This is not a Facebook crisis.
It’s a business owner crisis.
We have a charming restaurant owner in the Phoenix area, Scottsdale, who has issues with being abrasive and insulting with customers. Chef Gordon Ramsay from Kitchen Nightmares had objectively captured and amplified the criticism. So much so, that he could not in good faith complete the episode. This is a huge statement in and of itself since his television series is about saving failing restaurants and turning them around. And trust me, he has worked with some restaurants that arguably might not have been worth saving – but he finds the way.
Amy and her husband Sam run a bakery that also serves Italian food in Scottsdale, AZ. They permitted Ramsay and team to film their show in their restaurant. During the first day where Ramsay closely observes the operations and feedback from patrons, disaster strikes. It was discovered that “fresh ravioli” was in fact frozen and then later cooked. Then, a young server was confirming the dish choice to the owner (Amy), which was followed by her immediate termination. Finally, it was revealed that the owners were pocketing the tips that patrons intended for the server. All throughout the episode, Amy and Sam denied responsibility and refused to accept that they needed to adjust their menu, operations and decisions. The second day, Ramsay and the owners met the following morning — and what could have been a moment of ‘clarity’ was more of the same. So much so, that Ramsay had decided that it was not worth his time, nor the owners’, if he continued with the show.
If this was any other restaurant owner, then I think the story would end there and there wouldn’t be any vitriolic controversy to talk about.
But this is no ordinary restaurant.
See, the problems for Amy’s Baking Company began three years ago. The alternative, but all-too-accurate publication Phoenix New Times has written about the establishment eight times. The conundrum wasn’t because when the owner didn’t merely defend her decisions, but when she decided to go completely postal on a customer on the consumer review site, Yelp. Little did she know that ‘Yelpers’ tend to take disagreement much more personally than a common business owner. And it continued for three years where she would critique the critics into an endless cycle.
In other words, Kitchen Nightmares accurately captured and portrayed the attitudes shared by the husband and wife business owners. Here’s an account from a Redditor, WordPress pro and friend, Greg Taylor.
At this point, Reddit and other blogs picked up on this episode, the context and they began to voice their opinions. (While I think it’s unfair non-patrons can comment on a business’ Yelp page, I do think it’s fair game to comment on the Facebook Page.) Most of their opinions were based on the episode that was leaked on the web.
True to form, the negativity spewed from the official Amy’s Baking Company Facebook Page. The full, uncensored responses are visible here. The hatred pointed at passersbys was so strong, it was a train wreck. This fueled others to watch, add more fuel to it and watch in complete amazement of how a business could take a bad situation and make it worse. Not by accident, either. As a result of their abusive responses and blanket posts, they caught the attention of media, reporters, bloggers and thousands of others who had to voice their reactions of both the episode as well as the business’ behavior on Facebook.
The next morning, the business made BuzzFeed, Phoenix New Times, Forbes and 23,000 other news sources. From there, it bled into mainstream media and the disaster continued. They deleted their comments and alleged that their Facebook account was hacked and “the authorities” are involved. I, and countless others, don’t buy it. Thousands of comments continued to pour in on this latest decision to lie about their actions.
I think most people who criticized them simply wanted Amy and Sam to accept that their actions were in poor taste, apologize and to accept responsibility.
So, what does this have to do with Facebook? Many others have decried this as a Facebook disaster. It’s not a Facebook, Yelp, Reddit or a cyberbulling disaster.
Consumers have a voice and the owners at Amy’s Baking Company believe if they shout louder, delete comments and publish incendiary statements, they will win. This isn’t platform-specific. This is their attitude. There is nothing that a well-thought Facebook strategy or a PR professional can do it fix this if the business owners don’t listen and change their ways.
A “Facebook crisis” would be if a Facebook promotion went awry, an employee accidentally shared their personal views on a company’s page, or if they invited all their fans to attend a private event and thousands all showed up. See the difference? A Facebook crisis would stem from Facebook and its practical uses.
But, they got 68,000+ Likes! As they say, “Any PR is good PR,” right? Sometimes, but not in this case. While they have access to potentially communicate with more than 68,000 people, they are largely all critics. It will be tough to influence and shift the minds of them who only who Liked their Facebook Page to keep up with the controversy. For all the non-local fans, they will probably grow annoyed when they publish updates about their actual restaurant. Unliking a Page is still a pain on Facebook, so in droves, people will report future updates as spam or hide them … which will negatively influence the reputation of the Page. Solution: Geo-target all future updates to just the Phoenix metro area as that’s where their real customers are located.
I do find it a bit funny that they would accept the counsel from a PR firm, but not a proven and world-renowned chef. The press release and proposed grand re-opening [did they ever close?] itself is pathetic attempt to curtail the critical comments. I fully expect the spin machine running at full throttle and the PR team to have a roll of duct tape at arm’s length during the event in case Amy decides to go ballistic on a customer.
Now, I do have one last thought on this whole matter.
Tyler Hurst, an influential former Phoenician, shared his point-of-view three years ago in reaction to her behavior on Yelp. I agree with it. We as social media and public relations professionals ask our clients, employers and brands be “open and real” in their communication. We advise “authenticity” over the insincere, bland and corporate speak. Yet, when someone is pushed beyond their psychological limits, we crucify them for speaking their mind (even if it’s offensive). They are just words — it’s not like they are invoking violence against customers (yet).
Even if Amy is crazy and could benefit from some therapy, guidance in marketing, PR and customer service … shouldn’t we just accept her as-is? If we don’t like it, we don’t have to patronize her business. In fact, there are probably hundreds of other willing, capable and caring small businesses and restaurateurs across Phoenix who would appreciate your business and feedback.