One of the South West’s best-loved restaurants has slammed TripAdvisor for not doing more to protect businesses from unfair criticism by “serial one-star reviewers”. They have also asked diners to be more understanding after weathering insults and rude behaviour from customers.

Inkie’s Smokehouse BBQ, which is based next to the beautiful Golitha Falls nature reserve near Liskeard in Cornwall, has a growing reputation for its smoked meats, burgers and wraps. It has become a must-visit destination for hungry visitors and locals alike.

However, owners Karen and Debbie Lucas-Penhall are becoming increasingly frustrated by “entitled” customers who are posting damaging reviews on TripAdvisor and being rude in person, Cornwall Live reports.

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Karen said: “Ninety-nine per cent of customers are fine, but then you get the people who constantly give a one-star review and don’t realise the harm it does to you. Because of the rise in costs and problems with transport deliveries, trying to get hold of things is a nightmare, like getting simple stuff like jalapenos or tortilla chips and oil.

“We can’t get a tin of gherkins for love or money at the minute. Everything’s gone up in price. So you’re having to adapt the menu all the time to what you can and can’t get. You have people coming up, ‘oh you’ve changed the menu, I wanted this’. Sorry, we can’t get it but we’ve got other things instead.”

She added: “You’ll run out of smoked meat and then you’ll get a one-star review on TripAdvisor. ‘Oh, you’ve run out of food.’ No, I didn’t run out of food, I’ve just run out of smoked meat because we’ve been so busy.

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“They should see that as a good thing, as it’s quality stuff and popular but they don’t see it like that. We’ve worked so hard to produce good stuff and be a good place to go, and then you get crappy reviews.

“We had three in a row which is really unusual. It was the first week of the half-term and we were absolutely rammed but you get a one-star saying ‘I don’t know what the fuss is about’. If that’s the case, go to McDonald’s.

“You look at the people who give you one-star and they’ve got a habit of it. Unless it’s a cheap and nasty place where they’re paying a couple of quid, they’re all giving one star.

“TripAdvisor don’t do anything about it. These people who review constantly on a one don’t realise the harm it does to you. We had one a while ago saying ‘poor food handling’ and it was absolute crap.

“She reported me to EHO (Environmental Health Office) and left that review. I wrote back to EHO saying you know us, we’ve always been five-star rated, this would never happen in my kitchen. The accusation she’s made is serious – I haven’t heard anything back from the EHO or had a visit.

Karen added: “We’ve had one-star reviews from people saying, we turned up and they were shut. That’s because they came on a Monday or Tuesday when we’re not open.

“It’s the entitlement of people – they expect everything and want things to open when they want it. It’s very damaging. The problem is we don’t want to start replying.

“We have a rule that we don’t reply, whether it’s a one-star or a five-star review because you end up getting into a slagging match and that’s not what it’s about. We wrote to TripAdvisor but you get nothing back. I don’t know whether it’s a computer-generated response or what, but it’s naughty.

“There’s no policing of the site and we get a lot of jealousy because we are busy all the time. It doesn’t matter if it’s winter or summer, we’re busy. We’ve worked hard for that busy.

“Both of us are in the business all the time. If they are serial one-star givers, TripAdvisor shouldn’t allow them to do it. You think, how can I turn that one-star review around, but you never can. We’re not anti-tourism, we’re just not happy with the miserable ***holes.”

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The restaurant is modelled on an American diner, with a log cabin, shop, indoor and covered outside eating areas – complete with its own mini nature reserve which attracts myriad bird species – and a large free car park, thanks to a lease from Cornwall Council. It is one of Cornwall’s most popular dining venues on TripAdvisor, with a full five-star average from 369 reviews.

However, the one-star reviews do stand out among the sea of praise, featuring comments like “not sure what all the fuss is about” and “poor … out of food before closing”. The couple says many of those posting one-star reviews make a habit of doing it on other establishments’ pages too. They’d like to see TripAdvisor do more to counteract what they say are needlessly negative reviews, which can be hugely damaging to a business’s reputation.

Debbie told CornwallLive: “Independent businesses need to get together for support and create something where we can air concerns like this. Businesses need to be united against TripAdvisor and other sites where the content is incorrect and unfair. People love Cornwall for the independents but yet when you run out of things and you’re trying to be unique, you’re criticised for that. People think that you can absorb all these extra costs, but it’s hard.”

Like a lot of businesses in the hospitality trade in Cornwall, Inkie’s has seen an increase in rude and aggressive customers since the Covid pandemic. Debbie said: “I’ve removed anyone under the age of 18 from serving out the front purely because they were getting it in the neck and I’ve got a duty to protect them. I’m like a mother to all of them. That’s the reason I’m out the front again because I can handle it.

“They come down, it’s busy everywhere as you know and they’ve got queues between the A30 and A38. They hit the small lanes and don’t get small lanes at all. They get here and say ‘you’re full and the car park’s full’. Yes. It’s a sunny bank holiday weekend, it’s going to be busy. You get people having a go because we close at 4pm. People even ask why we haven’t got a bigger car park! What are we supposed to do? They have a tendency to blame the person in front of them rather than taking any responsibility themselves. It’s the neediness and the ‘I’ve come down on holiday and spent thousands and can’t get what I want’.

“We’re all trying our best. I know there are businesses that fleece and just open for six months, but being Cornish and true to your area, it’s about the community all year round for us. The visitors are a bonus and we need them but the locals are my bread and butter. They’re the ones that keep you afloat in the winter.

Karen added: “We’ve now become a destination for tourists but originally we opened for Cornwall. It was somewhere nice for the locals and their kids to come. We reopened the toilets which had been closed for six years, and we keep them clean and tidy.

“It’s the criticism that gets to you when you get crappy reviews and crappy people. We ensure we keep all our prices as low as we can, so we can provide families with a good quality meal for a decent price, whether you’re a local or you’re a tourist. But we still get criticised.”

Has all of this made the couple want to throw in the towel? Debbie replied: “Easter weekend, Karen turned around and said ‘we’ve created a monster, I’ve had enough’.”

Karen added: “I got home and I’d had enough. I’d done 250-odd meals, we were all knackered and the whingers come out, and I said I think it’s time we bloody sold this! You do get like that sometimes. But then you think, actually no, why should I move?

“We’re tougher than that. It’s not being ungrateful, but people have to realise you’re trying your best and doing everything you can to give them the perfect experience. It doesn’t matter what you do, some people are never happy.”

A spokesperson for TripAdvisor told CornwallLive: “TripAdvisor was created on the premise that consumers have the right to write about their first-hand travelling or dining experiences – good or bad. Because of this, millions of travellers around the globe benefit from the wisdom of the crowds, helping them make an informed decision about places before deciding to visit.

“Our experience over the past two decades has been that on the whole, people who come to TripAdvisor to post reviews genuinely want to share their good experiences with the world.

“The overwhelming majority of reviews posted on Tripadvisor are positive. In fact, the average rating submitted by reviewers for businesses and locations listed on TripAdvisor is 4.30 out of 5.0.

“We know that when people gather information from reviews, they look for the overall weight of opinion on a property – not the views of just one or two reviewers. TripAdvisor boasts more than a billion reviews and opinions and it’s this volume of guidance that ensures the impact of any one review on a business is minimal.

“Tripadvisor’s belief in the right to write doesn’t just extend to consumers, we also believe that business owners should have the right to share their side of the story and we actively encourage them to do so. There is clear evidence to show that businesses benefit from responding to reviews – both positive and negative. A 2019 Ipsos MORI survey, in partnership with TripAdvisor, found that 89 per cent of TripAdvisor users said a thoughtful response to a negative review improved their impression of a business.”

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