Public relations crisis management counsels that brands should own their mistakes promptly, apologize when there are victims and communicate how they are making things right. Red Lobster’s CEO Kim Lopdrup did that yesterday.
For many Americans, the tradition on Mother’s Day is to give mom a day off from cooking. As a result, it’s a big day for restaurants. It was this year, too, though nearly all orders were take-out, of course. Unfortunately, Mother’s Day 2020 became a problem for some restaurants and several Red Lobster locations in particular.
Some restaurants, including Red Lobster, ran specials for Mother's Day, but failed to anticipate how much demand there would be during the pandemic. For Red Lobster, Sunday was its biggest online day ever. As it turned out, the restaurant's online systems accepted orders that staff ultimately was unable to fulfill. With all orders online, demand projection should have been doable. That was not the case.
What's My Line?
Lines for take-out became excessively long at several locations. Media reports had customers waiting for three hours at a Pittsburgh Red Lobster to receive their orders. Similarly, there were difficult conditions at other outlets, too, including Olive Garden restaurants.
With tension from coronavirus already high, adding long lines to the mix made for a perfect storm. Things got worse when some in line who’d waited for hours were told their orders could not be filled. In Pittsburgh, police were called.
Yesterday, the red-faced Red Lobster CEO sent a letter to customers. He got down to business immediately. “I apologize that we disappointed many of you this past weekend as you placed orders for Mother’s Day, one of the most important days of the year.”
Comment: No throat clearing. Lopdrup gets right to the point: "I apologize." He also adds a tip of the lobster claw to the importance of the day, making sure customers understand that Red Lobster realizes the significance of destroying this particular day.
A Record Day
Lopdrup continued, “We received significantly more online orders than we have ever gotten in a single day, and despite preparing for a spike in demand on Mother’s Day, some of our restaurants were unable to keep up with the volume.”
Comment: Great transparency and admission of guilt. A tiny quibble; after listening to Dr. Fauci’s testimony yesterday, use of the word spike for anything other than referring to coronavirus infection upticks seems tone deaf.
The letter continues: “Many of you experienced unacceptable delays and crowds in our parking lots and at the doors of our restaurants when you came to pick up orders, and some of you did not receive your orders. Unfortunately, this ruined many planned celebrations, and I am deeply sorry.”
“We are working urgently to make sure this never happens again. We are reviewing our online systems to better support demand during peak periods. We will also review and improve our social distancing procedures to better handle situations where we have higher than expected volume.”
Comment: Again, Lopdrup is owning the brand’s mistakes, apologizing and informing irate customers that it’s looking into issues with online orders and aspects of social distancing. In addition, he again notes the brand realizes the importance of messing up on Mother's Day.
“Many of you have contacted us about your experiences, and our team is working diligently to get back to you. We appreciate your patience.
We do not take lightly the fact that you trusted us with your Mother’s Day celebration and we let many of you down. We will do our very best to regain your trust and hope you allow us to serve you and celebrate with you again in the future.”
Comment: The letter was excellent, but it should have come Monday, not Tuesday. In addition, there is no mention of refunds for customers who did not receive their orders. In earlier statements, Red Lobster said it would make refunds. That information should be included in the CEO’s letter, too. A writing tip: Avoid starting consecutive sentences with the same word. Lodrup uses "we" three times.
The situation is far from over for Red Lobster and other restaurants. Videos and tweets of Mother's Day incidents will reside online, denting reputations. PR students likely will study the events of this day for years.
Red Lobster and other brands will need to respond to questions from customers and media. No comment will not be an acceptable answer from frontline employees and corporate staff. The no comment from Olive Garden in this article is a terrible optic.
More immediately, integration between communications and operations is critical at this stage. It is important that Red Lobster’s customer service and social teams respond to every complaint, as the CEO’s letter promised. Similarly, refunds should go out promptly.
And what happened when there was no restaurant meal for Mother's Day? Our guess is that resourceful moms, perhaps in tandem with other family members, answered the call and cobbled together a fine meal. That's what moms do and why we love them.
This article is part of PRNEWS' ongoing daily COVID-19 coverage.