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Food critic in soup for reviewing restaurant before it had opened

A French court has ordered an internet critic to pay £5,400 in a fine and damages for posting an excoriating review of a gourmet restaurant in Dijon — five days before it opened.

The reviewer, who has not been named, was tracked down after he or she criticised the Loiseau des Ducs restaurant on the website Pages Jaunes, an online directory that carries TripAdvisor-style reviews.

“A very showy restaurant, there was very little on the plate, and the most garnished dish was the bill,” wrote the reviewer, who used the pseudonym “The Clarifier”. The comment was posted in July 2013 just before Loiseau des Ducs opened. The restaurant won a Michelin star six months later.

Ahlame Buisard, director of the Bernard Loiseau group, which owns the restaurant, filed a criminal complaint. “We wanted to take this affair right to the end and give a lesson to people who leave comments with the aim of destroying,” she said.

The Dijon court ruled that comments published before the opening of a restaurant “cannot correspond to an objective opinion based on real experience.” The comments “were aimed at dissuading potential future clients”. The offender’s motives were not disclosed. Ms Buisard said that the Loiseau group was happy for customers to post positive or negative reports on their gastronomic experience because it helped to improve quality.

“I hope this judgment will teach a lesson to all those people who leave denigrating remarks, which are not always justified and which hurt our profession a lot,” she said.

French courts have recently convicted people for leaving internet comments deemed to be libellous. Last year, a blogger was fined £1,800 after she posted a vitriolic review of Il Giardino, a pizza restaurant in the southwestern coastal resort Cap Ferret. She called the waitress a “harpy” and described the owner as “taking herself for a diva”.

The court ruled that the remarks themselves were legitimate as free speech but they convicted the writer, who calls herself “The Irregular”, over the headline, which read: “The place to avoid in Cap Ferret: Il Giardino.”

The court in Bordeaux said that the headline, which appeared in fourth position on Google searches of the restaurant’s name, amounted to legal defamation.

Amazon in the United States took legal action this month against 1,114 people whom it claims have posted fake product reviews on its site.

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