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Orchard Road cafe Grain Alley defends 'robust' response to negative online customer reviews

SINGAPORE — An Orchard Road cafe has hit back at accusations that it bullies customers who leave bad reviews, claiming that it was responding to reviewers who acted badly towards their staff.

Orchard Road cafe Grain Alley defends 'robust' response to negative online customer reviews
The exterior of Grain Alley cafe in Orchard Central mall.
  • Restaurant Grain Alley hit back against accusations that it bullies customers who leave one-star reviews online
  • It has been under social media scrutiny since April 23 after a social media post highlighting its actions gained traction
  • It said customers that left negative reviews often acted poorly against its employees
  • Restaurant-goers told TODAY that such negative responses from eateries would turn them away from dining at these places

SINGAPORE — An Orchard Road cafe has hit back at accusations that it bullies customers who leave bad reviews, claiming that it was responding to reviewers who acted badly towards their employees.

Grain Alley at Orchard Central mall also defended its practice of giving a cup of coffee to customers who leave positive online reviews, arguing that it is an expression of appreciation rather than a bribe.

The cafe has been under social media scrutiny after an April 23 post on online forum Reddit drew attention to its sometimes scathing responses to negative reviews. 

In one response last year, Grain Alley reportedly told a reviewer to "take a shower, you smell" in response to a one-star review regarding the restaurant's policy of not allowing customers to work on their laptops or digital tablets while patronising its premises.

In another response to criticism about the restaurant's prices, Grain Alley alleged that the reviewer had reduced his ratings from three stars to one star and suggested that the reviewer has "never achieved in life".

Across three posts on the cafe's Instagram page on Friday (April 29), a Grain Alley staff member in charge of responding to reviews, who identified himself as "Joe", said that negative reviews do not mention the customers' own bad behaviour.

"While my replies can be robust, I took into consideration what customers wrote online and how they treated our (staff) in person," he said.

"Some customers feel that misplaced sense of power over service staff and this has led to frequent abuse, ranging from oral to the physical."

Joe described a visit to Grain Alley by five customers on April 23 which, he believed, had set off the controversy over the cafe's response to negative reviews.

The cafe had provided complimentary drinks to the party as one of them was celebrating a birthday, he said.

However, each of them then left a bad review, and one taunted the cafe to respond with its rudest reply, he said.

"Following that, I replied to them asking if they’ve ever, each, given a good review when in a group or is such herd-action only reserved for bad reviews. Apparently, they took further offence to that question," Joe said.

"Not having the courage (and) moral... to approach us directly, the perpetrator hid behind a computer screen and went on a few forums to invite fake reviews for us."

Grain Alley said that administrators from Google have removed "a few dozen" fake reviews and are now identifying others.

The cafe also defended its practice of gifting customers who leave positive reviews a cup of coffee, describing it as an act of appreciation.

Joe wrote that because the gift would be given after the cafe sees the positive review, it was an expression of appreciation, rather than a bribe.

He said that the morale of Grain Alley's employees is "higher than usual" and its sales have increased due to the publicity, but added that it was "unfortunate" for people to have been "manipulated by one person with a personal vendetta".

RUDE RESPONSES TURN SOME PATRONS AWAY

Some patrons of food-and-beverage (F&B) outlets who leave online reviews told TODAY that they were not impressed with Grain Alley's response to criticism.

I don't think there's any justifiable cause for an eatery to be rude to its patrons. There are reasonable yet firm ways to turn away unruly or non-compliant customers.
Ms Sabine Chen, 23, a regular patron of food-and-beverage outlets

Ms Sabine Chen, 23, said: "I don't think there's any justifiable cause for an eatery to be rude to its patrons. There are reasonable yet firm ways to turn away unruly or non-compliant customers." 

The public relations executive said that such responses are a sign of poor management and a potential bad dine-in experience.

"I leave reviews only when the experience is exceptionally good or bad, and try to be as detailed as possible... so people know if they should spend their money or not," she added.

An approach such as Grain Alley's of hitting back at negative reviews would also deter 29-year-old Bryan Loh from patronising such an eatery.

"As an F&B service provider, you should expect critics, and the right solution would be to accept feedback and improve your services," he said.

While he usually leaves reviews when his experience at a restaurant is good, he would not hesitate to leave a bad review if he has a poor experience.

"I feel like people should be aware of the actual services rendered, rather than what is depicted on a restaurant's website," he added.

As for Ms Fatin Amira, 26, a preschool teacher, she avoids leaving bad reviews for restaurants, saying it is a hassle for her. She simply opts to not patronise the outlet again.

Rather, she goes out of her way to leave a review to compliment restaurants for their food and services if she had a good time — usually on review platform Yelp.

"If I leave a bad review, I would want them to tell how they're going to improve. And based on the response, I'll consider returning."

Related topics

grain alley reviews restaurant F&B customers

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