All French restaurants will have 5 stars. I mean 3 stars.

A French blogger has been fined for writing a harsh restaurant review that got a high Google ranking.

I’m not making it up.

Ms Doudet was sued by the owner of Il Giardino restaurant in the Aquitaine region of southwestern France after she wrote a blogpost entitled “the place to avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino”.

According to court documents, the review appeared fourth in the results of a Google search for the restaurant. The judge decided that the blog’s title should be changed, so that the phrase: “the place to avoid” was less prominent in the results.

The judge sitting in Bordeaux also pointed out that the harm to the restaurant was exacerbated by the fact that Ms Doudet’s fashion and literature blog “Cultur’elle” had around 3,000 followers, indicating she thought it was a significant number.

Really? There are more of you than that. (Yes really. You’re a good-sized mob by now.)

The judge told Ms Doudet to amend the title of the blog and to pay €1,500 ($2,000; £1,200).

In her article, which has now been deleted, she complained of poor service and what she said was a poor attitude on the part of the owner during a visit in August 2013.

Restaurants can sue critics for writing bad reviews? And win?



  1. Trebuchet says

    Calling Ken White! Ken to the White courtesy phone. Or maybe we need his French equivalent, Ken Blanc.

  2. Andrew B. says

    How do you say “To go all Barbara Streisand on Il Giardino’s ass?” in French?

  3. Latverian Diplomat says

    Three pertinent facts from the BBC article:

    1) A French lawyer and blogger who writes under the pseudonym Maître Eolas, said: “It seems to me that the judge did not understand the technical issues.” He added that, in French law, this type of decision would not create legal precedence.

    2) The summary decision is intended to be an emergency measure to protect the person deemed to be a victim and can be overturned or upheld if the parties go to a full hearing.

    3) Ms Doudet added that, because the decision was taken at an emergency hearing, she did not have time to find legal representation, so had represented herself in court.

    I fully expect this awful decision to be overturned. All the Americans and Brits holding forth on the excesses of the French legal system should probably hold back a little. One terrible judge does not justify the overthrow of an entire country’s legal system.

  4. Forbidden Snowflake says

    I can easily imagine a restaurant review being libelous. A review isn’t just a subjectively assigned number of stars, after all – it’s usually an article that contains factual claims about the food, the service and the decor.

  5. hoary puccoon says

    Please, puleeese, don’t talk about French five star restaurants. Five stars only refer to hotels.

    In the Michelin Guide Rouge, which started the whole starred-restaurant thing, restaurants get either no stars (if they’re mentioned at all, they’re recommended) or- one, two, or three stars. One star restaurants are usually what Americans consider fine dining; two stars are always fine dining; and three stars are the best in the world.


    Europeans give Americans enough grief for being uncultured as it is. We don’t have to give them more ammunition, do we?

  6. jesse says

    apropos of Latverian Diplomat, after looking this over I have to say I’d pull back a little on complaining about French Libel law. Part of the problem is that Americans and Brits both have differing systems for dealing with libel, and those in turn differ from the French. The French legal system is itself organized rather differently.

    I see this whenever journalists (like me!) have t write about British cases. It’s really hard to do and to interpret for Americans because the whole thing is set up in a different way, what with solicitors and lawyers being different things in the UK and the role of judges and burden of proof being different as well — what looks to an American like a cut-and-dried weird decision might be just a procedural issue in the UK.

    Libel is just one example: in the US, the issue is always about what factual claims you make, and whether there was “reckless disregard” for the truth, but the 1st Amendment offers a lot of protection for opinions. This, by the way, is why we reporters bother calling people mentioned in the articles we write even if you know and I know and the whole freaking world knows that the person will say “no comment” or give a boilerplate response that any of us could write. And no, there’s no “seriousness” criterion– if person A says “Bob the town selectman is a space alien from Zantar” I have to call Bob and ask him if he is in fact a space alien fro Zantar. He will (I hope) have a laugh and say the crazy guy is wrong, but I have to make the call to avoid the “reckless disregard” clause.

    Also, there are many states where the truth of a claim is not a defense — California is one. (See Carol Burnett about this one, it’s actually a famous case among journalism students, or should be, as it’s basic to the libel courses, right up there with NYT vs. Sullivan).

    In other countries there’s a greater sensitivity to reputation and what that might mean, so the dance between whether something was true or not and where the burden of proof lies will be different. In the UK for example the burden is on the person accused of libel to prove what they say is true rather than that burden being on the libel-ee to prove that it is not. Those are different things.

    I don’t know what the criteria in France are. I suspect it’s a kind of in-between situation there but I haven’t had to look up French legal traditions in a long while. (If you work as a journalist in Europe ever you need to know this stuff, and I haven’t for a long time– but IIRC it’s actually harder to get big libel judgements in France. There’s a reason the UK and UK-based legal systems are the most popular libel jurisdictions to file in).

  7. Kevin Kehres says

    You really have to be in the mood for 3-star restaurant food (and have a pretty thick wallet, usually). And reservations made a year in advance.

    I’ll take the plat du jour from a decent Paris bistro any day.

  8. deepak shetty says

    @Latverian Diplomat
    All the Americans and Brits holding forth on the excesses of the French legal system should probably hold back a little.
    Heh. Given the current Supreme court, Americans will probably have to shut up about any legal system ..(excuse the tu quoque)

  9. says

    Or maybe anyone is free to see the problems in any system of law they notice. Or bad laws and treaties. Or idiotic judges. Or governments who ignore their own laws. Or corporations that get to make law. Or LEOs with too much power and little accountability, who also ignore the law.

    Maybe someone making an idiotic business decision to use the law in such a manner can be criticized regardless of the law.

  10. John Horstman says

    @jesse #9: As far as I am aware (I just recently finished Anthony Lewis’s short book on the history of the interpretation of the First Amendment), under present US common law as established by court precedent, truth is an absolute defense against libel/defamation charges (though not the only one – Sullivan established actual malice as a requirement for libel against ‘public figures’, for example), though it wasn’t always. The EFF concurs. State laws asserting otherwise have widely been held unconstitutional when challenged, based on the present interpretation of the First Amendment. The Carol Burnett case you cite did not involve (demonstrably) truthful reporting.

    @F [i’m not here, i’m gone] #13: Word.

  11. freemage says

    Amaud: I read that story you linked to. The writer screwed up, or his editors did. If the food coming out into the two restaurants was different, then the reviewer needed to make it clear that he was ony reviewing the food from one. Screwing up identification is a major deal, and this is basically what happened in that case. The more defamatory you are being, the more careful you need to be. tehy failed, and while the reviewer said it was a tragedy that he’s no longer writing reviews, I’m going to say it’s more of a relief.

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