Chef Claims Online Reviewers Are Blackmailing Him Due To Strict Reservations Policy

If you're ever in the Oldstead, North Yorkshire corner of England (and have at least a month advance notice) you'll likely want to check out The Black Swan, a Michelin-starred restaurant recently named the best restaurant in online TripAdvisor poll. No doubt to help control a surging reservation list, the establishment has a strict cancellation policy: 28 days' head's up, via email, or else pay a hefty cancellation fee. The Independent reports that "the restaurant requires full payment at the time of booking, with meals at The Black Swan costing £98 to £240 per person," ($136 to $333 USD) so that cancellation cost can be considerable. If the restaurant can reschedule you, you'll just be charged £20 ($28 USD), but considering the restaurant's popularity, that may not be possible. Also, if some members in your party drop out (from six to four, say), you'll be charged at the same rate as the higher number of people.

Unsurprisingly—due to the illnesses, accidents, and missed flights that may occur within a 28-day window—some patrons have been burned by The Black Swan's tightly wound reservation agreement. Just as unsurprisingly, they have subsequently taken to online formats like TripAdvisor to vent their public grievances. For example:

I have had to cancel due to my mother become very unwell last minute. I have spoken to the Restaurant and James called me back after 5 calls, to tell me that I would not be able to move my booking to another later date. I have told them I would be willing to pay a fee as I am cancelling over 48 hours before. James had a massive attitude and would not move my booking nor would he put into any consideration that my mum is very ill. This is suppose to be a family run business and I don't sense care and family values whatsoever. I have lost £900 and this was a gift for my family to stay there and enjoy some great food. Not at all.

If you'll scroll through these complaints on TripAdvisor, you'll find that user TA29, listed as the Black Swan owner, often responds to these complaints: "Dealing with guests who have these sort of misunderstandings is not easy, but when they post reviews like this on TripAdvisor it is quite sad and somewhat disheartening." This user is likely either Tommy Banks, 28, and his brother James, who run the Black Swan.

Our money is on Tommy, who took to Twitter this week as well to protest what he is calling being blackmailed:

We can certainly empathize with both sides. Yes, we get that profit margins even for the most-renowned Michelin-starred restaurants are slim, and one no-show can cost a restaurant a lot of money. But we can also sympathize with the patron here: We have children who get sick at a moment's notice, and that's a lot of money to lose over circumstances you can't control. Then again, the restaurant's reservation policy is right there on the website. Then again to that then again, it's not like most people are reading the fine print anyway.