Bloggers, beware. Writing a bad review of Benihana could get you sued for $18,000 -- at least if you live in Kuwait.
Mark Makhou, a Lebanese national working in Kuwait, wrote a fairly mild but definitely negative review of his nearby Benihana branch on his popular local blog 248am.com:
Would I go back to Benihana? No I wouldn't. Their sashimi and maki's are pretty cheap (KD1.5 for 5 pieces of Salmon sashimi for example) but there are two other Japanese restaurants at the Avenues, Wasabi and Maki, and I would prefer either one of those to Benihana.
In the United States, that's probably where it would have ended. Post-liberation Kuwait, however, isn't the haven of democracy one might expect. It is a haven for business, and companies can run roughshod over free-speech rights we Americans take for granted. The upshot: Benihana sued Makhou for $18,000, according to Fast Company.
As with Red Medicine tossing out L.A. Times critic S. Irene Virbila, the move has earned Benihana a ton of bad -- but free! -- publicity. People have blanketed the chain's Kuwaiti Facebook page with negative comments, reports The National of Abu Dhabi.
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Here's the difference, Red Medicine has the culinary chops to back up its bluster. Benihana doesn't.
The Japanese chain, founded by Rocky Aoki in 1964, is about fun, flair and showmanship, not a nuanced representation of regional Japanese cuisine. We go there to watch the chef form fried rice into the shape of Mickey Mouse's head. To cheer as a cone of precariously balanced onion rings spews steam like an vegetable volcano. We don't go for chef-pickled ginger or delicately marinated uni. We also don't go there to get sued.
While this case doesn't affect us in the United States, we're glad to see that Makhou, whose trial is set to begin on March 8, is not backing down. He tells The National:
"If they want to go ahead, I'm not going to chicken out. It doesn't just affect me; that's why I want everyone to get involved. If I lose this case it could affect all the bloggers in Kuwait."