Restaurant, bar and cafe owners across the country have joined a new campaign calling for an end to unnecessarily hurtful online reviews.

Say Don’t Slay May is a venue-led movement fighting for fairness and more in-person feedback over anonymous comments on social media. So far, 130 venues have joined the month-long campaign. Former Jam Pantry owner and chef Naomi Zavackas tells Broadsheet she started the campaign after seeing the impact of online attacks on her peers.

“It’s really important to think beyond what’s happening on your plate and to think of business owners as humans who are trying to juggle everything going on at the moment and deliver a really good product,” she says. “People are taking the opportunity to ‘review’ the owners or staff personally, so it ceases to be about their [dining] experience.

“If negative reviews are constructed thoughtfully and the intention is for the team to learn from it, those reviews are really helpful. It’s the negative slashing that is heartbreaking, not just for the business owners but for the teams.”

Brisbane’s Montrachet and Mica are among the venues that have signed up to Say Don’t Slay May. Owner Clare Kellam says negative reviews often come from misunderstandings and “fixable” problems. “The message is not that we don’t want to hear from guests, good or bad,” says Kellam. “We’d love to [hear feedback] in a meaningful way, to improve the experience for all.

“We want each guest to have a wonderful experience, but we are human. Being able to have guests speak with you directly is a much more constructive way to relate than online posts,” she says.

Montrachet and Mica are taking part in Say Don’t Slay’s one-day social-media protest – #nocomment Day (Saturday May 15) – in which participating venues will disable comments on Facebook and Instagram for 24 hours.

Zavackas wants Say Don’t Slay May to become an annual event. “We want to get customers on our side,” she says. “Small business owners put so much of themselves into a venue – it’s an extension of themselves – so when these attacks get personal, you’re shitting on them. It’s like you’re abusing somebody’s child, because it’s like an extension of your heart.”

Zavackas also runs an industry network for women in hospitality called Mise en Place Bonne Femme. As part of Say Don’t Slay May, she’s running workshops for hospo owners to help them manage complaints “at the table”.

“Good and bad reviews really depend on communication,” she says. “Staff aren’t mind readers, and when they come over to the table and ask, ‘How is everything?’ the customer has the chance to get whatever grievances they have fixed. And if you’re feeling awkward about saying anything, there’s always the opportunity to write an email.”

Kellam adds, “We don’t expect our diners to understand the ins and outs of this game, but we do expect respect for how we operate.”