Restaurant’s insane review war
THE review site Yelp has become an unlikely battleground between Trump supporters and opponents following a restaurant's decision to refuse to serve White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
A fierce review feud erupted on the site after the owner of The Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia reportedly asked Ms Sanders to leave the restaurant because she worked for US President Donald Trump.
Ms Sanders tweeted she had been asked to leave mid-meal on Friday night (local time) and did so "politely".
Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for @POTUS and I politely left. Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) June 23, 2018
Soon after Ms Sanders' tweet, The Red Hen's page on Yelp was inundated with hundreds of mixed reviews - one-star reviews from Trump supporters, and five-star reviews from those who applauded the restaurant owner's bold move.
"Thank you for having the courage of your convictions. Bravo The Red Hen for standing up to evil, brutality, lying, and corruption," one Yelp user wrote alongside her five-star review.
"They don't serve food to fascists? I will be promoting this restaurant to anyone I know in the area. Well done, owners," another said.
But supporters of Mr Trump returned serve, bombarding the restaurant with single star ratings.
"Despicable and outlandish behaviour. The only thing served here … if they agree to serve you … is a heaping plate of arrogance and hypocrisy," one person wrote.
Another said: "This place couldn't even cook an egg the right way. Maybe if the owner spent more time in the kitchen and less time watching CNN, she would understand how to run a restaurant. No thanks! This place sucks."
As the feud intensified, some reviewers returned to the page to report they had received death threats and other threatening private messages after publishing their comments.
Yelp has now stepped in, announcing it was "cleaning up" The Red Hen's page after it became apparent most reviews were less about the restaurant's food and service and more about political debate.
"This business recently made waves in the news, which often means that people come to this page to post their views on the news," Yelp said in a pop-up message on the page.
"While we don't take a stand one way or the other when it comes to these news events, we do work to remove both positive and negative posts that appear to be motivated more by the news coverage itself than the review's personal consumer experience with a business."
It added reviews "may be removed as part of our clean-up process".
The Red Hen has an overall Yelp rating of 3.5 stars from 10,272 reviews at the time of publishing.
The incident has also blown up on Twitter.
Didn’t you morons get your panties in a wad defending the baker that didn’t want to make cakes for gay couples? https://t.co/1idczybcwA— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) June 23, 2018
Sarah Sanders is whining about not being served at the Red Hen restaurant, because she is a terrible person who lies for Trump and hurts this country. Yet, she fought the right for a business to not serve someone because they’re gay. Cry me a river. Go eat at a kkk restaurant.— Scott Dworkin (@funder) June 23, 2018
In light of the furore, The Red Hen's owner has explained her controversial decision, saying the rural community of Lexington had voted overwhelmingly against Mr Trump in the 2016 election and her staff were "a little concerned" when Ms Sanders walked in on Friday night.
"I'm not a huge fan of confrontation," Stephanie Wilkinson told the Washington Post.
"I have a business, and I want the business to thrive. This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals."
She said she approached Ms Sanders for a chat outside.
"I was babbling a little, but I got my point across in a polite and direct fashion," Ms Wilkinson said. "I explained that the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and co-operation. I said, 'I'd like to ask you to leave'."
She said Ms Sanders replied with: "That's fine. I'll go."
But Ms Sanders' father, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, jumped to his daughter's defence.
"Bigotry. On the menu at Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington VA," he tweeted on Saturday.
"Or you can ask for the 'Hate Plate'. And appetisers are 'small plates for small mind'."