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Port Moody restaurant under fire online

A Port Moody restaurateur is unrepentant about the strategy he employed to try to douse a firestorm of negative reviews on social media.
Saint St. Grill
SCREEN GRAB The Saint St. Grill's page on the online review site, Yelp. The Port Moody restaurant was harshly criticized on social media after an incident a couple of weeks ago.

A Port Moody restaurateur is unrepentant about the strategy he employed to try to douse a firestorm of negative reviews on social media.

But an expert in social media at the University of British Columbia says business owners have to exercise patience and self-control so online interactions don’t spin out of control.

Ross Edwards, who has owned Saint St. Grill on St. Johns Street for 19 years, said the whole conflagration was sparked when a table of guests celebrating a birthday was asked to leave because their table was needed for another party that had a reservation. He admits the confusion was a mistake but the restaurant was full and there was nowhere else to move the birthday party.

Still, he was unprepared for what happened next.

Edwards told The Tri-City News the birthday celebrants “understood” and “left cordially,” after he offered his profuse apologies.

Shortly after, however, negative reviews started appearing on Facebook and other social media relating the incident.

Edwards said he reached out to the posters, expressed his apologies and offered to make up for the mistake. He said he thought they ended the conversation on good terms and the negative reviews were removed.

But the damage had already been done.

Edwards said when he checked Facebook and review sites like Yelp, Google and TripAdvisor the next morning, there were number of new negative reviews. 

That’s when things really unspooled.

Edwards said he “appropriately reached out” to some of the authors to try to clarify the situation and ask them to remove their negative comments.

But at least one of those authors said Edwards contacted his employer, a move he said was “intimidating.”

Ronnie Haywood, 29, said Edwards called his manager at Brew St. Craft Kitchen, a Port Moody pub and eatery where he’s the head chef, to implore him to use his influence to get Haywood to take down his review.

“I was so shocked,” said Haywood. “It’s the complete opposite of what you should do.”

Wahiba Chair, a senior marketing strategist and instructor at the UBC Sauder School of Business who specializes in digital and social media, agrees. She said it’s important for businesses to take the high road, especially when dealing with negative feedback on social media.

“Word can travel very quickly on social media,” Chair told The Tri-City News. “A small thing can have huge repercussions. Consumers have a voice, they have a community and people can latch on to it.”

Chair said business owners need to educate themselves as much as they can about social media and its implications. And when a crisis happens, “it’s very important to take time to think before you act.”

Edwards said he accepts critical reviews but as he saw more and more of them piling up from authors he suspected had never even been to his restaurant, he felt bullied.

“If you attempt to cyberbully my business, my or my employees’ livelihood, and I can find a way to apply pressure to have you change your despicable and harmful posts, and maybe even your ways, I will,” Edwards said.

But Chair said fighting fire with fire can backfire. Instead, it’s better to be proactive to ensure any online exchange doesn’t disintegrate.

“User-generated content like reviews and comments on Facebook is the most trustworthy content we have,” she said. “You want to make sure you take control of that because there’s no hiding. It’s an age of transparency and you want to be preventative.”

Edwards said he’s going to pay closer attention to online reviews of his restaurant. But in spite of the negative publicity he has garnered, wouldn’t change his actions.

“Unfortunately," he said, "the internet is the wild west."