The cost of opening a new fine dining restaurant like Giannino at the exclusive Meyden Beach Club in Dubai is unimaginable. After all, the restaurant is an offshoot of a three-Michelin-star, century-old Italian restaurant in Milan run by Chef Andrea Brambilla.

Online Reputation Disaster for Giannino in Dubai

During Giannino’s soft opening, foodie Samantha Wood and a friend dropped in for a meal. A mostly complimentary restaurant review on Samantha’s FooDiva blog followed.

Awarding the restaurant a three-out-of-five knife rating, Samantha noted the excellent quality of the food, the exceptional execution of the dishes, some minor service lapses, a dish she felt not authentically Italian, and higher-than-expected prices for the location and service level.

The next day, Chef Brambilla posted a lengthy reply that included this line: “The only squash at the table was attached to your neck.” And, my favorite, nasty-gram: “Go please to other restaurants in other locations, check them out but don’t forget to wear first a condom on your tongue in order [to] contain the orgasm of your ignorance.”

Wow.

The chef’s response so interested Tahira Yaboob, a freelance feature writer, that she did a story for the UK Telegraph. Alex Ward also wrote one for the UK Daily Mail. Tahira’s story eventually appeared on Drudge, a news aggregation site with just under 2 million unique visitors per day.

These stories about the chef’s rude response have been shared extensively by users of Twitter and Facebook and commented upon on Fark, and Chow Hound. The chef’s nasty reply even made the newspaper in Italy.

Although it is not easy to measure exactly how much damage this ill-advised reply will do to Giannino in Dubai, it will be substantial. Or will it? Will customers flock to Giannino’s Milan to see if they can meet the passionate chef or will they simply stay away?  My bet is the reply will be a turn off for most.

Here are a few takeaways for business owners who want to respond more effectively when an online review stings:

1)    Respond dispassionately– Because Chef Brambilla felt the critic was wrong about the authenticity of his food and unfair in her other criticisms, he responded angrily. Offering advice to the chef, one commenter quoted Confucius: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”  If you are angry with an online reviewer, give yourself time to cool off before composing a reply. If you are too emotionally invested and want to avoid an online reputation disaster, consider hiring a reputation management firm to respond on your behalf.

2)    Respond politely offering a solution– The chef’s salty language and rudeness became the story because they defy what patrons expect from the hospitality industry. Respond politely and professionally. Your online reputation is as much about how you respond as what fans or critics are saying about you. Had he acknowledged her observations and invited her back in as his guest the outcome would have been very different.

3)    Exercise care when crossing a language barrier – That the chef is not a native speaker of English is evident. Maybe the chef missed some of the nuances of the review.  Perhaps he missed its positive tone. The chef should have delegated his response to someone more fluent in English and less angry with the reviewer.

4)    Don’t get personal – Ironically, the chef’s response on FooDiva begins by explaining his point of view in a reasonable way. It looks like a winning response that will position Chef Brambilla as a knowledgeable expert on Italian cuisine graciously schooling a misguided critic — until the chef lets a few personal zingers fly. Those zingers probably felt good, but cost him the goodwill of an audience interested in fine dining in a city where he is on the eve of opening an upscale restaurant. Epic fail.

5)    Don’t give extra life to a negative story – The chef concluded his reply to Samantha Wood with this: “All the above is direct also to all ‘professors’ [who] without having a clue of what they are talking about [keep] writing, twitting, Facebooking. Guys get a life!”  By taking a clumsy shot at writers, bloggers, and social media users, Chef Brambilla practically guaranteed that his rudeness would be enthusiastically shared in ways damaging to him and his restaurants. Or will it? For most companies, such language and attitude would cause a boycott of that establishment, but, in this case, perhaps the Diva Chef will become a hero for his candor? What do you think? He certainly received more press than anyone could have imagined, but I don’t expect that attention will help him or his restaurant.

A lot of things can go wrong when interacting online. Make sure you always think twice before sending out a message.

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