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No court case over Omani blog review

UPDATE: An email from Omani blogger Riyadh Al Balushi has confirmed the news that Muscat-based fastfood outlet, Best Burger has withdrawn its intention to move ahead on a lawsuit threat over an unfavourable restaurant review earlier this week.

(Chef Ahmed Al Yahyai)

Al Balushi wrote: “Best Burger decided to get back to me… they are saying that they won’t take legal action and will be working to improve their menu. They are also supposed to be looking forward to seeing me again at their restaurant to see how they developed.”

When contacted earlier by Emirates 24|7, a representative of the Muscat-based Best Burger had also denied its lawsuit threat would be carried out, which saw the fastfood restaurant in Zakher Mall take on the popular Omani blogger for posting a review of the outlet on his website, Omanicuisine.com.

(Restaurant Critic Riyadh Al Balushi)

The fact that Al Balushi, who co-writes the blog with Chef Ahmed Al Yahyai, is a lawyer himself adds a certain irony to the whole tale, which has already caused mass uproar amongst supporters of the writer across the online community. Many of them are now speculating that the power of social media has struck once again as news of the lawsuit threat being withdrawn spread.

Al Balushi earlier said: “I received the email two days ago from Dream Cone Marketing with the threat that if I do not take down the review, I could be made to held responsible.”

The 27-year-old declined to forward us the correspondence, however paraphrasing a few lines from the email, which stated: “We call your attention for a positive resolution by removing the review that can be deemed slanderous and libel and has made our reputation bleed.”

Al Balushi stated that he was surprised when received the email because in his eyes, his review was quite positive and that all he had done was commented that Best Burger’s menu was quite “ugly”.

The review, which is still posted on Omanicuisine.com states: “…There are a lot of seats, tables, and coffee style chairs in Best Burger, I’ve been at the place for both lunch and dinner and the place never seemed to get crowded.

“… In my first visit I sat at the back and I had to walk to the cashier to check if I had to make order from or what when nobody came to us after waiting for a little while.”

He went on to say: “Best Burger can easily win the award for the most confusing, least appealing, and ugliest menu ever made. The place is called Best Burger, but it is very hard to tell where the burgers are on their menu and all the images on the menu are horrible.”

However, Balushi went on to say that he “really liked it [the food] and would highly recommend it,” further adding: “Best Burger is a nice addition to burger places in town…”

Bite on this

When Emirates 24|7 contacted Best Burger earlier to comment, restaurant manager Keith Ugale said: “No, I don’t think we will go ahead with the lawsuit threat. We will not take that direction. My opinion is personal of course, but I don’t think anyone will go to court over this.”

Ugale said: “We will take Balushi’s review in the right spirit and use it as constructive criticism to constantly improve itself. In fact, we are looking forward to inviting the blogger to experience the restaurant and its service again.”

He also said that the offending “menus in question are being improved upon as there was a printing delay and we had to make do with what we have. Things are changing for the better.”

This volte-face is a far cry from the email threat that has been alleged by Balushi, and when we tried to verify the restaurant manager’s stance with that of the owners, who were told were Omani national Dr Taki Al Duwani and American national Michael Greenwald, we were unable to reach them.

Ugale said the email was probably sent in the heat of the moment “when the word ‘ugly’ was used by the blogger. But everyone is entitled to their opinion and it is our job as marketing practitioners to change that and improve ourselves.”

He added that negative publicity from the supposed lawsuit threat has not affected business, but there have been isolated incidences where a few restaurant patrons have mentioned it in passing.

However, Balushi himself has covered all bases and in a move to legally protect himself, as he claims, he has posted a disclaimer of sorts on his website, which states: “I know that all of you will be hating on Best Burger for their ridiculous attempt to sue me, but please refrain from insulting them as I will have to delete any insults in order to avoid liability under the telecommunications law. Constructive feedback is always welcome though.”

The Oman lawsuit threat comes in wake of another high-profile case where Kuwait-based blogger Mark Makhou, a Lebanese national, has been to court by popular restaurant chain Benihana when he posted an unfavourable review of the outlet on his blog, 248am.com.

Balushi believes this lawsuit threat facing him has not been stemmed from the Benihana case but rather the challenges facing freedom of speech and underdeveloped internet laws in the region.

“As a lawyer, I know what the laws in Oman are and I know I am not in the wrong as there is no defamation in expressing an opinion,” he said. “Honestly, all Best Burger management had to do was take it as constructive criticism and start a dialogue with me. My number is easily available but they didn’t call me and haven’t even provided me with a number to contact them on, expect for a Yahoo account email address.”

Balushi says he has responded to the email and is awaiting a response.

“I have refused to remove the review post and now it is up to them,” he said.

Asked if he would return to the restaurant and he said: “No way am I ever going back there. What they are doing is simply not cool.”

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