Social Media Showdown: A Customer-Restaurant Dispute Goes Viral

by | Mar 5, 2024 | Case study | 1 comment

Photo by Muhammed Furkan Biroğul

In the age of social media, every interaction can become a pivotal moment in shaping a business’s reputation. The recent experience of New York resident Trevor Chauvin-DeCaro serves as a stark reminder of how mishandling customer concerns on platforms such as Instagram can quickly escalate into a public relations nightmare. Today’s story is a cautionary tale.

Setting the Scene

It all started when Chauvin-DeCaro booked hotel and restaurant reservations in Boston for a two-day trip earlier this winter. Unfortunately, fate intervened when he fell ill and was hospitalized on the eve of his departure. Because of this, Chauvin-DeCaro and his husband got to work canceling their various reservations. While most of the cancellations went smoothly, Chauvin-DeCaro alleges that an employee at Table (a North End Italian restaurant) explained to him that the restaurant could not waive its cancellation fee of $250 and that he should contact his credit card company if he was “so butt hurt.”

So that’s exactly what he did. Taking advantage of Chase Bank’s robust travel insurance policy, he disputed the cancellation charge from Table. Once he provided documentation verifying his hospitalization, the bank refunded the charges on his card, leaving Chauvin-DeCaro under the impression that the situation had been resolved. However, things took an unexpected turn on Feb. 22 when he received a direct message from Table’s Instagram account, weeks after he had canceled his reservation in January. The owner of Table, Jen Royle, had a bone to pick with Chauvin-DeCaro regarding the disputed credit card charge and proceeded to engage in a lengthy and heated discussion with Chauvin-DeCaro via Instagram DM. She then went on to post screenshots of their interaction to Table’s Instagram story as well as her personal account, tagging him and calling him out publicly.

Now it should come as no surprise that Trevor Chauvin-DeCaro, as a disgruntled customer with a social media presence, wields the same power. That same day, he posted screenshots of the Instagram exchange on X (formerly Twitter), tagging Table. At the time of my writing this, the original tweet has garnered 24.2 million views.

Viral Backlash

Alarmingly, Jen Royle kept at it, and Trevor continued to post updates to X, each post getting thousands of likes and attention from local publications like “Eater Boston.” The feud has now blown into a viral nightmare with both parties receiving messages ranging from support to criticism, and even death threats and homophobic slurs. Table has set all of its social media accounts to private and has enlisted the help of Google and Yelp to manage the onslaught of negative business reviews that cite Royle’s treatment of Chauvin-DeCaro. 

Now, as someone with no expertise in either the restaurant industry or credit card insurance policies, I won’t be providing an opinion on the situation that occurred, but rather on how it was handled.

What Went Wrong 

When a customer turns to Google or Yelp to leave a negative review and voice a complaint publicly, they do so knowing they’re opening themselves up to a response from the business. This is where a social media policy is essential to provide clear direction for your employees so you can avoid a digital disaster such as this one that could harm your brand. A general rule of thumb for business owners that is applicable in almost every scenario is to quickly move the conversation offline and away from the public eye by providing a direct line of communication such as a business email or even an invite to chat over social media via private messages. The main goal is to keep the disparaging feedback as private as possible. Social media can be an excellent tool for customer service, so long as it’s being utilized correctly.

However, Trevor Chauvin-DeCaro never posted a negative review to begin with. Instead, Jen Royle took it upon herself to find Chauvin-DeCaro’s personal Instagram account to begin the fiery dispute. It’s no surprise that many social media users find this behavior peculiar. We may never know Royle’s intentions behind contacting the customer directly, but her clear anger surrounding a $250 dispute has now become much more costly for her business.

The second mistake that was made was doubling down by posting about the interaction on both her business account and her personal account. In today’s digital age, business leaders wield immense influence through their presence on social media platforms. Not only do they have the opportunity to establish themselves as industry authorities, but every piece of content they share can directly shape the public’s perception of their company.

According to this 2021 “Boston Magazine” article (that has not aged well in light of these more recent events), Royle had already established herself as a celebrity chef with a “smack-talking, no-bullshit persona” even going as far as to have “unlikely to apologize” in her X (formerly Twitter) bio. The article goes on to detail numerous online spats with customers that have received plenty of attention, and tabloid writer Aidan Kearney called her out, saying: “I don’t think she understands that if you have thousands of followers, every time you speak it’s like broadcasting in Fenway Park. Social media creates a power imbalance. If you’re someone with a large following, you have the power to whip up a mob and get people mad at a person, just like that.” While it seems this sort of response is in character for Royle, battling customers publicly is a risky game that was bound to backfire at some point. It’s worth noting that a fiery and blunt reputation has worked for other celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, but the key difference is that his attitude is directed toward the chefs he employs, not the patrons that fill his restaurant. Reservations at Hell’s Kitchen would be a lot easier to come by if diners knew they were subjecting themselves to his infamous verbal tirades. 

This kind of viral negativity can be avoided so long as you approach others with kindness, respect people’s privacy (even online), and have a thorough crisis response plan in place. This tale underscores the importance of professionalism and empathy in business interactions, particularly in the realm of social media, where missteps can reverberate far beyond the confines of a single exchange. 

What takeaways did you have from this encounter? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


Author: Celeste Russell, SMS

Hailing from Las Vegas, Celeste began working with NISM as a summer intern in 2019. Since then she has found a real home in the community, earned her SMS certification, and currently works as the Social Media Coordinator for NISM and the Social Media Manager for OMCP. Celeste graduated from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota with a B.A. in Acting & Communication for the Arts. Her passions have always included effective communication both on and off the stage and she is grateful that working remotely allows her the opportunity to pursue her acting career simultaneously. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her wonderful husband and their three pets.

Feel free to connect with Celeste on LinkedIn.

Check out her previous NISM blog post: Disingenuous Marketing Isn’t Fetch: The ‘Mean Girls’ Debacle

1 Comment

  1. Joe Cannata

    Such an unnecessary escalation. If you are having a bad day, don’t vent on social media.

Submit a Comment