It’s naive to think a crisis will never occur or assume it will go unnoticed by the public or media outlets. In today’s digital world of social media and viral news, no business owner can overlook developing a restaurant crisis management plan.

A crisis can completely derail your restaurant’s business and tarnish its excellent reputation with customers. Many restaurants fail in their response to dealing with an emergency situation merely because they’re unprepared. Don’t let this be you

Learn how to avoid the mistakes some of your fellow restaurateurs have made and create a crisis management plan that will allow your team to appropriately respond to a situation that could have a negative impact on your business.

What is crisis management?

Crisis management refers to strategies and tactics designed to respond to sudden and significant events that are harmful to a business or organization. Crisis situations not only threaten your restaurant’s reputation but its revenue, stakeholders, and the livelihood of your employees.

The goal of a restaurant crisis management plan is to ensure that no matter what catastrophe has occurred, you’re able to respond and recover as quickly as possible.

Your plan should fulfill these objectives:

  • Return to your restaurant normal business operations as quickly as possible.
  • Eliminate or reduce any threats or risks such as anything that impacts your staff, the building structure, profits, or customer base.
  • Ensure your brand image and reputation remain intact.
  • Limit competitors from taking advantage of your downfall.

Types of Foodservice Crises

Numerous adverse situations can arise in the foodservice industry. Therefore it’s essential to draft an action plan that constructively responds to any possible problems promptly.

Although you think “this doesn’t apply to my business,” include it in your crisis management plan with an appropriate response method. Some typical food service crises are:

  • Weather-related events
  • Foodborne illnesses
  • Criminal acts (extortion, robberies, fraud)
  • Data breaches
  • Product recalls
  • A bad health inspection
  • Special interest group intrusions

Crisis Management Strategies

Effective crisis management begins before catastrophe strikes. Preparedness is the key to crisis management and its imperative that you have strategies implemented to respond to emergencies and remain in control of the situation. Take the necessary steps to ensure that you’ve designated the right decision-makers to minimize loss or damage, trained staff on the plan and how to react, and procedures in place to communicate with customers, media, and the public.

Create a Crisis Management Team

When it comes to implementing a restaurant crisis management plan, the first thing you need to do is form a crisis management team. Find a group of trusted employees that are capable of handling stressful situations. Usually, this team includes owners, managers, shift leaders, and someone from the kitchen like the sous chef.

Designate one person as team leader responsible for all internal communication about the crisis management plan and executing its processes.

Another member of the crisis management team should be carefully chosen to be the spokesperson. This person will act as liaison to the public and media during a time of crisis.

Set-up Internal and External Communication Systems

Since communication is key to crisis management, the team leader and spokesperson should be the ones responsible for internal and external communication.

For internal communication, implement a messaging system so plan updates and crisis status is easily communicated to every staff member. This can be something as simple as a phone tree or a group SMS message. Create a master document that includes all employee contact information and give everyone a copy of it.

You may also want to put a procedure in place to communicate with vendors, other stakeholders, and family members of staff in extreme cases.

As for external communication to the public, this will be the spokesperson’s job. The spokesperson is the only individual who should make public statements. They will be the representative of your restaurant’s brand and must uphold a level-headed, professional demeanor when speaking to the public.

Be Proactive

Because reports of a crisis in the food-service industry are so newsworthy, it’s essential you and your crisis management team get in front of the controversy when it occurs. In your crisis management plan, you want to develop action steps to stay ahead of the issue. It will be impossible to avoid the press, so make sure that any news or updates are coming from the crisis management spokesperson, not outside sources.

It’s important to be proactive during a restaurant crisis — especially in today’s digital landscape. Social media gives you a platform to instantly communicate with the public, and you’ll want to use that to your advantage. Nowadays, not issuing an immediate response can be like digital genocide. It gives the perception that you’re ducking the issue and not taking accountability.

Use social media, and although people may make negative comments, it’s important you remain positive and professional in your response. Address comments rationally and avoid being defensive in your rebuttal.

Be Honest

During crises, be as upfront and honest with the public as possible. Admit to any mistakes made by you or staff members and take accountability for the company’s actions. Never try to be deceptive or transfer blame to other parties when explaining the issue. Your restaurant may look bad at the moment, but customers will appreciate your open honesty in the long run.

Be Apologetic and Summarize How to Solve the Problem

Following a restaurant crisis, sincerely apologize to your stakeholders, customer base and the public. In your apology emphasize that your organization is taking the necessary steps to resolve the issue and preventative steps to ensure it does not happen again. Reassure your customer base how and why you value their trust and loyalty. Describe what measures will be taken to earn it back. For example, if your restaurant experiences a string of foodborne illnesses among diners, make an announcement that you’re doing a clean sweep and evaluation of your ingredients and menu items, retraining kitchen staff, and switching over to new vendors and suppliers.

Following a crisis, gather your team and review the plan to see where procedures need to be improved or abandoned. In the event of an emergency, it’s important to stay calm, remain positive and work efficiently to rectify the situation.

Developing a crisis management plan may be challenging, but having one in place will ensure your restaurant has a system to withstand critical or hazardous situations. With a thorough, well-planned crisis management plan, your restaurant business can communicate its key messages and maintain its same brand and trustworthiness.