Chipotle is asking its customers not to bring firearms into its restaurants after gun rights advocates brought assault rifles into one of its locations in Texas.
The move—or any move related to gun rights—is certain to create PR challenges.
The decision comes after Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense circulated a petition in response to the visit to a Dallas-area Chipotle by representatives of Open Carry Texas.
Denver-based Chipotle said the request is not an outright ban, but the statement is pretty clear that the company doesn’t want people carrying guns into its restaurants.
“Recently participants from an ‘open carry’ demonstration in Texas brought guns (including military-style assault rifles) into one of our restaurants, causing many of our customers anxiety and discomfort,” the statement said. “Because of this, we are respectfully asking that customers not bring guns into our restaurants, unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.”
The statement goes on to say: “The vast majority of gun owners are responsible citizens and we appreciate them honoring this request. And we hope that our customers who oppose the carrying of guns in public agree with us that it is the role of elected officials and the legislative process to set policy in this area, not the role of businesses like Chipotle.”
Last year, Starbucks instituted a similar policy, asking customers not to bring guns into its stores.
Chipotle’s move generated several responses from both sides of the issue via social channels.
One person, for example, tweeted that he was a “huge fan” of Chipotle until he found out “they hate gun owners” and won’t be going back to the restaurant, while another tweeted, “Taking our country back…one restaurant at a time. Show some love next time you’re hungry.”
The point here is that when a brand takes a stance on a hot-button issue, such as gun control, PR pros have to prepare for some very emotional responses (pro and con).
Communicators may also have to brace for a change in the tone of the story, particularly if the media pick up on it and advocacy groups try to adopt your brand as one of their own.
PR pros need a plan in place to respond to both sides of an issue via social networks.
They also should bear in mind how passionate people can be on certain issues, such as gun control, and must be sensitive to that, as well.
During the decision-making process, PR pros can enhance their value by asking some paramount questions of senior management, such as: What message are we sending to consumers with this decision? How will this decision affect our reputation for the long term? Will this have an impact on our partnerships and/or distributors? What impact will it have it on the top and bottom lines?
The major challenge is to be consistent, and make sure that the decision has some stick-to-it-iveness. You want to demonstrate to the public that you’re loyal to important decisions and don’t make choices based on whim.
Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1