opened, I did a review on my blog - I got a comment so aggressive and over the top (and incorrect) that I presumed someone had a grudge against you! I'm not sure what the answer is - maybe you should be like the thespian faction who decide never to read a review! There again if it were me, I'd soldier on and attend to those who are not anonymous.

  7. Wow, that latest bad review = serious sense of humour fail!

    I think I would respond if I were you, just a one liner - this is more for the benefit of the people reading the reviews than those writing them.

    That is hilarious about the vegetarian waitress, perhaps she should have realised that working in a restaurant wasn't for her...

  8. Personally I do not look at reviews until after I booked a place. One recent hotel after I booked it did have a lot of negative comments, it is one of the nicest places I have ever been.
    Good for you for rising above it and not taking them on


  9. Came across this via @DuncanBannatyne on twitter. What some people try to do is a disgrace. Have just looked at your website and will certainly like to come to your restaurant sometime soon. And it's not round the corner. I am in North West Kent.

  10. Hi. This is very interesting. I am in the process of adding a review section to our travel website. Reviews will consist of anything involved with travelling from airports to restaurants and i have been trying to work out the best way to get genuine, useful reviews.

    We will probably have a manual approval scheme which might hopefully pick out some that are obviously fake but it's hard to detect. We also don't want to discourage genuine bad reviews as that would miss the point of reviewing.

    As a user of trip advisor and other review sites I have yet to come across any place that doesn't have at least one bad review as often despite your best efforts you can never please everyone but I have made a decision based on the ratio of positive / negative comments. I think this goes for most people who use review sites as a research tool. A good establishment should always have a much higher %age of positive comments than negative but this doesn't excuse fake reviewers and as a chef / owner who takes great pride in their restaurant (as well as great deal of hard work, time and money) I can imagine this must be infuriating.

    I suppose if you aren't confident of your own product / service then you might feel the need to leave bad reviews for your competitors which is sad. As is the bribery tactic - shocking!

    We live in a world that is going social, where what people say on the web could start to have a real impact on the reputation and ultimately the success of your business. Unfortunately fake reviews are probably something that we will have to live with unless there is a way to verify them. Id be happy to hear any of your suggestions!

    I have never eaten at your restaurant - I am based well north of you but regularly visit friends in Weymouth so i'll try to call next time!

  11. Hi Mat
    Sorry to hear you've been having these sorts of problems. As a B&B owner we are also at the mercy of Tripadvisor, and I've seen some that are downright unfair. One B&B with 65 excellent score given 1/5 by someone because the B&B had failed to respond to their email.
    If it were me I would respond to them all, but I can see your point about given them attention. Howabout just responding to the positive and genuine critical reviews? At least then your potential customers reading Tripadvisor, who won't be aware of this campaign, will see that you that you take on board genuine constructive criticism.
    Hope it gets resolved.

  12. For a fairly moderate fee, I think you can get a solicitor to write a letter requiring the review to be removed?
    Might be worth it.
    One negative review amongst a load of good ones always stands out though - I'd guess most people looking for information should be able to extrapolate appropriately...

  13. Just rise above it Mat

  14. matt, trip advisor are famed for never taking reviews down, I've asked for one (not really bad) review to come down as I knew the local person involved had never set foot in our place, but to no avail.

  15. Blimey. If it was my restaurant, I would respond (very politely) to the negatives. For example "I'm sorry to hear that you were unhappy. However I am confused about the cutlery incident, it could not have been dropped by the toilets as they are on another floor. Perhaps you could get in touch so we can resolve any issues."

    That way a) they know their bluff is called and b) the unwitting reader - like me who did think "aren't the loos upstairs? maybe the door is downstairs, I can't remember" will know that the reviewed meal DID NOT HAPPEN.

    Because even though I've visited your restaurant, and had a wonderful time (my own review is still in TripAdvisor's pending pile after 2 days...) I couldn't guess which were genuine and which were not. I thought it would be very out of character for you to laugh at a fly in someone's soup, or even to roll out a tired cracker joke about flies in soup, but I did wonder if maybe as the soup was instantly replaced, you made an apologetic light hearted remark that was misunderstood. But now I know it didn't happen.

    I use trip advisor when trying to find hotels, sights, and restaurants. Indeed, last month I took friends to a restaurant in their own town that they'd never tried, purely on the strength of their reviews, and now my friends will go back again regularly. Before I read trip advisor, they'd never considered it.

    I stayed at a hotel which had several negative reviews, however I was pleased to see that the negatives had been responded to by staff saying "yes, we DID have an issue with a dog pooing in the drawing room, it only happened once and that member of staff has gone. We no longer allow dogs in the drawing room" which reassured me. As a customer I am glad to see when negatives have been responded to, it shows the proprietor cares about their reputation, wants to know the good and the bad, and improves on issues once they are brought to their attention.

    In your case, I would think it is worth replying "I'm sorry you were unhappy with the service from our staff. We did indeed employ a woman who made negative remarks about vegetarians, but we quickly became aware of this and she is no longer one of our employees. We welcome vegetarians and always have suitable dishes on our menu." As a veggie, if I hadn't been before I would worry about the review, but be reassured by a robust reply like that.

    I really do think it's worth responding, not "rising to the bait" or sniping in any way, but being apologetic for their experience, and being factual in your response.

    After all, I think the service industry is not about what people do right, but how they correct things when they go wrong. That's certainly the bit you remember. It's not your fault that many of the things in Trip Advisor have "gone wrong" but you can still put them right.

    Just my view, as a customer who relies on trip advisor.

    All the best, Flash / techiebabe

  16. it sounds to me as if someone has an agenda with these reviews as suggested I would respond on Trip Advisor and state your case that you feel these are bogus reviews and will not respond to them unless they are proved to be otherwise

  17. As Katy Higginson said, Matt, take comfort from the fact that those who use Trip Advisor to find hotels and restaurants (like me) notice the %age of good to bad reviews. If your reviews are mostly good, we will see thru the crazy nutters!

  18. ok ok ... we have posted replies ... thanks for the feedback and the positive comments ... lets see if they are published. Tripadvisor have refused to withdraw reviews we have said are untrue so it leaves little other recourse as there are too many people who read these site as part of their decision making ... including me

  19. Adam Raphael wrote a piece in The Sunday Times (can't read it as don't subscribe) re Trip Advisor and The Good Hotel Guide and slates TA - just can't trust it

  20. nathalie roberts18 February 2011 14:30

    "The world's largest travel review site" has a major flaw: 'reviewers' with only one 'review'. Tripadvisor and the likes are after traffic on their site so they can get money from their advertisers, not valuable and accurate content. No professional writers to pay!

    They do not have to take responsibility for their content, as they do not write it (so the US law is on their side) and do not have to investigate defamatory claims (as professional information sites -newspapers/magazines- would have to do).

    I read somewhere (but have not checked) that one of their Top 10 hotels last year had closed down by the time they published the results. All they had to do is check if the 10 hotels were still open…

    A reviewer is "a writer of critical reviews", gives his or her point of view and signs. Not sure an anonymous (and only once in lifetime) writer should be called a "reviewer".

    Anybody who knows how to use Tripadvisor and the likes will know from titles such as "DISGUSTING !!!" that the anonymous "writer" (with one entry) has a hidden agenda.

    Unfortunately, not everybody will know how to use user generated content websites and whilst they can be a good thing (giving people a voice has to be positive), they need to be used in conjunction with other information such as professional reviews, rosettes and food guides. Not everybody will have the time to do that and Tripadvisor can cause damage to smaller hotels and restaurants (and many hotels claim they have, Duncan Bannatyne being one of the famous ones).

    In Wild Garlic's case, managing an entry in the Michelin guide in less than two years is no mean feast so I'll leave this 'review' on a positive note, I've never been disappointed when I've eaten at the Wild Garlic. Long may it continue.

  21. I think regular users of Tripadvisor understand that this practice goes on and are able to read between the lines. I would certainly respond to poor reviews you believe to be fake as there are always new users on Tripadvisor who are not aware of the faking and will take the reviews as gospel.

  22. I HATE trip advisor. I don't trust it having seen it on watchdog and other similar tv shows. It doesn't work, isn't fairly managed and doesn't really help.

    I prefer to use blogs and twitter and get good honest feedback from that (be it good or bad). At least you know the identity of the reviewer and can contact them directly that way. I do post reviews on my blog, and would always be happy to discuss it with the restaurants concerned if they felt there was an issue and have had good feedback from restaurants who've appreciated my good reivews.

    Don't take it to heart Mat.

  23. I think Trip Advisor is becoming more and more discredited because it's quite clear the motivation of many reviewers is not to advise other trippers but to slag off a place because they have some kind of grudge.
    The fact you've blogged and tweeted about it is answer enough and is a story that will probably get picked up by the papers if it hasn't already.
    I'm just over the hill from your restaurant and have enjoyed it many times, also reviewing it on my blog (after which you took down that full length mirror in the upstairs loo). Even in the early days there were plenty of Mat Follas bashers. I think you have done all you can and more in silencing these so-called 'critics'. I admire your dignity in rising about it all. Keep smiling.

  24. Hi Mat, I'd like to see your piece reprinted in a national newspaper - Comment is Free in the Guardian maybe? Perhaps this is something Jane at Olive can help with? The issues you raise are pertinent to the current debate about the government getting rid of Visit Britain on the basis that sites like Trip Advisor do the job just as well. I feel genuinely saddened - restaurants are such high risk businesses anyway, this type of issue could put a business under. I am also very uncomfortable with the legal position - what you describe is malicious slander and could warrant legal attention, but obviously this isn't possible since the reviews are anonymous. That can't be right. Thanks for writing about this.

  25. Hi Mat, I was appalled to read the Tripadvisor reviews. I had the most wonderful meal and chat with you, the staff were very helpful and a delight. I have told all my friends that eating at The Wild Garlic is 'a must' when they're in the beatiful county of Dorset. Keep on with the good work Mat as you have very appreciative customers.

  26. I think Flash Bristow's suggestions on how to respond are absolutely on the money, and, on the occasions where I read a review and couldn't work out myself whether it was fake, they'd go a long way in reassuring me, especially if the majority of reviews were positive.

  27. I've noticed this more and more, a bit like spam, where when you see something mis-spelt or all in CAPS, or with some sort of by-line you haven't seen before your suspicions should immediately be raised.

    I use Amazon a lot, but always check the other reviews of a reviewer whose advice I may be about to make a decision based on. You will be astonished (not now!) as to how many single review super positives/negatves there are.

    The majority of the commentators are right in two ways; DO respond if someone criticises unfairly - we do take notice. Secondly, if someone writes a review without giving the originator a chance to reply/redress before doing so, then they are unspeakable. Makes me very bloody angry, to be honest as it is in human terms indefensible and the act of a cowardly, malicious creature whatever the environment. Just so you know that you are not alone in what you think.

  28. Oh, it's all a load of rubbish. Clearly, if the 'reviewer' doesn't have the courage to put their name to the piece then their view can't possibly be taken seriously by anybody with an ounce of intelligence. It's upsetting when people print lies about you though, so I do think you're right to respond - briefly and concisely.

    Really, I wouldn't worry about it further. There will always be jealous, spineless people around who have so little going on themselves that they thrive on attacking others achievements. Let it go and don't let their poison touch you for even one second longer. Your customers are your true feedback!

  29. Anne Bosomworth24 February 2011 23:39

    Having eaten at your restaurant with my husband we have always enjoyed it and intend to return again. The service has always been excellant, the food has met with all expectations and the facilites always clean and tidy. Someone out there is jealous of your achievement or has got the wrong Wild Garlic If I was unhappy I would address it with the owner at the time so why did this anonymous person not do that. I will be be returning for sure

  30. Matt, After a second visit to your restaurant I wrote to you personally last November(my first letter to any restaurant in 40 years of dining out and I am a local) about a bad experience at your restaurant which led 3 of my party of 4 to post a bad review on tripadvisor.
    As I got no response to my letter to you, I then also posted a review on Tripadvisor. It was accurate. I wasn't looking for a free meal with my letter, just an acknowledgement. I'd like to have spoken to you on the night but have heard from other locals that you don't like confrontation and are likely to chuck letters of complaint in the bin. Any comment?

  31. Pete ? Thanks for your balanced review ... 4 negatives from a single table ... seriously ? If it was that bad then really you could have mentioned it on the night.

    We have changed most of our staff in the last six months and have deliberately reduced hours and customer numbers to continue to improve our service. No restaurant is perfect however and
    we do make mistakes.

    I read all letters. I'm happy to discuss. I always respond if there is any point. I do occasionally receive letters which tell me how everything is wrong with my restaurant ... there is little point having a dialogue with those letters.

    Why hide behind what 'locals say' and not publish your full name ? No local can be telling the truth as to what I do with letters any more than rumours of us closing/opening in Bridport/Weymouth/London etc are true. Why not pop in and have a coffee (on me) if you are local and have a chat as you have obviously gone to some considerable effort to make your point many other ways apart from actually talking to me, I work most shifts in the restaurant so am hardly difficult to talk to.

    If your comments were constructive you would have had a response. If you just don't like my restaurant, that's ok too, I do not have to agree with you, the great majority of my customers do enjoy what we are trying to do and offer constructive criticsm when we mess up but if I were to please everyone we would be rather more average than I want.

  32. Hi again, this piece has really given us 'food for thought' (no pun intended!)

    In an effort to create a fair system and avoid issues such as fake reviews as is the issue with TA we have come up with the idea to have 'recommendations' rather than reviews.

    Initially this may seem a biased way to give out information as recommendations are naturally positive in their nature but the lack of recommendations would be the negative thus avoiding fake bad reviews. Of course you will get fake good reviews but i feel this is less destructive to a business.

    All 'recommendations' would be manually reviewed (and we would be able to tell if the same user was creating more than one recommendation) and all business owners would have the option to create their own page with the correct info along with factual based info such as awards and press mentions. We would also manually verify each owner’s submission.

    I'd be interested to know any thoughts on this!

  33. Trip adviser is shocking. Just last week I visited a restaurant with excellent reviews on there which was just awful. There are numerous examples of restaurants that have posted great reviews of themselves and even more numerous are the 'revenge reviews'. i.e. for some reason (it can be something as petty as not being seated by the window) customers will be upset and exact revenge through TA.

    I think more and more people are seeing TA for what it is. And those that use it aren't the people you want coming to your restaurant. I honestly wouldn't pay it mind.

  34. Have you thought about getting advice from Kwikchex? They are an on-line reputation company who are currently mounting a case against the anonymity of Tripadvisor. They have been very helpful in our fight against a reviewer who is attempting to discredit our business through defamatory comments. Perhaps worth giving them a call.

  35. Matt - I have only had the pleasure of eating in your restuarant once - and that's becuase it's a 2 and a half hour drive away - so it needs to be a special occasion. My husband and I LOVED everything you put in front of us - especially the little candle in his dessert as I had mentioned that it was his birthday when I booked. It shocks and saddens me that people will say things that aren't rue - whatever happened to personal integrity - once we lose that, all is lost I think. I loved watching you on Masterchef and wish you every success - you deserve it. Can't wait till be come again!


  36. Currently we have over 57150 restaurants and takeaways listed throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. New restaurants and takeaways are being added on a regular basis making Sideorder one of the most up to date and comprehensive restaurant and takeaway guide on the Internet. Our customer reviews include honest comments based on their experiences.

  37. Matt - I have only had the pleasure of eating in your restuarant once - and that's becuase it's a 2 and a half hour drive away - so it needs to be a special occasion. My husband and I LOVED everything you put in front of us - especially the little candle in his dessert as I had mentioned that it was his birthday when I booked. It shocks and saddens me that people will say things that aren't rue - whatever happened to personal integrity - once we lose that, all is lost I think. I loved watching you on Masterchef and wish you every success - you deserve it. Can't wait till be come again!

    Stan how much do accountants make

  38. Hi Mat! I'm a UK expat, now living in Thailand (since 2006). We watch satellite TV here, which runs shows like Masterchef under the BBC Lifestyle umbrella. Three years late, but we've just watched the 2009 series. And delighted at your success. We like your style of food, and very pleased the judges saw your vision and potential. Back in the UK, pre-2006, I was a forager. And greatly enjoyed the 'foods of the hedgerows', some amazing wines, too. If we get back to the UK in future we'll be visiting and eating. I checked the web to see what you had done since Masterchef. Reading your blog, I was saddened to see this type of idiocy. One seldom knows if it's jealousy, game playing or genuine. But genuine people don't hide behind anonymity. We run a business here in Thailand. And we have an ecommerce presence on the internet, where people can leave comments about our service. Some people are honest and open if they have a problem. Many (particularly Brits) are not keen to complain. A tiny percentage however, will turn the smallest problem into a major issue. They will lie to try to get 'authority' on their side. They will exaggerate to try to gain (often undeserved) compensation. Such is human life, a mixture of the secure and the insecure, and all levels between. People have short memories. All that comes to pass moves on. We wish you and your family many years of pleasure in your pursuit of culinary excellence. Push the boundaries!