The end of restaurant reviews?

Belfast is awash with libel writs at the best of times, but, we understand, that none have made it to open court in ten years. Not so now. One Belfast restaurant has today successfully sued the Irish News for a review by celebrated restaurant critic, Caroline Workman, who gave it a rating of one mark out of a possible five. The action has cost the paper a cool £25,000 and two weeks in court. Which, potentially, makes reviewing restaurants a potentially ruinous business.

PA have more details…

  • gordon ramsay

    it’s Goodfellas on Kennedy Way ffs, not a 5 start michelin diner. seems crazy to me – so what now? no movie reviews? no book reviews? crazy.

  • Percival

    If it had been Deanes 1 out of 5 most certainly would be deserved…..

  • Shore Road Resident

    This is really strange when the restaurant owner didn’t claim that he had suffered any financial loss. Presumably the jury was acting on instructions from the judge. With so much bad blood between the press and judiciary right now after the Lord Chief Justice’s attack on the media last year, is the local bench really impartial when it comes to libel actions?

  • That seems strange- surely people are entitled to fair comment. Fair enough if the review was completely out of order (and maybe it was), but in general it does society no favours when critics are walking on eggshells lest they find themselves the subject of court action for being honest. Perhaps restaurants and entertainment venues are too used to the brainless fawning that some ‘critics’ heap upon them, regardless of the actual quality of what they have to offer.

  • KeithQR

    it’s hard to pass comment without actually reading the review.

  • Mick Fealty

    Which could potentially be fraught with legal danger!

  • joeCanuck

    On the face of it, it does seem somewhat weird.
    There had to have been something egregious in the review.
    An ad hominem attack?

  • Bemused

    I sat through a number of portions of the evidence in this action. Trust me – it will ultimately be overturned on appeal (if not by the Northern Court of Appeal then by the House of Lords).

  • Shore Road Resident

    That wasn’t alleged, according to what I’ve read (admittedly, in the Irish News)
    The case was brought on grounds of hurt feelings.
    This sets some really absurd precedents.

  • susan

    I am wondering if we can get the same sort of protections put in for home cooks? From now on, until further notice, if someone places something hot on a plate in front of you, the correct responses are:

    a.) Lovely, thanks
    b.) Truly scrumptious!
    or
    c.) Please, ma’am, may I have some more?

  • KeithQR

    “The case was brought on grounds of hurt feelings.
    This sets some really absurd precedents.”

    Ah the good old jury system does it again.

  • The review has been removed from the Irish News website. However, a disgruntled reader wrote this letter perhaps in response to it (although it refers to a ‘May and Frances’ rather than Ms. Workman, so may be in response to a different bad review of the same restaurant):

    “‘We the people like it’

    I read the gourmet column in last Saturday’s paper. I would like to keep my response brief as I am sure articulate customers of Goodfellows will also reply. May and Frances may be a bundle of laughs in the news room but they come across as a whining duo.

    The number of cars outside the restaurant and the full tables inside should have given them a clue that we the people like it, even though we have cars and can go to other restaurants we prefer this one.

    I would suggest to both ladies that they nip over to Curleys, buy 20 fags and a bottle or two, go back to Goodfellows and enjoy as the patrons do.

    I also hope the management of Goodfellows take no notice of the column and don’t change something that does not need changing.

    Desmond Kennedy

    Belfast 17”

  • Shore Road Resident

    So there we have it: 2,000 years of jurisprudence stripped down by the good people of Belfast to its core message of “Yes, but yousuns are snabs”.

  • BonarLaw

    I wonder what Mr Durkan thinks of this given his current legal difficulty?

  • If I say the DUP is making a horlicks of things, can I get sued as well?

  • The Devil

    Does this mean technically the local butcher can sue Slugger if we accuse the Shinners of taking the soup

  • The Devil

    The Irish news should tell them that if anyone finds insects in their meal and report it to the paper….. that they will make it front page for a week, destroying his trade completely.

    Now that would be food for thought and legal

  • kennedy way area employee

    a ludicrous decision. restaurant reviews are written for the public, not restaurant owners. absolutely ludicrous.

  • Pete Baker

    The Irish News have said they will appeal the decision

    “The outcome of this case raises profound questions involving the freedom of the press,” a spokesman for the Belfast-published Irish News said.

    “We firmly believe that newspapers must have the right to publish fair and honestly written reviews, contributed by experts in their particular field and engaging in either praise or criticism when it is justified.”

  • Donnacha

    This is insane. What ever happened to the defence of fair comment/honest opinion against defamation/libel? Or do judges no longer give direction and assistance to juries?

  • Crataegus

    The law is an ass. Oops.

    Sorry what I should say is legal decisions are always profound, but a few are so profound that they are beyond the comprehension of mere mortals like myself.

    You would really need to see the article, but on face value glad to see it is being appealed. There is a big difference between opinion and libel, and we are all entitled to our opinion.

    El Matador

    I would suggest to both ladies that they nip over to Curleys, buy 20 fags and a bottle or two, go back to Goodfellows and enjoy as the patrons do.

    I assume you need to consume them first!? Sounds just the spot for a night out.

  • Bono

    “The case was brought on grounds of hurt feelings.
    This sets some really absurd precedents.”

    This thread has hurt my feelings. Whom can I sue? :0)

  • If everyone on here sued when their character was attacked or they got hurt feelings, the lawyers of NI would have a field day and Mick would be bankrupted :p

  • brendan,belfast

    this does seem absurd. so when the guy who does business book reviews in the Newsletter gives a business guru a slagging off, can he now be sued?

    surely this will be overturned on appeal.

  • George

    SRR,
    “This sets some really absurd precedents.”

    Jury verdicts can’t set precedents.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Thank God.

  • jone

    This seems to me to be pretty close to what in criminal trials would be called a ‘perverse verdict’ whereby the jury deliberately misinterpret the law.
    I’d be astonished if it isn’t overturned on appeal given that it strikes right at the heart of the fair comment defence.

    Fair play to the Irish News for having the balls to run rigorous restaurant reviews; far too many local/regional papers run utterly banal, timid restaurant reviews in which every tatty country carvery is ‘superb’.

    I know someone who worked on a big city in England who submitted a suitably critical review of a crap meal. Rather than run it the managing ed paid for her to go back on another night where she had a slightly less disastrous meal and even then she had to sweeten her copy. The two reasons he gave were a) not wanting to frighten off advertisers and b) a pathetic bit of reverse snobbery about not wanting to alienate people who enjoyed this dive.

  • willis

    Yeah but was it libel?

    Was it true?

    Sadly the original review is now “sub judice” or somesuch.

    What did it say?

    Cmon!

  • willis

    Jone

    One of the joys of the libel laws is the extent to which they encourage subtlelty. Would we ever have had a Golden age of Hollywood without the Hayes code?

  • Jone-

    “Fair play to the Irish News for having the balls to run rigorous restaurant reviews; far too many local/regional papers run utterly banal, timid restaurant reviews in which every tatty country carvery is ‘superb’.”

    You’re absolutely correct.

    I know some people might say ‘sure it’s only a restaurant review’, but (assuming the article itself was fair) this decision strikes at the heart of freedom of expression. Are we all to think twice before genuinely expressing our properly-informed opinions on such issues? I’ve run a few adverse restaurant reviews in my time on my own site, all based on my genuine opinion and experiences- it makes a change from the normal humdrum of political discussion, but perhaps I ought to reconsider whether it’s such a good idea!

  • moochin photoman

    Having eaten in the establishment…..its nothing to write home about let alone a restaurant review!!!
    Its BYO so the trip to curleys is a necessity (to wash the food down perhaps in a complementary manner of course)

  • GavBelfast

    It will, surely, be overturned on appeal?

    Diplock Courts for defamation hearings anyone?

  • Donnacha

    Willis, whether it was true or not is a pretty grey area when it comes to a review. It’s all on the reviewer’s perception and it’s a subjective thing not a clear cut case of yes or no. If the court of appeal doesn’t overturn this, it will be disgraceful.

  • MP-

    Maybe you should have taken some snaps of what was on offer and proffered them to the Irish News to support their defence case 😉

  • pepporoni

    El mat

    Is it true that the SDLP in West Belfast hold membership meetings there on a regular basis.

    “Table for six sir”

  • moochin photoman

    Lets just say that the contribution from Curleys had kicked in by that stage!!!

  • Barf

    Fair play to the Irish News for having the balls to run rigorous restaurant reviews; far too many local/regional papers run utterly banal, timid restaurant reviews in which every tatty country carvery is ‘superb’.

    Exactly……

    Local journos are pish poor never a critical word written. e.g. car bloke in bel. tel. whose strategy seems to be rehash PR platitudes for each new model – never once does he of sub-editor / byeline writter say …ehh this car is shite don’t waste your cash.

    Same goes with eating out – lazy hacks taking papers money for a meal out for them and their squeeze.

    The Goodfella verdict is bollox – so much for the 12 good men and true aphorism – 12 punters who eat out in crap diners and wouldn’t know decent fresh prepared food if it was sitting in front of them. That is more travisty and reflection on society that infringement of press freedoms.

  • jone

    GavBelfast

    Libel is the only type of civil case held before a jury but there is a growing trend of judges sitting alone, eg Irving vs Lipstadt was heard by Gray J sitting on his own.

    This follows a change in the Defamation Act in 1996 which allowed judges to go without a jury if the case involved large amounts of scientific or documentary evidence. Lord Bingham also seemed to give tacit encouragement to follow this path as some of his judgements implied that libel juries are a bloody menace.

    Some libel lawyers – mainly those acting for claimants think it’s used too often. They reckon the unpredictability of the jury has a bigger upside for them – as this Irish News case demonstrates.

  • What that pizza cost the Irish News is anybody’s guess – upwards of £500,000. And now they want to go to the House of Lords….

  • Eddie

    Not referring to Goodfellows now, but…
    Surely there’s a way to avoid such libel actions. You can say that you were absolutely delighted by the quaint service, entranced by the long meditative periods between courses, much taken by the colourful language of the staff, attracted to the whimsical verbiage of the owner…that sort of thing…”an experience never, ever to be forgotten” etc etc

  • Penelope

    Eddie – You should submit your CV for the job… such critical language!! 😉

  • For a bit of craic, I went to Goodfellas last night for a meal. The shellfish were frozen, not fresh. I know this to be correct, cos someone asked the waitress, who was good enough to check with the kitchen.

    Fortunately, I have no real taste, so I was happy enough to be palmed off with a big portion.

  • joeCanuck

    The last thing we want is a bland review to go along with bland food.

  • Sometimes a poor review works out quite well. I know of one restaurant here in Dublin, who got a few lukewarm reviews over the space of a coupe of weeks, and were booked out for weeks on end afterwards.

    I remember a few years ago, a restaurant reviewer in the Irish Times did an unmerciful hatchet job on a small neighbourhood restaurant in Wicklow town. The following week, the owner of the restaurant took out an ad on the restaurant page of the paper, thanking their many regular customers and friends for their kind words and support in light of the recent review.

    The same reviewer never wrote another review for the IT. As far as I know, the restaurant is still going strong.

  • There’s quite a bit of precedent for this. Most people don’t sue if they really have a reputation to lose, or no reputation at all, as they don’t want the bad publicity to be amplified. However, it sounds like these people do have a reputation, and the patrons like it, so it’s worth their while.

    If you’re going to say bad things about someone or their business, do it carefully, or budget for the occasional court case. I have no sympathy for the newspaper.

  • jone

    GerryOS,

    You’ve pointed to an important factor in restaurant reviews; a professional reviewer/ food writer will be visiting a large number of places and will have an acute awareness of the difference between good, and and indifferent food. They’ll be eating with a critical tounge.

    For the patron of a neighbourhood restaurant, say a pizza parlour in a working class area of Belfast, it might be the only place they eat in and anyway the quality of the food may not be their prime motivation for eating there. It’s a bit like your local pub – it may not be the Cafe de Paris but it’s just round the corner, it’s affordable and they know you.

    But whereas most local pubs will at least pour a half decent pint of Guinness too many neighbourhood restaurants get away with serving incompetently cooked food.

  • Shore Road Resident

    There is no reason why cheap food has to be bad or why working class people have to eat bad food.
    There is a subtext to much of the comment here (and in court) that a snobby restaurant critic should have realised Kennedy Way deserves no better. Yet it’s the critic who is apparently the snob. Go figure.

  • wc fields

    Goodfellas is a good idea that in execution is hit or miss. Love the idea of the Italian-Irish connection. But sadly for those who like pizza and pasta, the emphasis is on the Irish half of the connection. It is not awful food; it could be better. It’s not a bad wee place, though.

    Gordon Ramsey is also currently very upset about an unflattering review of his newly opened New York restaurant – don’t know if he will sue or not.

    Either way it’s publicity and there will be enough people going to see if ‘it is really as bad as they say’.

  • Philip Cowan

    If any of you fine fellows happen to come across the original article, please let me know (philipjcowan@googlemail.com). I teach journalist how to avoid this sort of thing and I need to know what the poor critic said to land her in the soup.

    Philip Cowan

  • Philip Cowan

    That of course should be journalists (plural).