Owner of Belfast restaurant Ribs and Bibs that advertised lunch with wife-beating slogan hits out at 'horrendous trial by social media'
A Belfast restaurateur has said he has been "subjected to a horrendous trial by social media" after his business advertised a meal deal with a sexist slogan.
The sign placed outside Botanic Avenue eatery Ribs and Bibs on Tuesday bearing the phrase, "£5 til 5! Ya can beat the wife but ya can't beat a 5 pound lunch!" was removed after half an hour following a complaint.
However, a picture of the sign had already been posted on Facebook and caused a huge outcry, with women's groups and politicians accusing the eatery of "trivialising domestic violence".
The restaurant also responded to an online complaint with the words: "My God mate get a life, it's a bit of wit."
Restaurant owner Malachy Turner said his restaurant, and the member of staff who wrote the sign, were "victims" of "a horrendous trial by social media".
"We completely and absolutely disassociate ourselves from the wording on the sign - we don't condone domestic violence," he said. "I had the flu at the time and wasn't at the restaurant - the first I knew was when I turned on the phone and had six or seven missed calls.
"We were inundated with calls and we had about 1,500 hits online. I asked the guy who wrote it what he was thinking - he said he thought he was being proactive."
Malachy says he won't fire the employee responsible, but that the business has been subjected to a "barrage of abuse on social media".
"I feel that we have been subjected to a horrendous trial by social media," he said.
"People were downgrading our rating from five to one - it wasn't that they had come in and eaten anything, it was just that they had seen the picture. We had to take our Facebook page down as the messages were so negative.
"Some people said that they wouldn't be eating here again, and we have had two or three cancelled Christmas bookings. A karaoke player said he couldn't associate himself with our business any longer.
"I was horrified. I have spent three years building this business up from scratch, trying to build up a reputation, and with just five words that's all gone.
"I didn't get a wink of sleep on Tuesday night. The sign was only up for half an hour, but thousands of people have seen it on social media."
The businessman says he actively recruits disadvantaged local people who "wouldn't get a chance elsewhere".
"The victim in this is a very vulnerable, disadvantaged employee, as well as the women who were hurt by the comment," he said.
"The employee didn't understand what those words meant to everybody and was left in fear of losing his job. We're all victims in it. The business is not in immediate danger of folding, but I'm worried about the long-term impact."
However, he added that yesterday, business was "very good".
"We have had about 20 messages from people saying they will support us, as well as more Christmas bookings which will make up for the cancellations."
Admitting that he "hasn't got to the bottom" of which staff member posted the "unofficial response" to the social media complaint, Malachy says he will be taking up an offer from Women's Aid NI to educate staff on domestic violence.
"Women's Aid NI have told us they will train us regarding comments towards domestic violence victims, and we are holding a fundraising night with all proceeds going to a women's shelter.
"If anything good can come out of this, it is to give publicity to domestic violence, which may encourage people to get help."
Women's Aid NI said that domestic violence is "no joke" and said that there is still "a long way to go to change hearts and minds in Northern Ireland".