'It's destroying lives' - Norfolk chef opens up about dark side of TripAdvisor
PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 September 2018 | UPDATED: 15:24 13 September 2018
A Norfolk chef has spoken out about the dark side of TripAdvisor and the pressure it piles on kitchen staff, warning that it "destroys lives".
Charlie Hodson, who in May opened up about his own battle with mental illness, has warned of the damaging impact of the website, which sees millions of users post largely unmoderated reviews of eateries, accommodation and attractions.
“In the past, if you messed up service or in the kitchen you got told off by the head chef, but that was it forgotten about,” he said.
“If there was a second time it might not be forgotten about, you might be out. But today it’s just completely different.
“Now, within 35 seconds of someone leaving you can have a review pop up on there and it makes it much worse. You see restaurants get annihilated every day.”
The website has been criticised in the past for not requiring any proof from users that they visited the place in question, with some people claiming to have been paid to post reviews.
MORE: OPINION - Good on restaurant owner for hitting back at online critics
Mr Hodson said the website should be better moderated.
“You get people who say they had a lovely meal, give you a generous tip and you go home feeling like you and your team gave an amazing service,” he said “You’ve spoken to them, they’ve seemed happy but then they annihilate you. I just don’t understand it.
“They don’t realise the impact it’s having on people in the industry’s mental health.
“What some people leave on there is killing people in the hospitality world, and that’s not a false claim.”
He said when the website first began, it was initially welcomed by those in the industry.
“When we first saw TripAdvisor, so many of us thought it would be a really constructive way to see where the best roast lunch is, where the best seafood, where the best sea view is,” he said. “But it’s just mind-numbing to see the impact it is having.
“It’s archaic and it’s bullying. Chefs can absolutely handle constructive criticism - the only way they can develop is through constructive criticism - but not through slating someone working there, who can often be a teenager.
MORE: Norfolk hotels and restaurants rate TripAdvisor
“You work 120 hours a week, have your life savings invested in a place and work non-stop to make sure what you put on a plate is the best it can be, and you see personal, spiteful comments at the end of it.
“It destroys lives.”
He said those in cities had better protection thanks to passing trade, but that the impact on destination restaurants in more rural areas could be catastrophic.
After he spoke out in May, when he said he was making lifestyle changes to improve his mental health and wellbeing, Mr Hodson said he had been contacted by young chefs and waiting staff about their own struggles, some of which involved the impact of TripAdvisor.
His comments come after a Norwich restaurateur hit back at users who left negative reviews of his restaurant last week, saying his staff were not Italian and criticising him for not having a children’s menu.
Mario Luchai, who has owned Trattoria Rustica in Princes Street for 25 years, said at the time he was happy to take feedback - but that diners should share concerns while still in the eatery.
MORE: ‘Children should eat what they are given’ - Norwich restaurateur defends TripAdvisor takedowns
“When things go wrong we put our hands up but if something is wrong you should tell them in the restaurant - don’t eat everything then post a negative review online,” he said.
It sparked a debate over whether restaurateurs should respond to comments, or ignore them.
On a survey on our website taken by more than 5,000 people, 94pc said they thought owners should be able to defend their business, while 6pc believed the customer was always right.
We contacted TripAdvisor for comment.