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How to survive a restaurant PR crisis

In the middle of chaos, an effective crisis management plan is crucial

Photo by Vikas Anand Dev/Unsplash

Inflation seems to have gotten on everyone’s nerves these days. On face value, the rising prices of commodities remain a heavy burden on low-income earners but even upscale restaurants and establishments are not immune to the staggering impact of a 6.4 percent inflation rate.

Whether a result of the controversial Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN), cost-cutting, ingredient shortages, or poor management decisions, dealing with in-house issues in a graceful manner is crucial. This effort called crisis management is a necessary tool even for restaurateurs to ensure that difficult and unexpected situations are handled properly.

Of course it’s difficult to foresee disasters happening in your restaurant but given the legal and financial ramifications of not having a crisis communications plan in place could mean the difference between recovering from a catastrophic event and putting your business’ reputation on the line.

Remember the KFC chicken shortage in the UK early this year? It’s an embarrassing lapse in logistics and supplier management. Yet in the middle of its restaurant closures, the brand worked doubly hard to fix the highly publicized crisis and responded beautifully by running an ad that poked fun at the whole chicken fiasco: a full-page ad where it rearranged KFC into FCK. They even set up a website for customers to find the closest open store.

FoodSafety magazine columnist Robert W. Powitz said that a foodservice crisis is defined as “a business disruption that stimulates regulatory intervention and possibly media coverage. The resulting scrutiny by the regulators and the public will affect normal operations and could have a political, legal, financial and governmental impact on the business.”

Of course it’s difficult to foresee disasters happening in your restaurant but given the legal and financial ramifications of not having a crisis communications plan in place could mean the difference between recovering from a catastrophic event and putting your business’ reputation on the line.

Granted, KFC’s dilemma stemmed from “operational issues” with a new delivery provider, but what can you do when the problem is caused by, say, an insect infestation discovered in the kitchen, a food poisoning outbreak like what occurred at Guevarra’s in San Juan, or an awful conflict between an entrepreneur and a client resulting from a failure to meet expectations set in a taste test. Case in point: There were reports of a squabble in a posh BGC establishment punctuated by expletives and eventually a lawsuit because of a (salmon) size problem.

So when faced with similar situations, how exactly do you respond to keep your reputation intact?

LOOK AT THE SITUATION MATTER-OF-FACTLY

It’s a strange thing to say to entrepreneurs perhaps because they, of all people, should know that while customers are not always right, their welfare and satisfaction still need to be considered. Especially in the service industry. No matter how dire the situation is, look at it with the facts in hand so you can make an informed decision and plan of action

HAVE A CRISIS STRATEGY AND TEAM IN PLACE

As mentioned, it’s not easy to forecast a disaster but having a crisis management strategy could reduce the negative impact on your business. That is, sales, public perception, stature, your competitor’s ability to take advantage of the situation. In KFC’s case, protocols were set in place to ensure that if something as significant as running out of chicken supplies were to happen, an appointed person like a front-of-house staff could effectively diffuse the situation.

In KFC’s case, protocols were set in place to ensure that if something as significant as running out of chicken supplies were to happen, an appointed person like a front-of-house staff could effectively diffuse the situation.

BE ACCOUNTABLE

At times, it can’t be helped that emotions run high especially those crises that spin out of control. It’s dangerous to let the heat of the moment get the best of professional settings. In fact, most of the problems that occur are a result of not investigating the incident and not gathering all the available information before taking any drastic action. Sometimes, doing the right thing first is difficult. But once you’ve learned all the facts, determine whether an admission of guilt or an apology is the best way to fix the problem. Showing accountability and goodwill says a lot more about your brand than desperately doing damage control.

MONITOR THE SITUATION AFTER THE CRISIS

Some crises are preventable. Some can be minimized with due diligence. Some, however, are difficult to shake and can continue to spiral out of control, and you’re left with a problem that’s even bigger than your ability to contain them. After the storm, monitor social media gingerly since negative trends about the establishment can take linger for a long time. This is where a good communications team comes in. Expect criticisms and negative comments but address them swiftly and in a consistent tone to rebuild your brand or rectify the aftershocks.

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