For Amy's Baking Company, "Kitchen Nightmares" was just the beginning of a primetime public image nightmare from which the owners can't seem to rouse themselves.
Ever since the episode featuring the Scottsdale, Arizona, eatery aired May 10 on Fox, owners Salomon "Samy" and Amanda "Amy" Bouzaglo have had more than 1,000 rotten tomatoes digitally flung at them through scathing Yelp reviews. Even more "haters" (as Amy would call them) have taken to Facebook.
From tip theft to a public Facebook meltdown and claims of hacking, the Bouzaglos' business model is a recipe for disaster with a heaping side of legal ramifications.
Reality TV Backlash
On Amy's Baking Company's "Kitchen Nightmares" episode, viewers were treated to scenes of the Bouzaglos yelling expletives at customers, pocketing tips that were meant for servers, and refusing to take any criticism from diners or the show's host, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, AZcentral.com reports.
The social-media clusterfu(dge) started with a post, apparently by the owners, on the restaurant's Facebook page Friday night, after the episode aired. In part, it read:
"We do not feel the need to make any excuses for our behavior on tonight's show. However we would like to make the following statement: We do not, nor have we ever stolen or taken any of our servers, waitresses, or waiters tips at Amy's Baking Company."
Since video doesn't lie (and since Samy admitted, on camera, to taking servers' tips), wrathful viewers took their e-pitchforks and torches to Yelp, Reddit and beyond. A note to restaurant managers: Do not take workers' tips.
As we recently discussed, stealing an employee's tips is really not OK. Other than federal tip credits and valid tip pools, employers are legally required to keep their hands off an employee's hard-earned gratuities. On the state level, the rules can be even stricter.
Social Media Slamming
Apart from the sheer embarrassment of a crazed ALL-CAPS FACEBOOK MELTDOWN, it's an ineffective way to preserve (or in their case, salvage...) a business' reputation.
If your business' Yelp page is inundated with "lies" that are harming your business (as Amy insists is happening), you can potentially file a defamation lawsuit -- though this couple in particular should make sure it's not frivolous. For example, if a reviewer claims that you stole tips from your servers, you may win a defamation lawsuit if you can prove it's not true.
The law isn't clear on Yelp defamation, but the general rule of thumb is that a post has to make false assertions in order for an owner to win in court. Yelp reviews with damaging opinions have no dice in defamation suits. That's protected free speech.
That being said, businesses should be careful of so-called "anti-SLAPP" suits that might come back to bite them for filing a frivolous defamation lawsuit.
Claims of Hacking
If we're going to be generous and believe the couple's Facebook page took a turn for the cray-cray because they were "hacked" (as the owners claim), they should consider taking social media hacking precautions in the future.
If the hacking claim is true, however, the owners may be able to pursue legal action for identity theft, among other potential claims. In that case, Amy's Baking Company's "Kitchen Nightmare" could potentially turn into a legal nightmare for the "online bullies" attacking them.
- Lessons From Amy's Baking Company: Six Things You Should Never Do On Social Media (Forbes)
- Are Fake Celebrity Twitter Accounts Legal? (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)
- Yelp Reviews to Get Responses from Businesses; Defamation and Online Reviews (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)
- The Yelp Question: Are Free Online Reviews Good? (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)