It happens every day, even to the best and most diligent restaurant staff and operations teams. It’s the lunch rush at your restaurant, and everyone is working as quickly as they can to get orders in and out to customers. Everything changes from one second to the next: your most hardworking server burns his hand in the kitchen and has to leave for medical care. One of the cooks is grilling non-stop, and the fridge door is constantly being opened as staff continually reach in to grab ingredients. At the same time, one of the sinks beaks, spilling water all over the kitchen floor.
This chaos would not be complete without a surprise inspection by the state health inspector. If things don’t go well, the health inspector finds some serious violations and promptly shuts you down, advising you not to serve patrons any longer, and hangs a notice on the window until the next reinspection.
There was a time when this situation, as bad as it is, was easily manageable. Your exposure did not extend beyond lost sales for the day and loss of reputation for any customers who happened to discover the situation. Unfortunately, those days are long gone.
It may only be several hours until the failed report is published on a government website. In seconds it can be distributed by websites and blogs that automatically collect information about restaurant closings. To make matters worse, local media often produce segments aimed at sharing these stories, using the most dramatic tactics when doing so.
Media may publicly or secretly film your location. They may interview your customers, filming their reaction to the inspection report. They may confront you or your staff attempting to provoke an angry response. Remember that broken sink? It’s now “sewage found near a food prep area.” That refrigerator that was constantly being opened? It’s now “products stored at dangerous temperatures.”
So, what is the best recourse to avoid tarnishing your restaurant’s name forever by a failed inspection report? How long until the news stations come out to sensationalize your story?
Whether or not you’ve been unlucky enough to be featured on a series such as Dirty Dining, there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage of a failed health inspection. You may have time to get ahead of the story and put other safeguards in place to protect your brand’s reputation.
How can I handle the media?
Depending on the severity of the violations in your report, you’ll need to put together a crisis management plan to ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands how to deal with the media.
Remember, even if you have a crisis at hand, you have a chance to recover. What you say and do following a PR crisis such as this can ruin your reputation, or redeem it. For example, Jack in the Box, a fast-food franchise that carries the title of one of history’s worst cases of widespread foodborne illness, has since become a leader in fast food sanitation, procedures, and safety training. It spent billions on restructuring the way its business was run, to become known for their community leadership and corporate responsibility.
Partnering with an agency that can help you create and execute a crisis management plan can be an essential tool to get out of turmoil. At Absolute Marketing Solutions, we have helped handle clients resume business and rebuild their reputation after being featured on segments such as Dirty Dining, and other news reports about failed health inspections.
How can I fix my restaurant’s reputation?
Eric Seidel is a Tampa consumer lawyer at the law firm of McIntyre Thanasides and formerly worked as a journalist on Fox 13 covering consumer affairs, targeting scams, frauds, and consumer rip-offs.
Both as a former member of the media, and an attorney concerned with protecting the rights of consumers and business owners, Eric understands both sides of the media storm that may arise from a failed health inspection at a popular food establishment. Here are some insights from him.
If you’re in a situation where you have failed a health inspection, and your restaurant is going to be on the news, contact the team at Absolute Marketing Solutions today to get started on your crisis management strategy. We work with our clients to rebuild their brand and alleviate damage in the midst of a PR crisis.
(On a side note, here are some truly tragic failed health inspection experiences that likely will make you feel better about yourself, via Reddit.)