Top chefs stick knife into diners who resort to online ‘blackmail’ when they can’t get a refund

Chef Tommy Banks at The Black Swan at Olstead. Picture by Simon Hulme

Their cooking has delighted some of the world’s most discerning palates and their waiting lists are often months long – but some of Yorkshire’s leading restaurateurs have been left with a nasty taste in their mouths by the underhand tactics of a few customers.

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The Michelin-starred chef Tommy Banks is the latest to skewer diners who cancel their bookings and then threaten a negative online review when they are declined a refund.

Mr Banks, who runs the Michelin-starred Black Swan at Oldstead in the North York Moors, went so far as to accuse one customer of blackmail, in an angry tweet on Tuesday.

“Not for the first time we seem to have been threatened with bad reviews online unless we let them off the cancellation policy to which they previously agreed,” he wrote.

“We should never back down to what appears to be blackmail.”

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Mr Banks is not the first to be threatened by “trolls” who post anonymous reviews on sites like Trip Advisor and Facebook.

A survey two months ago by the British Hospitality Association found that 85 per cent of the country’s hotels and restaurants had fallen victim to malicious or fake online reviewers.

The Black Swan is one of several leading restaurants to use the “Tock” website to manage bookings at its dining room and bedrooms. The site warns that “just like a sporting event, concert or theatre ticket, all sales are final”.

But Mr Banks told The Yorkshire Post: “We’re now getting this quite a lot – people saying, ‘I can’t come, I want my money back or else I’ll do X Y and Z’, which effectively is blackmail. They go off and write reviews even though they haven’t eaten with us.

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“It’s like me booking a concert ticket, deciding I couldn’t go and then contacting the pop star to ask for my money back.”

He added: “Restaurants operate on small margins. We only have nine bedrooms and if suddenly two of the guests don’t turn up, 20 per cent of our income is gone. You can’t afford for that to happen when you’ve got staffing and other costs so you have to have these policies in place.

“I think 99 per cent of people know that. But a few people just think they can abuse the system by leaving anonymous reviews. If they had to say who they were, they wouldn’t to it.”

Tock is also used by The Man Behind The Curtain, Michael O’Hare’s Michelin-starred restaurant in Leeds and by Ham and Friends in the city’s Grand Arcade – a sister establishment of the Friends of Ham bars in Leeds and Ilkley. Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant, The Fat Duck in Berkshire, also uses it.

Ufi Ibrahim of the British Hospitality Association called for greater transparency on online reviews. “The relentless and largely unregulated growth of the digital intermediaries means that hospitality businesses are at the mercy of these firms,” she said.

Last year, the Black Swan was named by Trip Advisor the best restaurant in the world, based on its customer reviews.

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