Say, don’t slay: hospitality calls out trolls

30th April 2021 | Eativity editors

On May 15, hospitality businesses across Australia will restrict public comment on their social media channels to protest thoughtless reviews and promote genuine conversation.

Dubbed “#NoComment” day, the blackout will be the centrepiece of “Say Don’t Slay May”, a month-long initiative asking cafe and restaurant patrons to consider the impacts that faceless, harsh reviews can have on a business owner’s mental health – particularly amid the COVID rollercoaster – and turn to personal feedback and kindness instead.

Naomi “Nims” Zavackas, Brisbane hospitality veteran and founder of industry support network Mise En Place Bonne Femme, says that businesses are not asking for diners to keep issues to themselves, but rather that they bring it to the attention of staff while in the venue, for the opportunity to rectify the problem and create a win-win situation.

“Most people have their work performance reviewed annually, behind closed doors, with the chance to prepare and respond,” Zavackas says. “But food business owners are under review every day and can get blindsided at any time, often by customers who didn’t give any indication that anything was wrong at the time.

“We’re doing this because we love feeding people and communities, and we want to have a relationship with you – negative reviews about fixable issues only serve to divide us.”

That horrible review you posted might be one kick in the guts too many for a struggling cafe owner.

The toll of trolls

Zavackas says that she knows it might feel daunting, but guests will quickly find that venues are more than happy to do what it takes to give diners a better experience, a sentiment echoed by campaign ambassador – chef, author and TV presenter Dominique Rizzo.

“We’re all humans and mistakes happen – please don’t feel like you can’t be honest with us,” Rizzo says. “If your eggs are too hard or the coffee’s not right, pull us aside.

“Or send us an email! Often if I haven’t enjoyed something I’ll send an email explaining when I dined and what could have made it a better experience. I used to get personal emails for my own cafe, and as an owner I so appreciated being able to process the information, address that person directly and resolve the issue.”

The original idea for the Say Don’t Slay May initiative came after Zavackas visited a fellow venue owner in hospital who was badly injured but still trying to single-handedly manage an influx of negative online reviews of her newly-opened cafe.

“I’ve noticed that between venue owners, conversation often turns to trolling and negative reviews that go beyond the food, personally attacking the owners and their staff with comments about their age, body shape or lack of a smile,” Zavackas says.

“But I recently visited one of my members in hospital, undergoing spinal surgery from pushing herself way too hard in the lead-up to opening, and the trolls were out like never before. Someone had even purposefully begun several Instagram accounts just to post negative reviews. I decided on that day, enough was enough.”

Providing feedback at the time of dining means the issue can be remedied right away.

Negative pressure

#NoComment day will see participating venues disabling user comments on their Facebook and Instagram accounts on May 15 – a Saturday, usually one of hospitality’s busiest days – and asking customers to provide any feedback (good or bad) personally. This can be over the table, or via email or direct message. Venues slated to participate include Brisbane favourites Lady Marmalade, Montrachet, Billykart Kitchen and Dandelion & Driftwood.

The campaign also includes a “Reviews and Resilience” workshop for venue owners, with speakers covering topics such as training staff to effectively handle in-venue and online complaints, and how to press on in tough times. Psychologist and workplace wellbeing facilitator, Lisa Johnson of Asami Engagement Psychology, understands the severe impact that negative reviews can have, and says that support and solidarity is the way forward.

“Ongoing, unchecked criticism can take a physical and psychological toll on a person, leading them to feel defeated and disengaged with their business, family and health,” she says. “But gaining support from people in similar situations, especially peers who have developed good strategies and approaches to deal with such experiences, can be invaluable, along with support from qualified professionals who can help debrief and assist with exploring, improving and resolving business practices to reduce risk factors.”

Constructive criticism is one thing, anonymous insults help no one.

Think before causing a stink

Zavackas, Rizzo and others hope that the campaign will see more diners considering the weight of their words, and working with venues to create a more hospitable industry for all.

“Next time you’re dining out and something’s not quite right, we ask you to remember that there are real people behind the business, and behind your screens,” Zavackas says. “Real people who want to have genuine connections with you; who are always up for improving to give you a great experience. Say it when you’re there. Don’t slay after the fact.”

Say Don’t Slay May kicks off May 1 across social media channels. Venues interested in taking part can visit