A prominent TikTok influencer who can earn thousands of dollars per video said he was prepared to use his platform to criticise a small Sydney burger restaurant in a dispute over an “unfair” one-star Google review.
Pavel “Pasha” Grozdov, who has more than 830,000 followers across his social media accounts where he has racked up millions of views with his humorous lifestyle and travel videos, has drawn the ire of Marco Pierre White-backed ordering start-up EatClub over the stoush.
“It was a strange incident,” said EatClub chief executive Pan Koutlakis.
“EatClub customers are known for leaving positive reviews, as they appreciate the deal they have received. To have a customer leave a negative review due to a broken kitchen of all things … was quite bizarre.”
Grozdov used EatClub — a mobile app that allows businesses to fill up spare tables by offering last-minute discounts — to redeem a 20 per cent off deal at Roadhouse Restaurant Burgers & Ribs on March 4.
But when he and a friend arrived at the trendy inner-city spot on Ultimo Road in Haymarket about 8pm, co-owner Samuel Ahn informed them that unfortunately the kitchen had broken down and the shop had to close.
Roadhouse Restaurant Burgers & Ribs in Sydney’s Haymarket. Picture: Supplied
“We had a gas leakage in our kitchen — we sent a message out to our guests at about six or seven o’clock,” Mr Ahn said.
“I told him, ‘Unfortunately we sent a message to our guests, we can’t serve you, we have a problem with our kitchen, we’re sorry about that.’ Obviously this person wasn’t happy at all. There wasn’t much other conversation than that — apologies, we can’t serve you.”
According to EatClub, the pair then used the app to redeem another 30 per cent off voucher at a venue in nearby Central Park.
But Mr Ahn said “straight away, probably within one hour”, Grozdov left a one-star review on Roadhouse’s page using a friend’s account — which had the effect of lowering its average score from 4.9 to 4.8.
“I was really frustrated because we are purely relying on Google reviews,” he said.
“Back then we had [roughly 100 reviews] with 4.9 stars. We have a lot of overseas guests in that Haymarket area, because of that one star it brought us to 4.8, it wasn’t good at all.”
The review read, “Made a reservation (under my friend’s name) and came on time and the owner turned us around and said they are closed because the kitchen broke. When we presented the confirmation he said, ‘Didn’t you get the message?’ We didn’t get any message and he wasn’t apologetic about it at all. Just blunt and rude. Do better.”
The restaurant was ‘frustrated’ by the one-star review. Picture: Supplied
After Mr Ahn raised the issue with EatClub, a customer service representative for the app contacted Grozdov offering a $15 voucher to apologise and asked if he could remove the review.
Instead, he wrote back that “$15 isn’t enough to cover for the bad experience we’ve had”. “Can we please have $50 at the very least? $15 assumes that we will be using EatClub again and it is only enough to cover soft drinks,” he wrote.
“We will not be using EatClub at this point as you are clearly pestering me and won’t leave me alone until my friend’s review is removed — clearly your number one objective, not the customer experience you claim to care about. You have now called me twice and messaged me three times in the short span of 12 hours which is considered aggressive spam abuse.”
He added that “unless you offer us more and stop, I will be writing another review under that restaurant, now from my own profile as well as sharing it on my socials”.
The influencer accused EatClub of ‘aggressive spam abuse’. Picture: Supplied
Grozdov then shared a link to his TikTok and Instagram profiles, where he has 516,000 and 316,000 followers respectively. Subsequent to this Grozdov did not post anything on his social media accounts.
According to his “rates card”, Grozdov charges up to $11,000 for one sponsored TikTok and Instagram Reel promoting a product.
Mr Ahn said he felt it was “morally wrong” for Grozdov to treat a small business in this way. “We’re a relatively new restaurant, about five months now,” he said.
“If we did something, our service wasn’t good, our food wasn’t good, we’ll correct it, [but this was] just maybe a half-minute conversation. I can’t understand how an influencer on social media can use their power … against our restaurant and people like us. We don’t want this to happen again.”
The restaurateur said he had previously tried influencer promotions with “a lot of foodies” but ultimately “it just felt like they’re taking advantage”.
But Mr Koutlakis said EatClub “actually deal with a lot of great influencers that do a lot of good things for restaurants”. “I would say they’re not all like this but there are definitely some — this is a prime example,” he said.
Pavel ‘Pasha’ Grozdov has more than 830,000 followers. Picture: @pashagrozdov/YouTube
He insisted EatClub “were pretty reasonable, we tried to offer good customer service and fix it”, while denying Grozdov was harassed.
“I think we were contacting them in the first place to make sure their experience was good and to see if there was anything we can do — they’re our customers and the restaurant’s customers,” he said. “Obviously we put in a little more effort once we’ve realised an unfair negative review [was left].”
Mr Koutlakis added that many people did not appreciate how much damage a negative Google review could do to a business. “For what it’s worth, running a restaurant can be bloody tough and things don’t always go your way,” he said.
“When something in the kitchen breaks down, not being able to serve, that’s super stressful. Sometimes it’s good to be understanding as a customer — particularly in an industry that is still doing it rough since Covid.”
Marco Pierre White is an EatClub shareholder. Picture: Tasting Australia
Reached for comment via email, Grozdov said the Google review was “a truthful and accurate account of the experience”. “The restaurant offered $15 compensation, but we did not feel this was enough given the whole experience was cancelled entirely after our arrival,” he said.
“We asked to increase the offer by $35 but couldn’t come to an agreement. Nevertheless I consider the matter closed and have no future interaction planned.”
Grozdov joined TikTok in 2020 and soon amassed millions of views on his videos. He was eventually hired by the social media platform as a community manager.
“His viral sounds have even caught the attention of big stars like Madonna and Lizzo,” his website reads.
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“As a top emerging voice in the digital space, Pasha’s content reaches 56 million people monthly across Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. He has collaborated with a diverse range of brands, from Ralph Lauren to Microsoft, and his work has been featured in various media outlets.”
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