Can restaurants block food reviewers and social media influencers from writing about them?

COMMENT, March 15th – In a recent Instagram post, @anneluxuryeats wrote that Dr. Ismail, while dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Taman Tun, asked her not to leave a review.

She explained that when she clarified the rule banning reviews with staff, she was informed, “It’s not for everyone, it’s only for food critics or influencers with a large following.”



This prompted her to question the rule, and she said: “Frankly I was quite disgusted because how can a rule like this be imposed? And I don’t eat for free? I am also a paying customer.”

This incident has certainly sparked debate about whether it’s reasonable to ban reviews from certain people. Or even enforceable.

Food reviews play an important role in the F&B industry. Whether the opinion is provided by a regular guest, the media, or a social media influencer, reviews serve as a kind of check and balance for restaurants.

If the review is positive, it will lead to more guests visiting the place. While some reviews are even paid for by the restaurants, many are independent, as in the case of @anneluxuryeats, who paid for her meal herself.

From the restaurant owner’s point of view, receiving negative comments is not easy. Sometimes the tone of reviews can be brutal and even personal. Some guests may also make inappropriate requests that go against the restaurant’s own instructions regarding how they serve their food.

One is reminded of the New York Times’ 2016 review of Per Se by Pete Wells. In that review, he downgraded the restaurant from four stars to two stars, citing “the long-held perception of Per Se as one of the country’s greatest restaurants, which I have shared after visiting in the past, seems to have become obsolete.”

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It came as a shock to the restaurant industry as Per Se’s Thomas Keller is seen as a leader in haute cuisine and many wondered how this rating would transform fine dining.

In good faith, Keller responded to the criticism with an open apology letter to his customers and promised: “We are not satisfied with resting on what we did yesterday.”

Restaurant reviews also serve as an important guide for readers to use when deciding whether or not to visit the place.

Whenever I look at a new place I want to try, I scour google reviews to see what people are saying. Then I hop over to social media and read the comments there.

Whether it’s a restaurant in a hotel or a coffee shop, the ban on reviews is completely unenforceable. There are some people whose taste buds I trust, and when they tell me a place is worth visiting, it’s worth considering. After collecting all this data I finally looked at the food pictures before finally deciding if I should try a place.

Of course, as a discerning guest, you should also know that things are changing. A place might not have the best reviews when it first opens its doors, but a few months later it gets much better reviews. Sometimes they tweaked things based on feedback from customers.

While there is no right or wrong when it comes to reviews, a ban on reviewers and social media influencers definitely violates their rights. This is even more true when the person is a paying customer as they are entitled to give an opinion on what was eaten.

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Controlling the critics will also be difficult as in this age almost every guest with a smartphone documents their dining experience by photographing the dishes or making a video. And checking everyone’s phones is definitely an invasion of privacy.

Some reviewers also hold back to ensure the restaurant treats them like any other diner.

However, with social media influencers having to be visible on their accounts, it’s also easier to spot them as soon as they enter a restaurant.

How does the restaurant know if he’s just having dinner there for a special occasion or if he’s actually there to review the place?

Still, a ban only sends the wrong message to the public that the restaurant is acting inappropriately. And if you ban something, there will always be a reaction.

Take this incident in Taiwan, for example. A restaurant in Kaohsiung called Fishers Diner made headlines in February this year when it banned TikTok and all TikTok influencers from its premises.

Taiwan News reported that their action to ban TikTok stemmed from the Sushiro incident in Japan, where TikTok shared influencers licking the spoon in a communal bin and rubbing a plate of sushi on a conveyor belt with a saliva-covered finger .

Since enforcing the ban, the Taiwanese restaurant has received backlash from guests who criticized the place for requiring diners to have their phones checked before eating there.

A restaurant should be open to reviews, just as it opens its kitchen to guests. Some have even started giving one star reviews despite not having eaten there. In response to all of this, the restaurant has made it clear that there will be no phone screening and that they plan to take legal action against those who leave reviews without even eating at their restaurant.

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One wonders if the damage has already been done.

Hopefully the restaurants here will consider the consequences of such a draconian action to discourage restaurant reviews.

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