News, Culture & Society

Country Inn threatened with poor TripAdvisor review

Head Chef Tommy Banks said he was threatened with a bad TripAdvisor review if staff refused to waive a mandatory cancellation fee for a no-show

Nestled in a picturesque Yorkshire village, the Michelin-starred, family-run pub has won a plethora of fans over the past 12 years.

But four months after being voted the world’s best restaurant, the Black Swan has found itself at the mercy of blackmailers determined to ruin its reputation.

Head Chef Tommy Banks has revealed that his country inn, known for its £95 tasting menu, was threatened with a poor review unless staff waved the mandatory cancellation fee for a no-show.

The 28-year-old chef vented his fury on Twitter last night, revealing that blackmail is an increasingly common occurrence in the cut-throat world of fine dining.

He explained: ‘Last minute cancellation. Does anyone fancy a cheeky get-away and help out a guest who can’t make it?

‘Not for the first time we seem to have been threatened with bad reviews online unless we let them off the cancellation policy to which they previously agreed.

‘As an industry how do we deal with this? I think we should never back down to what appears to be blackmail.

‘Never allow someone to threaten you with bad online reviews!

‘…it seems to be a widespread issue. TA [TripAdvisor] is the obvious place for people to leave negative reviews but we have had people who haven’t even eaten with us claiming they will write negatively to @MichelinGuideUK.’

With over 200 people, and several chefs including Michelin starred Sat Bains joining in the debate, he then re-Tweeted one response, likening a missed restaurant reservation to not turning up to the theatre, and expecting a refund. He wrote: ‘If you are booking a meal at a Michelin star restaurant /rooms you are fully aware of the costs as this is a very special occasion.

‘Just booked 2 West End tickets which cost £75 each & was able to insure them. Great restaurants should not be held to ransom!’

The Black Swan in Oldstead, north Yorkshire, picture holds a Michelin star for its food

The Black Swan in Oldstead, north Yorkshire, picture holds a Michelin star for its food

His fury was particularly understandable given that the Black Swan, in Oldstead, was named the world’s best restaurant at the TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice – an accolade based on thousands of positive reviews placed on the global website last year.

In this specific incident, an anonymous diner left a lowly one-star rating, writing: ‘Very disappointed with this place.

‘I have had to cancel due to my mother become very unwell last minute. I have spoken to the Restaurant and James called me back after 5 calls, to tell me that I would not be able to move my booking to another later date.

‘I have told them I would be willing to pay a fee as I am cancelling over 48 hours before. James had a massive attitude and would not move my booking nor would he put into any consideration that my mum is very ill. This is suppose [sic] to be a family run business and I don’t sense care and family values whatsoever. I have lost £900 and this was a gift for my family to stay there and enjoy some great food. Not at all.’

Banks went on to Tweet that he and his team were doing all they could to find a replacement booking.

The pub, the first British restaurant to have claimed the top spot, beat competition from the likes of Heston Blumenthal and Raymond Blanc, as well as the Martín Berasategui in Lasarte-Oria, north-east Spain – which had been ranked first since 2015.

Its cancellation policy – clearly stated on their website- is to take money up-front and not to refund cancellations unless they can resell the table/accommodation.

Banks, a self-taught chef who grows his own produce and sources everything from a within a mile of the pub’s front door, has twice won BBC2’s Great British Menu.

He prides himself on using old fashioned techniques including clamping, preserving and fermenting on his taster menus, in which sample dishes include crapaudine beetroot cooked slowly in beef fat and blackened apple with rye root vegetable panettone.