“If someone’s dairy intolerant, how can I give them milk or cheese?”
- Credit: Archant
Michelin starred chef Galton Blackiston is seeing red this week after a customer made what he claims are unfair allegations against his north Norfolk restaurant, Morston Hall.
Using the online review platform Tripadvisor, a recent guest alleges they were told dietary requirements could not be met, and that having explained to Morston Hall they had a dairy intolerance, they were left disappointed when butter and cheese were substituted for dairy-free alternatives in their meal.
These are allegations the Norfolk-born chef refutes, and the review has resparked a debate with restaurateurs and business people across the UK, who have come to Galton's defence and revealed their own Tripadvisor horrors.
"I've always had a problem with Tripadvisor," Galton says. "We didn't ask to be put on there and you can't take yourself off. It's just there and you're at the eye of the storm for anybody who wants to say negative things. OK so 99% of what we get is positive feedback, but that's the normal for us so we really focus on some of the things people might not be happy with."
But, says Galton, allegations such as this most recent one, can be damaging to business - regardless of how many 'five star' reviews an outfit has.
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"I was furious," he adds. "We absolutely cater for dietary requirements and for someone to say we don't annoys me. When we hear 'intolerance' or 'allergy' in this industry our ears totally prick up because we've never been in a position where we have to be so aware."
Readers will recall a case just this month where 18-year-old Owen Carey (who had a dairy allergy) died after eating a Byron Burger containing traces of milk.
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"These people become far and away the most important in the restaurant and dairy allergies are the hardest. We need to be totally aware. But when someone says they are dairy intolerant but happen to eat butter and cheese, I am on the kitchen's side saying 'don't risk it'. I could be sued. It's a zero tolerance thing for me and I'm paranoid about these things. If someone's dairy intolerant, how can I give them milk or cheese? And how can you criticise me for not giving you these things? We have a girl who works for us who can't have dairy because it makes her physically sick. I don't regret speaking out. I'm saying what a lot of hoteliers are thinking."
While he thinks there is still a place for Tripadvisor, Galton believes it should be better regulated to guard businesses against false reviews made by disgruntled customers and rivals - something he (and others who have contacted the EDP) says is rife in the industry.
"Anyone can have family members or staff members write a fake review. Or it could be a disgruntled member of staff, but Tripadvisor will not take these down. Why? We had someone come to No1 in Cromer [Galton's other restaurant] and because it was closed they gave us one star. They could have flipping looked at the opening and closing times. That's what gets me. I want to reply on Tripadvisor to things like these but I won't."
Galton continues, saying he thinks the online platform has "too much power" and is "too fallable".
"It serves a purpose, don't get me wrong. Quite a lot of reviews are helpful, whether criticising or glowingly positive, but the present situation is they are untouchable. I wouldn't mind it staying as a platform, but there has to be a better way of sifting through. You can generally tell the ones that have a grudge.
"Every single establishment would have a story to tell about Tripadvisor!"
We firmly believe in the travel community's right to write about their genuine experiences - positive or negative - even if the business disagrees with that reviewer's opinion. The right to write is one of the key principles TripAdvisor was built on, as well as to promote transparency in the hospitality industry and to level the playing field for businesses large and small. By staying true to these principles, we believe we have had a positive impact on the hospitality industry over the course of the last two decades. We do however think it is fair to give establishments a voice as well, this is why we have the management response tool, a free service which ultimately gives the business owner the last word for each and every review on the site. We strongly encourage owners to make use of this tool."
"It is also worth noting that consumers do not rely on one review in isolation. Studies show that most TripAdvisor users call upon the full weight of opinion about a business, not the views of just one or two reviewers. The volume of reviews on TripAdvisor ensures that the impact of any one review is minimal."