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Smith & Wollensky is a high-end steakhouse located in New York City but the next time you're visiting the Big Apple, it might not be your top choice for a fillet if you're searching for a restaurant through a popular reviews service like Yelp.

That's because the restaurant is currently suffering from a bout of social media backlash after reports that it made a very bad customer service decision.

According to numerous news articles, after racking up a $200-plus bill at Smith & Wollensky, Italian attorney Graziano Graziussi realized that he had forgotten his wallet.

He offered his iPhone to the restaurant as collateral. And he offered to be accompanied to his hotel by a member of the restaurant staff. The latter, it would seem, would provide a satisfactory means to resolve the matter.

But for some reason unknown, the staff at Smith & Wollensky opted to call the police, and Graziussi's nightcap took place at the local jail.

Thanks to the internet, a lie can travel around the world before the truth gets its tweet on

Smith & Wollensky's apparent bad faith decision to treat a customer who made an honest mistake like a criminal was obviously a poor one, and thanks to the internet and nature of the story, Graziussi's story spread quickly.

The result, not surprisingly, has been a social media beat-down for Smith & Wollensky. Graziano Graziussi's tale is making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook, as well as on popular blogs and mainstream news outlets.

And on Yelp, an important site for many restaurants, Smith & Wollensky has seen its rating drop to three stars, not what you'd expect from an upscale steakhouse. There are dozens of reviews lambasting the restaurant for its treatment of a tourist and while some have obviously been written by individuals who never patronized Smith & Wollensky, a number claim to be from past customers who won't be returning lest they forget their wallets.

There's just one problem: the story that sparked this social media firestorm may not be accurate.

According to New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, when police arrived at the scene, Graziussi had in his possession a wallet containing $118. And an Italian-speaking officer who interviewed Graziussi concluded that Graziussi "simply did not want to pay" his bill. A CBS New York article reports that Graziussi was arrested for theft of services, later released and will have to settle the matter.

Smith & Wollensky's Facebook posted this information on its Facebook page, linking to the article containing the details. But this obviously won't eliminate the damage already done, and even if it turns out that this was truly a case of the customer being at fault, some individuals aren't willing to accept that reality differs from what was originally reported.

Case in point: despite official statements from the New York City police department, some Facebook users simply don't believe that the story adds up. Graziussi must have been the victim and even after it has become clear that, at a minimum, there is more to this incident than meets the eye, they continue to blast Smith & Wollensky.

Business as sacrificial lamb

This raises perhaps one of the most difficult questions for businesses operating in the age of social media: should we do what's right even thought we know we might be portrayed as doing wrong?

If we assume that the Smith & Wollensky incident was one in which a customer refused to pay a bill, which, as it apparently stands right now, is the official story according to law enforcement, it would seem that the restaurant's decision to involve the police was a reasonable one. After all, most restaurants are not going to let customers walk out the door without paying simply because they don't want to pay. Nor should they.

But doing the right thing can be a social media liability, and at the end of the day, it's important for businesses owners to remember that we live in a world filled with injustice, perceived and actual. In the commercial realm, customers are frequently treated poorly, some companies do take advantage of and exploit, and so on and so forth. So when a story breaks -- inaccurate or not -- that feeds into this, businesses like Smith & Wollensky become perfect sacrificial lambs. That often leads to backlashes that are more fierce and angry than one might otherwise expect given the circumstances.

Frankly, there is nothing businesses can do about this. There are no easy solutions, and few best practices for responding. But companies should never apologize for doing the right thing. Instead, they should continue to do the right thing because living in fear of the social media mob is no way to run a business, even if the mob is capable of taking its pound of flesh.

Patricio Robles

Published 28 January, 2013 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2419 more posts from this author

Comments (10)

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For me, this type of inaccurate portrayal of an incident is one in a million and you're just extremely unlucky if it happens to your business. Social media is normally self moderating, and justice is eventually done. But like in the real world, cases slip through the net, and an innocent party suffers.

over 3 years ago



S&W should have managed this better. Had they been on top of this, and made their statement to the online communities/press immediately, they may have been able to turn this around.

over 3 years ago



Wow, this story is a great example of what happens when the power of social media is stronger than the word of law enforcement. But I am sure there's something else missing from the story. Why would a lawyer, someone whose more than a little familiar with the law, just blatantly refuse to pay there bill?

over 3 years ago



Hi, very interesting point!
The article refers to best practices. But what are these? Any links please?

over 3 years ago



Agree with Katina. I think there's details here that still dont quite make sense. Why would an Italian attorney just not want to pay the bill. That doesnt seem to quite make sense. I havent ever heard of a professional at a high end restaurant risking police action just because he did not "want" to pay the bill. More likely is perhaps he disputed some of the charges and refused to pay the bill - that seems more reasonable an explanation and in that case, S&W would still be in the wrong for calling the Police.

over 3 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy


I don't think that's a fair argument. First, many businesses are rightfully hesitant to speak publicly about customers for privacy reasons. And second, it's clear that regardless of what Smith & Wollensky says, the social media mob is not going to simply admit that it was wrong and go back to tweeting about other things.


Your comment proves the point of this article. The NYPD was called to the scene of the incident and police officers interviewed the people involved. They were responsible for determining what happened and taking appropriate action. You, I and others were not there, so it seems completely unreasonable to suggest that we are in a legitimate position to claim that the official police report is somehow inaccurate (in some unknown way) absent any public evidence to the contrary. Put simply, "this story is a great example of what happens when individuals don't want to trust the words of those who were actually there."

By the way, eat and run attempts are *not* uncommon at restaurants.


"Why would an Italian attorney just not want to pay the bill. That doesnt seem to quite make sense. I havent ever heard of a professional at a high end restaurant risking police action just because he did not 'want' to pay the bill."

As I noted above, eat and run attempts are not once-in-a-lifetime events at restaurants. The bill can also become a problem in other ways. Patrons get drunk and belligerent. Or a customer will devour a meal and then claim that he or she thought there was a problem with one of the items, justifying removal of the item from the bill.

Obviously, I'm not suggesting that either happened here, but I do think it's worth pointing out how easy it is for people who haven't worked at a restaurant to assume that customers never try to avoid paying the bill, or to assume that a "professional" is above attempting to skirt his or her liability to pay.


There are really few best practices for responding to these types of incidents. Some suggest apologizing (regardless of fault), or responding immediately, but in my opinion, this rarely results in a satisfactory outcome when the social media mob wants blood.

over 3 years ago



I'm with you on this Patricio and in response to the -
"Why would an Italian attorney just not want to pay the bill. That doesnt seem to quite make sense. I havent ever heard of a professional at a high end restaurant risking police action just because he did not 'want' to pay the bill",
... after working in the catering & restaurant trade, I can confirm that just like any other line of business, some customers are just on the take, regardless of their occupation or standing, and in fact, some are just a**e-holes - just seems to be the way it is.

over 3 years ago


allan graupman

As an owner and a customer I can assure you there is more than meets the eye here.
My assessment would be to look and see if the customer ate ALL the food, in this case steak.
There are bad steaks. If the buyer at the business knows his business that is kept at a minimum.
In major steak houses, 100% of the time the staff always asks how things are at the beginning , middle and end of a dinner.
There are customers who have a right to complain, but if they do that after eating IT ALL, then the evidence tells the story. AN EMPTY PLATE, and a decision to NOT PAY at the beginning of their dinner. there are always exceptions, and this may be one of them. Italians are very difficult to please, and if it's not italian food, well, you know what I mean.

over 3 years ago



whatever the story is, if the management team at Smith & Wollensky were not able to amicably resolve the payment issue with this man, they have the right to call the police. This is a business. Why didn't this man call someone (friend or relative)and explain the situation and get a credit card number to give to S&W or get temporary cash for him? I put myself in his position and I honestly would be embarassed to mention this to anyone, let alone the social media as he did. He is looking for sympothy and trying to get away with not paying. If S&W would have let him go, he would have gotten away with not paying.

over 3 years ago


restaurants white plains

Well what can you expect from the social media today. They can fabricate lie and just post in in the social media without even thinking if it can ruin someone's reputation.

over 3 years ago

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