Benihana Kuwait sues blogger for $18,000 over bad review

Mark Makhoul, a Lebanese software developer and blogger in Kuwait, wrote an unflattering review of the newly opened Benihana restaurant in Kuwait. Quickly, his blog's comment section filled with clumsy astroturf posts, all sent from the same IP address, purportedly reports from satisfied diners who disagreed with his assessment.

Then it got weirder: the restaurant's manager, Mike Servo, posted a comment accusing the writer of shilling for his competitors, and threatened a lawsuit. A few hours later, he filed a lawsuit (English translation PDF) for KD5001 (about $18,000) against Makhoul, asserting that the review was "fabricated" to gain publicity.

And so, we order the payment of KD5001 as a compensation for the damages caused to the restaurant management and for encouraging large number of customers not to try the restaurant by insulting, doubting the quality and food served by Benihana and using expressions that disgust people from trying the food. The person has caused huge material damages to the restaurant, ethic damage to the restaurant's reputation as an international brand that has chains all over the world as well as hurt the restaurant's potential to expand in Kuwait by influencing all kinds of nationalities not to try a restaurant that offers a specific type of food that is subject to taste preference.
This morning, I spoke with Michael Kata, COO and Executive Vice President of Benihana of Tokyo, who license the Kuwaiti franchise. He hadn't seen the suit yet, and while he said he could not offer specific comment, he confirmed that a lawsuit over a bad review was "unprecedented" in the firm's history. He said that his company's franchise agreement did not give them the authority to order franchisees to sue or withdraw suit, but that they were empowered to terminate the agreement should the franchisee bring the brand into disrepute.

Kata was careful to hedge his words, saying that he hadn't reviewed the case and didn't know whether there was any merit to the (to my mind, obviously absurd) assertion that the claims were fabrications by a competitor. Let's hope he gets to the bottom of things quickly and gets this blogger off the hook before he has to spend too much money defending himself from a thin-skinned restauranteur.

Mike Servo did not return my call in time for this post. (Thanks, Usurp, via Submitterator)


  1. Is Mike Servo the guy in the ad? Because that ensemble he’s wearing kind of reminds me of Tom Servo.

  2. But Benihana isn’t very good. At least the one here. It gets by on the Teppanyaki wowing people who haven’t seen it before, but the food is sub-par at best.

  3. Next time I am in Kuwait I will not be going to Benihana for the blowfish, it might jump off the plate and bite me.

  4. We posted a lot of comments on their Facebook page, and I mean A LOT, but they deleted them all… I have a screen shot of all the comments before they were deleted if anyone is interested.

  5. I like MARK MAKHOUL’S blog, it is FUN and satisfying to READ. I read it with FAMILY and FRIENDS, and will return OFTEN. LOL.

    (Not hard to pick the shill comments, even without the IPs)

  6. I can guarantee that Servo’s lawsuit will result in dozens – if not hundreds – of more bad reviews of his own and other Benihana restaurants. He’s irreparably damaged the brand.

  7. This is a backwater of BoingBoing – 6 comments so far. And yet it’s an important story in an under-served part of the world.

    Here, where government censorship is rife, we have the first (this is a landmark suit) instance of a corporate company with multi-million dollar resources smashing a blogger with a lawsuit designed to ruin him/her (The damages mentioned in the suit are a minimum designed to take this out of the small claims court – they could ask for anything now).

    This is commercial censorship at its worst. This company not only sued a blogger for posting consumer opinion, they have deleted their Facebook page comments – hundreds of outraged consumers demanding this organisation do better than beat down its customers by using outdated and unworkable legislation – they are egregious bullies seeking to do no more than hurt those who will not agree that whatever mediocre, lacklustre standard this organisation sets itself is good enough for a developing country. They, and the company that licenses them, deserve international opprobrium and no less.

    Their awful reaction to this has already become a Middle East social media cock-up case study. Now it only remains to be seen whether this will become a global one.

    If Benihana remains silent, my money’s on global.

  8. Gently remind him of the whole Cook’s Source debacle? I know it’s only tangentially similar, but does he really want that kind of opprobrium directed at his brand?

  9. Who did the calling? Was it Cory or the original submitter? I assume the former.

    If so, it’s nice to see some real fact checking and reporting!

    1. If so, it’s nice to see some real fact checking and reporting!

      BB isn’t a newspaper.

      I’ve never heard of ‘Benihana’ but “teppenyaki” in general is BS created to entertain foreigners. It originated from when US soldiers were occupying Japan. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Japanese don’t like food being thrown at them when they just want to eat.

      In any case Benihana is clearly a company selling fast-food, posing as Japanese cuisine. I wouldn’t go there if you paid me…… unless the payment was to killdozer™® it!.

  10. This is Kuwait, you can get sued for anything. Doesn’t matter what proof – it’s all about Wasta…

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