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)