A Cornish cafe owner said a ‘vindictive’ customer tried to shut down the small business over a dispute over gluten allergies – rallying a Facebook crowd to a ‘threatening witch hunt’ and even by calling Trading Standards.
Emma Price, co-owner of The Lighthouse cafe in Mevagissey, said the argument started when she told the woman she couldn’t guarantee her ingredients were completely gluten-free to be safe enough for a celiac – one person. allergic to wheat protein. .
While being honest about the loophole – to put “customer safety above their bottom line” – Ms Price says the “disgruntled” visitor was so enraged that she turned to a Facebook group for celiacs to beg the 26,500 other members not to visit the cafe.
Read: Waitress in tears after customer kick-off because Newquay pub was full
The 48-year-old was alerted to the post on August 19 by another business owner and discovered the abusive comments, claiming that a user threatened to hit staff around the head with a frying pan.
The client even reported the lighthouse to the Cornwall council, prompting a stressful visit from its business standards managers during a busy lunch service.
Inspection found the cafe was not breaking any rules or regulations, and the owner admitted she had been “extremely upset” and felt “vulnerable” by the incident.
She said she wanted to encourage others to think about the impact they can have on a small business before posting “vindictive” and “bogus” reviews or comments online.
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Ms Price said: “I was very upset when I saw those comments. The problem with Facebook is that people can say whatever they want and then there’s this huge bunch of people who have never visited our coffee, never looked at our products and never spoke to us but threatened us with physical violence.
“It makes you feel pretty vulnerable and you know it’s not just us who work in the cafe.
“My partner and I own the business, but we have other employees and especially during the summer months we have students and young people working in our cafe and I really wouldn’t want them. face someone threatening to hit you on the head with a frying pan.
“I think the fact that there are 26,500 people in this group is really a sobering thought, to think that if those 26,500 believed what they read, it could have been disastrous.
“She obviously wanted us to shut down and there are six people who depend on this business for their wages. Not to mention all of our suppliers, customers. It’s such a profound impact of someone making this false statement on a Facebook group. [that we could not reply in]. “
After reading the customer’s scathing review, Lighthouse Cafe posted two Facebook posts giving their side of the story and urging people to think twice before posting “bogus” claims.
Since its posts went live, the client’s original post appears to have been removed from the group it was posted to.
The client originally wrote: “Please don’t go here!
“I went there for a gluten free breakfast, they said they had [sic] gluten free toast, it wasn’t until I sat down while waiting for my food that the lady told the other lady that she knew it was cooked in the same pan, and it wasn’t the case [sic] don’t tell me anything.
“So I pulled the lady up and asked her if it was cooked separately and she said no I said what about gluten free toast she said it was done in the same toaster as normal bread.
“I told them that your [sic] is going to make someone seriously ill with your lack of knowledge and just because something is labeled gluten free doesn’t mean it’s going to be okay, it is also about the cooking and preparation. I just got a funny look! “
However, Ms Price pointed out that the cafe is always very upfront with what it can safely respond to.
Mrs Price said of the comments: “We spoke to the lady in question and she wanted breakfast, we explained that we have a lot of gluten free ingredients but we cannot guarantee that it is not the case. [completely free of gluten] [as gluten is] an airborne allergen and she was obviously upset by that.
“Our allergy poster is directly visible in the cafe. You know all we could do, we did it and the only thing we did that she didn’t like was not serve her a meal. But the alternatives would have been terrible, if we had served her and she wasn’t feeling well then I could see what her complaint would be about, but we just kept her safe.
“We have a lot of people who come here who are gluten intolerant, which is obviously very different from being celiac, which is a suitable allergy. We always talk to clients to find out exactly how widespread their allergy is.”
She added that customers normally leave her there and understand that her kitchen is not completely sterile.
“What kitchen can be?” Mrs. Price continued. “Unless it’s in a completely protective atmosphere. And we talk to them about how we minimize risks, like using extra utensils, washing things.
“Our deep fryers don’t contain any gluten-containing products, so we really try, but obviously you can’t be 100% and most customers would totally agree with that.
“And if these are customers who react very badly to gluten and they are celiac, they appreciate that we tell them that and I always say” maybe our little cafe is not for you “.
“We would never put someone’s health above our profits, we could, but we don’t. So I really don’t know what she was complaining about, I think it was more the fact. that we couldn’t serve her rather than what we were doing wrong.
“The vast majority of our customers are really lovely, we have a lot of loyal customers and a lot of positive support. It’s one customer in a summer of thousands, it’s been a very stressful week.”
After being alerted to the customer’s scathing attack, the cafe released its own public message.
He said, “It was brought to my attention today that there is a very concerning message circulating today on a certain Celiac Group Facebook page regarding our gluten free offering.
“This original post leaves an unfair, damaging and false portrayal of our business.
“This is then followed by several comments ranging from threats to report us to environmental health; to say that our five-star rating should be removed; personal threats and physical attacks against our people and our business. […]
“For those of you who acknowledged this was turning into a witch hunt or gave favorable comments, thank you. We are very grateful and would love to see you.
“For those who contributed to this witch hunt without ever having set foot in our cafe, please stay away and perhaps think about how your reckless actions might affect the livelihoods of six people and the reputation of an honest company.
“Finally, we are tiny. We cannot fit additional equipment into our kitchen. We have maintained our business through the most difficult times and we are only trying to keep our customers safe.
“Messages like these could destroy our business through no fault of our own and it is extremely upsetting. We are doing our best and I hope the vast majority of our customers will recognize it.”
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A Cornwall Council spokesperson said: “A client with a food allergy has contacted Cornwall’s Trading Standards to raise concerns about his experience in this business.
“A trade standards officer visited the premises and found that the appropriate information regarding food allergens was displayed. The officer discussed the matter with the business owner and provided advice.
“We always encourage businesses and their customers to have conversations about allergies and if they have any concerns or questions, to contact their local Environmental Health or Business Standards team.”
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