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October's Featured Speaker: Eden Gillott Bowe

The Real Life Olivia Pope 

Crash Course in Crisis PR: What to Do When the Soup Hits the Fan

“Am I putting myself at risk eating there? When do I know if it’s safe again? Can I trust that I’ll get good service?”

These are only a few thoughts that run through customers’ minds when they hear about lapses in safety or quality. No one wants to be in the hot seat and have to explain their way out.

Contrary to popular belief, not all of our clients call on us for crises, and most call us for issues that aren’t media-related at all. Even if the media isn’t involved, your customers will care.

Restaurants are no stranger to mishaps and upset customers (sometimes through no fault of your own). It’s Murphy’s Law. That’s why toast has a tendency to land butter-side down.

Plan. There are so many ways things can go wrong between your vendors, suppliers, employees, and customers. Be prepared now, and you can rest easier later. 

Don’t end up on the wrong side of reviews, the media, or the law, scrambling to clean up a mess you weren’t ready for.

Breathe. It’s terrifying when everything seems to be going wrong. Don’t lose composure, or mistakes will happen. How you react during the first few moments is critical -- it sets the tone for all that follows.

A bakery was involved in a recall after a vendor sold it contaminated flour. Instead of scrambling in a panic, they had a plan and called us. We took over communications and reassured their customers. Business was back to normal within hours.

Don’t focus solely on putting out the current fire. You must remember about its effects on your long-term strategy. Otherwise, all of your efforts will be for naught.

Inform. When people are scared, they crave answers. Don’t leave them hungry. Otherwise, they’ll speculate (which is often worse than reality). Inform your audiences early and often.

Reassure. Customers need to be reassured. When there’s a threat to food safety, the public cares about one thing: How does it affect me? You have many audiences: vendors, suppliers, employees, customers, investors, and the media. They have different concerns, but your messaging must be consistent.

A restaurant chain lost 60% of its employees overnight as immigration officials conducted an I-9 audit. They reassured the clientele and others that they valued all their employees and that there wouldn’t be an interruption in service. Not only did the restaurant not lose customers, but business was so brisk that it was able to expand.

Congratulations! The immediate threat is over. Now what?

Learn from what happened. Don’t block the incident out of your memory. Examine what you can do better in the future. How can you stop the issue from happening again? How can you improve your response? How can you be a better restaurant?

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More about Eden Gillott Bowe:
Eden Gillott Bowe resolves issues both in and outside the media’s glare -- from recalls and celebrity scandals to investigations and major management changes. She’s worked in Manhattan, Seoul, and Los Angeles. She’s been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, NPR, Forbes, Huffington Post, Eater, Food Quality & Safety Magazine, and Food Safety Magazine. She writes a weekly blog and is also the author of two upcoming books A Board Member’s Guide to Crisis PR and A Lawyer’s Guide to Crisis PR. 




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