Charlotte restaurant, consumed by a crisis, handles it correctly and wins praise


It’s rare that people or organizations get public notice for doing the right thing, especially in a crisis. And thanks to my public affairs colleague in our Charlotte office, Pete Smolowitz, for flagging this one to me.

A popular and successful Charlotte restaurant, Cowfish, had to close twice in 10 days when people became sick from eating there. Cowfish serves burgers and sushi, hence its name.

And that would probably be the end of this restaurant, because when there are so many restaurants to choose from, who wants to risk getting sick where customers repeatedly did?

Here’s why, in the words of The Charlotte Observer, which deserves credit for not being predictably condemnatory in its analysis of this business’ issues. Here, wrote the Observer, is why patrons should return.

We should do the opposite. We should go back – or just go, if you haven’t already.

From business executives to government officials to public figures, people do all the wrong things when something goes wrong. They pretend the bad thing didn’t happen. They hide it.  They admit only what they think they have to – which is often what people already know.

Cowfish did none of that.

And for those of us who evangelize that handling a crisis well, transparently and quickly can not only save a business’ or individual’s reputation, but enhance it, here are some sentences to warm the heart.

When faced with PR disaster, the steps are simple: Recognize the problem quickly, act fast and thoroughly, and over-communicate with everyone who might be affected.

The pain of doing so – and yes, it’s painful – is rarely as bad as what you endure when you’re caught hiding something.

So why do people avoid coming clean? Because it’s human nature – not to mention business and political culture – to want to minimize the short-term damage.

That’s what Hillary Clinton tried to do in her slow and bungled responses to email and Clinton Foundation scandals.

It’s what the University of North Carolina did with years of denying and deflecting reports of academic fraud involving athletes.

It’s what happened to countless businesses that have waited too long to respond to crises big and small, hoping things would blow over.

In those moments we learn about the people and companies involved. We learn who would elbow their way onto a lifeboat, and we learn who’s smart enough not to think of themselves at the expense of others. We learn whom to trust with our money, our political decisions, our food.

Yes, we do.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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