(Yonhap Feature) Malicious Reviews Haunt Restaurant Owners Amid Delivery App Boom


SEOUL, July 19. (Yonhap) – Kim Tae-han (a.k.a.), a 27-year-old former restaurateur in south Seoul, said one of his most important daily routines was to check out reviews of his store on the platforms of food delivery.

Kim, who has now quit his restaurant business, said that one day he had to drive his car to visit a reviewer during peak hours because this person wanted to make a kimchi pancake “too much. cooked, ”which Kim said was fine.

“When I received a bad review, sales of this app normally dropped 30-40% the next day,” Kim said in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency. “For us, it’s like terrorists are holding restaurants hostage with critics.”

Last month, a restaurateur died of a stroke after arguing with a difficult customer, an incident that illustrated the growing frustration of restaurateurs with app rating systems.

Picky customers who leave hateful comments are not a new phenomenon in the world.

Some have said that the deep-rooted hierarchical culture in South Korea, which sometimes leads to “gapjil”, has further complicated the problem here.

Gapjil is a Korean term that refers to the time when a person behaves in an oppressive manner against those at the weaker end of a power relationship. It can be observed in the workplace or even occur between customers and traders.

“Some customers just ask for free stuff, saying they’ll give good reviews. But with such a low margin, we can lose money for every order we get when we start giving unexpected freebies,” Kim added.

Demand for food delivery services in South Korea has skyrocketed amid the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing rules.

Owners particularly rely on delivery orders, as restaurants are not allowed to dine after 10 p.m. in the Capital Region.

Last week, the government banned gatherings of more than two people after 6 p.m., making delivery platforms even more important to homeowners.

According to the latest survey from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, around 20% of local restaurants joined food delivery platforms in 2020, up 8.7 percentage points from the previous year. ‘last year.

The combined size of South Korea’s food delivery application market was also estimated at 11.6 trillion won (US $ 10 billion) in 2020, compared to 7 trillion won in 2019, according to a recent report from Hyundai. Motor Securities.

Up to 30 million of South Korea’s 52 million people use delivery services, he added.

Despite the boom in the industry, restaurateurs say they are marginalized in the platform industry because they are also, in a sense, customers for operators.

A growing number of restaurateurs are complaining about platform review systems, in which they have a limited chance of defending themselves when a few customers give undeserved reviews.

Such problems were recently brought to light when a restaurant owner died of a stroke last month after arguing with a customer, who demanded reimbursement for a piece of fried shrimp because his ” color had changed “a day after receiving the food. The customer also left a malicious review.

During an interview with a local radio station, the victim’s daughter said Coupang Eats, a platform of South Korean retail giant Coupang, continued to demand that the store apologize. to the client even when his mother was unconscious in a hospital bed.

After the incident sparked public outrage, Coupang decided to create a new division under his wing to deal with complaints from restaurateurs. The company said it also plans to revamp its review system, although it has yet to provide a detailed timeline.

Park Seung-mee, a politician with the Korean Franchise Union, told Yonhap that not only do store owners need to have their rights protected by law, but there must also be a new rule in which restaurants can form a union to negotiate with delivery platforms.

“We need to come up with more reliable and balanced metrics for ranking a restaurant rather than just on subjective stars,” Park said, suggesting that stores could also be rated based on the number of repeat customers they have.

In the face of controversy, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) announced earlier this week that it is currently preparing to issue guidelines on how platform operators should manage their examination systems.

“We plan to encourage operators to voluntarily follow the guidelines as a first step. In the longer term, we will revise the telecommunications law to provide more details,” the KCC said in a statement.

Platform operators will be forced to deal with reviews that are “clearly misleading” or “likely to cause irreparable damage”.

Minor Justice Party Representative Bae Jin-kyo also recently proposed a new bill to revise the e-commerce law, in which platforms are obliged to inform users that they can be punished for posting. malicious reviews.

Nonetheless, Yoo Ji-man (alias), a 32-year-old man who runs a Chinese restaurant in southeast Seoul, says he plans to exit delivery platforms immediately once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

“For now, we need to join the delivery platforms because there aren’t as many customers to eat as there used to be,” Yoo said.

“It’s very stressful. For example, one reviewer gave me a star in five for including squid pieces in a noodle bowl, just because that person didn’t like seafood,” said Yoo. “I know customers come first, but what about us? “

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