Kuwait blogger sued over bad restaurant review

Chain threatens to sue over review that said food was undercooked in first legal case of its kind in Middle East

BLOGGER SUIT: A blogger in Kuwait is facing court action after posting a bad review of a local restaurant (Getty Images)

BLOGGER SUIT: A blogger in Kuwait is facing court action after posting a bad review of a local restaurant (Getty Images)

A blogger in Kuwait is facing court action after posting a bad review of a local restaurant, in a case that could set a precedent for defamation laws in the Gulf state.

Mark Makhoul, a Lebanese blogger in court, is being sued by Las Palmas Company – which owns the newly-owned Benihana franchise – for KD5,001 (about 17,878), after the firm claimed he damaged the reputation of the restaurant with a series of “offensive” claims made on his blog.

Makhoul had said that when he and his wife had eaten at the Asian outlet, their food had been undercooked.

Makhoul’s crimes, it specified, were “the damages caused… [by] encouraging large numbers of customers not to try the restaurant by insulting and doubting the quality of food served.”

The firm implied Makhoul’s review could be a detriment to its expansion plans in the region, and said it had “invested huge amounts of money to set-up the restaurant.”

Makhoul, who runs the popular site www.248am.com, has received a flood of support on Twitter and from other bloggers, and has said he will stand by his review and is receiving legal advice.

“Benihana have the right to sue me but I don’t believe I said or did anything wrong and I stand behind everything I said and wrote in that post,” he wrote on his blog.

“If I end up losing this case what will it mean to all the other bloggers? Should bloggers be afraid to say anything negative about a company? Should all our posts just be ‘happy happy, joy joy?’”

The outcome of the case – thought to be the first of its kind in the Middle East involving a corporate chain and a blog site – could have widespread implications, Makhoul said.

“It doesn’t just affect me but the whole blogging community; be it in Kuwait, UAE or anywhere else in the region,” he wrote.

The review itself accused Benihana, an Asian eatery featuring live cooking stations, of serving up poorly cooked food.

“The chicken was very chewy (I could swear it was undercooked if not raw) and tasted terrible.

Even the rice and the veggies that came with it tasted bad AND were under cooked,” Makhoul wrote.

“Would I go back to Benihana? No I wouldn’t. Their sashimi and makis are pretty cheap (KD1.5 for 5 pieces of Salmon sashimi for example) but there are two other Japanese restaurants at the Avenues, Wasabi and Maki, and I would prefer either one of those to Benihana.”

Las Palmas Co operates a string of international restaurant franchises in Kuwait, including Subway, Charlie’s Grill Subs and Jump Asian Fast Food.

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Posted by: Victor

Now imagine you are the franchise provider, would you want to be associated with las palmas after this.
In this case, the blogger had both positive and negative points in the review, however, the restaurant manager has offensive and racist remarks to the blog holder.
In my humble opinion, and as things stand, the blog owner can counter sue with as much if not more chance for success.
Mind you the free advertising he got is priceless.

Posted by: An Actual Lawyer

The restaurant has (in my opinion) caused a problem for itself in posting the reply as they did, and then starting the case - it now cannot distinguish between the damage done by the review, the damage done by the response to the review, the damage done by the legal action they took in retaliation to the review and the damage done by publicity given to the delivery of the legal papers by the blogger. This is going to be interesting legally as the damage has to flow from the defamatory statements. How are they going to find someone to say that they decided not to go to the restaurant on the basis of the blogger review alone? The blogger can readily find 10,000 who refuse to go because of the response and the ridiculous "Lebanese" comment.
Interesting times ahead in Kuwait law!

Posted by: Aaron

I think this is an unwise move by Benihana that will wind up causing them more harm than good.

btw, can they sue me for writing that?

Posted by: Joy

If Mark and Nat had to hire a PR firm and throw in a truckload of money to get traffic into their blog, I suspect they would had to hire a monster truck for the job. Benihana has just decided to make them famous by treading on their right to express their opinions. Good Luck mates. And Good Bye Benihana. Count one more family out.

Posted by: q8

I think the case against Mark will be built on the following two points:

1. Mark solicited 2 alternate Japanese restaurants in the same review.

2. Mark receives revenue from restaurants via advertisments on his blog, and Benihana does not advertise there.

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