It appears that Benihana Restaurant has found a new way to maintain a happy customer base: it is suing those who say they do not like their food. In Kuwait, Mark Makhoul wrote a balanced but critical review of the new Benihana restaurant in Kuwait on his blog www.248am.comKUWAIT CITY. Benihana proceeded to sue him in a clear abuse of the legal process . . . not to mention good taste.
Makhoul went to the new restaurant and wrote that the service “wasn’t too bad for a restaurant that’s been open for a few days and the staff were really friendly.” He did not, however, like his meal and concluded “Would I go back to Benihana? No, I wouldn’t . . . There are two other Japanese restaurants at the Avenues: Wasabi and Maki, and I would prefer either one of those to Benihana.” He included a couple of videos from the restaurant.
That would seem pretty mild stuff for a food critic, but it was too much for Benihani’s general manager, Mike Servo, which served the blogger with papers.
Servo claims that Benihana’s name has been “destroyed and abused” and that, by encouraging people to go to other restaurants, he violated the law of Kuwait. He also referred the case to Kuwait’s criminal investigation department.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just improve your food, Mr. Servo? Servo has now achieved the remarkable result of taking a small blog review in Kuwait and making international news over the low quality of food at Benihana’s restaurant. On top of that, he has added the image of a restaurant that spends more time in court than in the kitchen in addressing complaints about its food.
I do not know Kuwaiti law, but this would result in Rule 11 sanctions in the United States as a clearly vexatious and frivolous filing.
The case reminds one of Mr. Chow of New York v. Ste. Jour Azur, 759 F.2d 219, (2d Cir. 1985), where a Chinese restaurant sued a food critic for a negative review. The reviewer made the following allegedly libelous comments:
(1) “It is impossible to have the basic condiments … on the table.”
(2) “The sweet and sour pork contained more dough … than meat.”
(3) “The green peppers … remained still frozen on the plate.”
(4) The rice was “soaking … in oil.”
(5) The Peking Duck “was made up of only one dish (instead of the traditional three).”
(6) The pancakes were “the thickness of a finger.”
The jury found for the restaurant and awarded $20,000 in compensatory and $5 in punitive damages. However, the court of appeals reversed and found that the statements were protected as “opinion.” Notably, the statement about the Peking Duck came closest in the court’s view since it was a factual statement, but the court still found that it would not support the verdict due to the absence of malice:
Because of the absence of evidence showing either that Bridault or Millau knew that Peking Duck was not traditionally served as three dishes or that they subjectively entertained serious doubts about the accuracy of the statement that it is traditionally served in three dishes, we cannot say that the existence of malice has been established by clear and convincing evidence. Thus, this statement cannot support the judgment entered below.