Restaurant guide publisher Harden’s today criticises Which? (formerly known as the Consumers Association) for making false and misleading claims in connection with its promotion of the Good Food Guide 2008 (‘GFG’). These false claims, originally made in trade material, are now being innocently repeated to the wider public by online stores.
For the past six months, Which? has been involved in a major campaign aimed at the book trade to re-launch the GFG this month. In advertising to the trade, this included headlining the claim that the GFG would include “in depth reviews of over 1500 of the best restaurants in the UK” (a significant increase on previous editions), and – in a full page advertisement in Publishing News, 13 July 2007 – claiming the GFG would contain “more restaurants than ever before”.
The published GFG – which must have gone to press shortly after the advertisement referred to above – falls far short of the claims made for it, listing only 1199 restaurants. It turns out that coverage advertised pre-publication exceeded actual coverage by more than 25%, and the guide does not contain “more restaurants than ever before”.
Further, the number of “in-depth reviews” in the GFG is only 1070, with 129 “Readers Recommend’ entries (which contain only the sketchiest information) making up the balance. The published GFG therefore contains some 29% fewer in-depth reviews than claimed (and fewer than in each of the two preceding editions).
Which?’s own website is still making a false claim: that each GFG review “provides up-to-the-minute information on … prices, chefs, menus and wine lists”. However, Readers Recommend entries (129 of the 1070) do not contain any price (or other detailed) information.
Richard Harden, co-publisher of Harden’s, said:
"Coverage is the leading objective claim almost all restaurant guides make. You would therefore have hoped that, of all people, the ‘Consumers' Association’ would get its claims right.
Which? told the book trade to expect the biggest-ever GFG, and said that the guide would contain over 1500 detailed reviews, yet in fact it has just 1199 entries of any sort, and only 1070 which could be described as detailed. Yet potential web customers for the GFG are still being told it has over 1500 detailed descriptions.
When we challenged Which?, their stated 'defence' was twofold. Firstly, they said, the GFG required last-minute editing. This is self-evidently true, but a fatuous excuse for a guide in its 56th year. Secondly, they indicated that the new format proved less accommodating than originally expected. Again, this is no excuse at all. Why on earth did they make the claim if they had not assured themselves that their guide could live up to it?
We suggested to Which? that they might themselves make a public announcement to correct and clarify the situation, but they declined our suggestion, which is why we find ourselves setting the record straight for them. We have also made a complaint to Tradings Standards authorities.
It rather seems that the sort of standards Which? would demand of others are too rigorous to apply to themselves.”
For further information, contact Richard or Peter Harden on 020 7839 4763