Florida restaurateurs warned about complaint letter scam

March 25, 2002

TAMPA -- A letter-writing campaign by a mysterious patron complaining of bad service has Florida restaurateurs scratching their heads.

The author, "Caroline Heart," has targeted several chains in the state, telling them she has been dissatisfied with each "restaurant on the past two visits." According to a report published in the Tampa Bay paper, The Business Journal, Heart writes that she's a personnel director for an unspecified company.

In the letter, she doesn't press for meal cost reimbursement, but she does ask for a written apology. Amanda Hyde, general manager of the Bob Evans Restaurant on U.S. Highway 19 in next-door Clearwater, told the Journal that the letter's tone hints of compensation.

"You definitely feel like she wants some reimbursement," Hyde said.

Hyde is just one of several operators who received identical copies of Heart's letter. All 28 Bob Evans in Florida got the same letter, along with operators of Applebee's Neighborhood Grills and other casual-service chains.

Given that restaurant and tourist traffic is down in the Sunshine State, Lea Crusberg, spokeswoman for the Florida Restaurant Association, said complaint letters are the last things operators want, and that in those situations, many typically send gift certificates without question, just to make customers happy.

More evidence that the claim is a scam is Heart's telephone number included in the letter. Calls to the number connected operators to a voice mailbox that was full, and unable to accommodate callers' messages.

Topics: Crime

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