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Suing over a bad review

Bad reviews happen. And most restaurateurs feel—and essentially are— helpless against them.

Or are they? In April, Phil Romano—creator of Macaroni Grill, Fuddruckers, and others—did what many restaurateurs only dream of doing. He read a bad review of his new restaurant Il Mulino New York in Dallas—then he sued.

Rousing his ire were comments like "the risotto was mushy" and precooked, and that several dishes were "heavily finished with butter," when Romano claims there wasn't any butter at all in the items mentioned. The case accuses Belo Corp., parent of the Dallas Morning News, and critic Dotty Griffith of factual errors, and questions a disconnect between the star ratings and the accompanying commentary.

Unfortunately for Mr. Romano, there's this thing called the First Amendment which, barring outright slander, protects the reviewer's opinion. So his chances of victory are slim. There's also the question of whether the review was bad enough to warrant legal action (the restaurant's food still received 3.5 out of 4 stars.)

But despite the controversy, many operators—especially those who've suffered a bad review—no doubt applauded Romano for picking up the slingshot and taking aim at the proverbial Goliath. "If she can critique me, why can't I critique her?" he says.

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