Last February, a restaurant critic in Philadelphia found himself the "meat and potatoes" of a lawsuit filed against him for libel. The owner of the steakhouse, "Chops", Alex Plotkin, took great umbrage over the Philadelphia Inquirer's food critic, Craig LaBan's, critical review.
In the review, Plotkin referred to his $15 cut of beef as a "miserably tough and fatty strip steak." Owner, Plotkin, responded in his lawsuit, that he didn't even order a strip steak but instead ordered a "steak sandwich without bread." He continued, "No legitimate food critic would ever mistake, or compare a steak sandwich with a strip steak." Strip steak...smimp steak...The controversy took a new turn last week when a judge forced reviewer LaBan to give a deposition on camera. LaBan's attorney's are screaming, claiming that the reviewers anonymity is critical to the process by which he does his critiques. In addition, according to Kathy Matheson, of the Associate Press, "The case is unusual among libel suits. Restaurant and movie reviews are generally regarded as opinion, and opinion is firmly protected by the First Amendment. In this case, though, the reviewer is accused of making a false assertion of fact." Lawyers from both sides have their "clocks" running and one should expect a speedy resolution. Right?
This isn't something new, I did a little research and it seems to be spreading around the world, kinda like a food born virus. A few examples.
The year is 2000. In Belfast, Ireland, the owner of the Italian restaurant, "Goodfellas", sued The Irish News and reviewer Caroline Workman. Owner, Ciarian Convery's, court filing stated that her, (Ms. Workman's), column was "defamatory, damaging and hurtful" after she described his staff as unhelpful, his cola flat and the chicken marsala "so sweet as to be inedible." Ms. Workman went on to give the establishment one star out of a possible five. The jury took about ninety minutes to rule that the review was, in fact, defamatory and awarded the owner 25,000 English Pounds. My personal observation is a simple one: You have to have "conjones grande" to give an Italian Restaurant, owned by an Irishman, with name like "Goodfellas", a bad review.
June 14, 2007, The High Court in Sydney, Australia, decided, on appeal, that a bad review and a low score penned about a local eatery, Coco Roco, printed in a local newspaper was defamatory. The review in The Sydney Morning Herald in 2003, written by Matthew Evens, scrambled some eggs with comments like, the flavors of the limoncello oysters "jangled like a car crash". He continued with tidbits like, "the sherry-scented apricot white sauce on a steak was a wretched garish". Mr Evens finished his plate with the statement, "More than half the dishes I've tried at Coco Roco are simply unpalatable". In a chilling message to Aussie food reviewers, the High Court judgement said the article "had been an attack on the restaurant as a business'. There was no report as to what, if any, monetary award was to be made. It's probably going to be tough to collect anyway, as Coco Roco is no longer in business and the lawyers are still breathing.
In 2003, McDonald's corporation sued Edoardo Raspelli, food critic for the Italian newspaper La Stampa. In his review, Mr. Raspelli compared McDonald's burgers to rubber and its fries to cardboard. Officials of the fast food company quickly asked the court for undisclosed damages, but are reported to be as much as the $25 million McDonald's spent on advertising for the previous year in Italy. The fast food case is proceeding so slowly that the judge recently has asked attorneys for both parties to attempt to clear up their differences out of court.
Side note: Over 600,000 Italians woof down Big Mac's and other Mickey D. delicacies on a daily basis. The eateries are extremely popular in a land known for mama's cooking. Chef Boyardee, (10/22/1897--6/21/1985), must be turning in his grave.
Side note part deux: Attorneys never speed up a process.
Dateline: ONE DAY IN 2006, PORT ST. LUCIE, FLORIDA.
The owners of the Delmonico Grill filed a lawsuit against Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers and its restaurant reviewer, Patricia Smith, for being wrong factually and improperly negative in its content. In her food review, Ms. Smith hit on some of the most important points one would need in a eatery review. She described the interior as having "dimmed lights," and a "dark decor," that was something from, (If you are squeamish, I suggest you cover your eyes), "restaurants from THE NORTH IN THE 60s, where it would be completely normal to find people sipping gimlets or martinis before digging into dinner."....Gasp....
Ms. Smith went on to inform the dining elite that the temperature in the restaurant had the "chill of arctic air." Owner, Michelle Deroche said, "When you read the review, it makes the restaurant sound like a cave." Yes, important stuff here! A judge has allowed the lawsuit to move forward and the lawyers are deep into discovery and depositions, (and of course, into each sides pockets), I would expect a few hundred thousand dollars down the road, a settlement will be reached.
There's plenty more where this came from but I think you get the drift. I wrote this under "Opinion", because I have one. Lawyers, in general, take up needed space and should get their own country. Big name food critics have bigger egos than a Thanksgiving turkey platter. I personally like critics that tell me about a place I can't find in the yellow pages or on a billboard. I want info on a new adventure in food, not a discussion of the texture of the creamed cauliflower at Cafe LePuke. I yearn for the hidden places. Our own, Pleasurepalate, for example, writes the sort of reviews that gets your mouth salivating while you simultaneously "map quest" the new restaurant's location.
"It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine anyone conjuring up a restaurant, even in their sleep, where the food in it's mediocrity comes so close to inedible."
Restaurant review of Chittagong Charlies in London, England.
WORLD - AN EDGE IN MY VOICE
Copyright © 2010 Steven Lane
Restaurants Around the World Sue Bad Taste Food Critics
Copyright © 2010 Steven Lane
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