By Ellen Hartman
Restaurant operators frequently talk about what keeps them up at night, because they know that a crisis at their restaurant is only a meal away. A poor safety rating, a negative review, an illness or any number of problems can all potentially devastate your brand and cause long-term damage.
The key to effectively and efficiently handling a problem in your restaurant is to have a crisis plan in place. Preparation goes a long way to successfully dealing with the issue and ensuring that your restaurant’s good reputation remains intact.
Don’t wait until something happens, then wish you were better prepared. Instead, here are 12 steps you need to take right now to ensure your restaurant is ready for a crisis.
1. Develop a crisis team contact list. If something happens, you need to know who to contact and get in touch with them quickly. The list should include each team member’s responsibilities. Contacts and responsibilities include: a team leader, food safety coordinator, supply chain coordinator, culinary team outreach person, media communications team, operations contact, legal team, finance contact, human resources contact, guest relations team and external contacts.
2. Brainstorm potential crisis scenarios and how to respond to them. Responses should include media statements, brand messages and a press release template.
3. Name a spokesperson(s). This person will be responsible for communicating directly to the media and other audiences.
4. Media train the spokesperson(s). The spokesperson should be familiar with brand messages and be capable of clearly relaying them to the media while also addressing the crisis. The spokesperson(s) should also be able to remain composed and respond to difficult questions asked by the media.
5. Establish a virtual crisis center. This should house all communication resources, including all necessary messaging, press materials and contact information, and should only be accessible to internal audiences.
6. Identify third-party advocates and have backgrounders available for them. Since your spokesperson is part of your company, the public may not believe he or she is speaking with-out bias. That’s why it’s important to have someone from an organization not affiliated with your business that is willing to defend your restaurant if something bad happens. Third-party advocates may include organizations like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, law enforcement agencies or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
7. Update media lists. Keep a current list that includes appropriate contacts in each city your restaurant operates in. If you are a large franchise with locations across the country, also include national media contacts.
8. Tell people about the good things you do. Update your company’s community relations activities and include a place on the website where media and guests can view activities and learn how they can help.
9. Implement annual crisis planning. Conduct an annual training session with simulation for employees. Annual training will keep long-term employees updated on changes and will train new employees on appropriate actions.
10. Develop a post-crisis debriefing process. Post-crisis debriefing analyzes what went right and what went wrong, how you can do better in the future, and identifies any changes that need to be made to better handle a future crisis.
11. Monitor potential new crisis threats and adjust plans accordingly. Your crisis team should always be on the lookout for potential problems so the team can get ahead of them early.
12. Update your crisis plan quarterly. Make sure contact name and numbers are up-to-date and new scenarios and actions are current.
Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice Industry. Hartman has experience working for Coca-Cola, Concessions International, Chili’s, Huddle House, Frist Watch, Fresh To Order, Billy Sims BBQ and Uncle Maddio’s and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum, Les Dames d ’Escoffier International and has served on the board Georgia State University School of Hospitality. She earned her APR accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America and is a member of PRSA’s Fellow program for senior accomplished professionals.