If I could fit a sub-headline on this post, it would be, “Businesses Behaving Badly.”
Or at the very least, behaving ignorantly.
Recently, a local restaurant in Columbus, Ohio (The Lincoln Cafe) was in the news.
Because a police officer went there for lunch and ordered a sandwich. As he took a bite, he heard a weird crunching sound and immediately knew something was wrong.
Turns out there was ground glass in his sandwich. He ended up going to the hospital because his mouth was bleeding.
Now the restaurant is trying to blame a “chipped plate” for the issue.
You can choose to believe that or not. Frankly I find it nearly impossible to believe that somehow a chipped piece of glass would suddenly hop on its own into the inside of a sandwich.
Not to mention that this incident just “happened” to occur to a police officer…
… in the midst of one of the most divisive, violent times in our country’s history where angry activists are targeting police officers for their grievances.
This incident angered me.
To the point where I am now writing an article that has been simmering within me for a long, long time.
And the source of the “simmering” is this:
Business owners need to get back to the business of being a business. Period.
Stop entering into “culture wars.” Stop with the political pandering. Just stop.
When employees reach a point where they think it’s acceptable to plant ground glass inside a police officer’s sandwich… or spit into it… or refuse to wait on a customer because they’re wearing a police or military uniform ‒ we have officially crossed the Rubicon into “Business-Suicide Town.”
Look, I have my own political opinions and positions like anyone else. But when I patronize a business, I’m not looking for a political ally.
I’m looking for the best value my money can buy.
Which means if you serve the most amazing Blackened Cajun Burger with seasoned French Fries, then daggonit, I’ll be visiting your fine establishment and washing that sucker down with a refreshing pint of beer.
Just don’t talk politics. It ruins the appetite.
But unfortunately, consumers now have to hear everyone’s political views… whether they want to or not. And apparently, some establishments may just try to kill you if you offend their particular belief system.
Business owners, you must stop this.
You NEED to stop this.
It will end you if you don’t.
The Truth of Marketing in a Volatile Political Climate
As a marketer, I understand the importance of differentiating your offering in the marketplace. Truly, I do.
You don’t want to be like “that other guy” down the street who is selling gourmet cheeseburgers.
No… you want to be unique. Different. Exclusive.
And reaching out to a particular type of customer or client who will pay a pretty penny to consume whatever you put on the table is smart.
But here’s the problem when you decide to fly your freak flag high: You’re trying to build a house on sand.
Political views change on a dime. And news outlets are quick to rush a story through without doing due diligence because they have deadlines (woe to the journalist who gets “out-scooped” by a rival network).
Only after more careful deliberation does the truth come out – but by then it’s too late. Opinions have hardened and are almost unmovable at that point.
This leaves you – the business owner – looking like a complete idiot if you also rushed to judgment on a societal issue and now find yourself in the “untrue” camp.
So far, the owner of the Lincoln Cafe restaurant didn’t sound too remorseful. At least not with the sound bite I heard on today’s early morning news broadcast.
And that’s a shame.
Because right now, more than ever, a business owner needs to act quickly to repair a tarnished reputation.
If I was on her marketing team, here is what I would immediately do:
#1 Issue a Public Statement with a Heartfelt Apology
A customer was injured while eating at “my” establishment? Good night! This is absolutely and thoroughly unacceptable!
Tone is vital at this point. And the woman’s voice I heard this morning in the news story completely missed it. Completely missed it.
You have to sound sorry. Sound outraged. Sound remorseful.
You as a business owner MUST send out the message loud and clear that you are:
- Aware of what happened and that it is unacceptable
- Working diligently to discover what happened because what happened is unacceptable
- Concerned that anyone thinks this was deliberate and even if it wasn’t, realized it happened on your watch and you are taking responsibility for it
That’s how it’s done.
You don’t make excuses.
Or try to justify anything.
You simply acknowledge the wrong, apologize for it, and then work to make it better.
Janet Butler, my friend, and fellow writer added this:
“Deal with the situation in your business behind closed doors, and make sure whatever was responsible for that injury CANNOT happen again on your watch.
In other words, if there is video surveillance of any kind in the restaurant–as there often is–check to see if there’s any account of what happened with that officer’s sandwich. If there is, and you see who or what was responsible for it, that person or process goes away. NOW. And is encouraged never to darken the door again.”
Wise words, indeed.
#2 Send Flowers to the Injured Person or Party of Individuals
It doesn’t have to necessarily be flowers.
It could be tickets to the local football team’s season, complimentary passes to the symphony orchestra or a year’s worth of Omaha Steaks.
Make it lavish.
Make it over-the-top.
The gesture needs to be grand because you’re not just trying to win back the business of the injured individual, but the whole freakin’ Internet.
We live in the Era of Yelp Reviews. Where haters get off on dissing your business just because their microwave broke down and dammit, someone’s gotta pay…
Everyone’s got an axe to grind, nowadays.
And your business is a prime target, even if you don’t think you had anything to do with someone’s sucky day.
The haters will find a way to make you pay, if they can.
This is why you MUST be above reproach.
You must take the extra steps to ensure that you’re a quality business and you do more than the “right thing.”
You do the BEST THING.
So figure out what grand gesture you can make to the individual, which is in this case, a hard-working Columbus Police Officer.
Anything less just will not do.
#3 Give Free Stuff to the Injured Person or Party of Individuals
The Lincoln Cafe situation is a little different because 1) there is currently a deep anti-police sentiment right now in our country and 2) police are getting targeted and killed because of it.
No matter what position one may have with this cultural battle, it needs to be left at the door when dealing as a business. Every measure must be taken to ensure that everyone knows a business respects their patrons. All of their patrons.
Not just those who happen to agree with their political beliefs.
So the incident that happened at the Lincoln Cafe affected not just the police officer involved, but all of the police and law enforcement officials in town.
In order to win their forgiveness, their support, and loyalty, I would consider the following:
- Give every LEO a 75% discount on their meal for the rest of the month – or even free
- Ask the Columbus Police Department if you can treat the entire staff to a “Pizza Day” from another restaurant. It would prove to them that you want to make things right and will even go the extra mile by using another restaurant to do so.
- Host a ‘Love a Policeman and Policewoman Day’ where they could visit and enjoy an open house celebration, complete with assorted snacks and desserts.
- Have a dedicated parking spot in the front for your “Friends of the Force” and/or special seating inside for them. Make them feel special.
- During the holiday season, do something extra-special for them, like bringing by gift baskets of goodies. Anything to express your appreciation for them would go a long way.
Those are just a few ideas.
I’m sure you’ll be able to think of a lot more.
The bottom line is that yes, we all make mistakes.
And sometimes your employees really step on it.
But you can remedy the situation by your response. You can repair hurt and angry reactions by letting everyone know that YOU know what happened wasn’t right and you’re doing everything in your power to resolve it.
You’ll find that when you take strong measures to make things right, you’ll get more business than you bargained for. Lots more.
The alternative is doing nothing, further angering and dividing people, and then as a result… losing business.
The future of YOUR business depends on you.
Do the right thing. You’ll be glad you did.