20th July 2013 – Scroll down for an update.
Willie has Down Syndrome. He likes fish fingers and he can only manage small portions, so tends to have kids meals when he eats out. Alledgedly the Ash Restaurant didn’t want to serve Willie his fish fingers and now this act of supposed blatent discrimination is now the fuel for a social media sh1tstorm that has massacred the Ash Restaurant’s reputation on TripAdvisor and, who can tell how this will effect its future? This one bad incident might have cost the Ash Restaurant more than just its future?
The Ash Restaurant describes itself on Trip Advisor as ” a lively bistro and bar within the stately Royal Highland Hotel. The pale green walls and gilt-framed oil paintings of the Victorian dining room are freshened by tartan table runners and bright flowers, creating a bright contemporary elegance.” It seems by anyone’s standards to be quite a nice place. Have a rummage through TA and there are quite a few differing experiences without the discrimination related comments. But I felt compelled to write about this incident because it is a lesson as to the power of social networking, and why it is good to be savvy.
The Ash Restaurant saga was first brought to my attention on Facebook when I saw a picture of a very happy looking Down’s Syndrome chap on a bouncy red springy playground insect thing, and my first thought was less what the post was about, but because he looked so happy. I came back to the post later, and read through and realised that this happy looking chap was very much the instrument of anger, a pawn in a fight for justice and a reminder that bad things still happen in restaurants. The Sun is reporting the story tomorrow and it appears that the Regional Manager for the hotel chain has been on television to answer for the misgivings of the staff involved in the incident and he issued an apology (not for the discrimination though) on the Royal Highland Hotel’s Facebook page
But what exactly happened? Well here is the post.
“Today for lunch we went to ASH RESTAURANT INVERNESS beside the train station during our holidays & as soon we went in the door the staff were giving us dirty looks and tried to put us off by saying that it would be a 20minuet wait for food even though the place was dead! We were obviously not there clientele little did we know it was because of my Down syndrome uncle!! We never got offered drinks and after 10 – 15mins someone finally came over to take our order, we order for my uncle willie (in the picture) fish fingers off the kids menu as that’s all he can eat is small portions and every where we go he has always had it! But they then turned round and said no he can not have that then for a supervisor to come over to say they CAN NOT SERVE MY UNCLE TODAY. This is clear DISCRIMINATION and I want to make every one knows what a horrible place that is. That staff were rude from the word go! We made our opinion clear to the staff as we walked out. Noone should be told what they can and can’t eat especially when it’s a treat for them. Please LIKE AND SHARE so that everyone can hear what this “award winning restaurant” is really like!”
The whole thing is a testament to what people believe on Facebook. And as a restaurant owner, your reputation is the most precious thing. Something like this would be a nightmare for anyone whose business relied on people thinking ‘nice things’. No matter how much of this was truthful, it is up to the owners to react in the right way.
The family cannot be helped in reacting the way they did. Willie is clearly a loved and cherished member of their family. Their anger is natural, and the desire for justice (like any diner’s) is one that you, as the manager, would have to live up to or negotiate. The hotel have offered an apology, but what else are they going to do? They don’t have a Twitter account or a Facebook account, so immediately life is made harder by not being able to publicly tackle any bad press. But given the voluminous extent of the feedback, should you even try?
Take a trip through Twitter and see what sort of things people are saying, could you react to each and every one?
“Absolute disgrace. ASH RESTAURANT INVERNESS refused to serve a family because the uncle has Down’s Syndrome. My… http://fb.me/2Tq9eJkUo”
“ASH RESTAURANT INVERNESS you ought tobe ashamed of yourselfs discrimination of disabled person is disgusting”
“ASH RESTAURANT in Inverness. An apology needed. Shame on you! http://fb.me/AO2bMhna”
Social Media is a very powerful tool. Piss off a punter in this day and age, and the perfect storm can bring your bad service/bad food/casual Disability Discrimination to the attention of the national media.
So what should the Ash Restaurant do now?
Jon Barker over at JoinedUpNetworking has this really good advice for saving your online reputation.
“Be listening: Set up relevant searches for your brand on Twitter, and Google alerts, watch out for anything potentially damaging online. This allows you to manage your reputation, even if you’re not otherwise active on Social Media.
Deal with it, quickly: If you discover something negative don’t avoid dealing with it! If you do, people will assume you’re guilty! Address the issue publicly; show you’re interested, listening and that you care.
Accept responsibility: If it’s your fault, own up! The best of us can make mistakes once in a while. Shows you’re human and more importantly that client satisfaction is important to you. Have you ever been unhappy with service you were given? I suspect non acceptance, a defensive attitude or being secretive would have made it worse.
Apologise: A genuine apology makes the world of difference. No excuses; thank them for bringing it to your attention. Show the world that you want to make things right. Solve the Problem and get offline: If it’s easily resolved, offer the resolution and say you will call them. If you can’t solve it easily, make a clear public statement that you want to call them to solve the issue. Reaching out and attempting to make things right gets noticed by others who are watching the exchange. Once it is offline then deal with it properly and fully, as I’m sure you would do normally. –
I am going to be interested in seeing how the Ash Restaurant deals with the storm that has brewed around Willie and his Fish Fingers. The next week or so will be crucial to how they deal with the bad press, and what they offer to do to repay their mistake, if they have actually done anything wrong in the first place.
The punter has more power now in the form of Trip Advisor and other online forums not to mention Twitter and Facebook, and it is now harder than ever for the concerned restaurant owner to stay on top of all of the comments from all avenues. Not everyone believes everything they read, but enough people do for social media not to be ignored or underused. The case here is a lesson though, that the mob will punish you if you make a massive cock-up as The Ash Restaurant did. The important part is how to deal with it and recover from it.
“Our advice for any company using Social Media is that they should have a Social Media strategy in place, and they should have a policy in place which guides them in addressing how the organisation and its staff uses Social Media.
Failure to have a strategy in place can result in bad public relations. A good strategy and relevant policies can help limit any potential damage.”
Update – 20th July 2013
It appears that Trip Advisor have either been asked, or have noticed that there are a large volume of reviews about this incident and have removed it them. This is interesting because it gives us a more ‘accurate’ picture of what the Ash Restaurant is like (69 Terrible Reviews versus 26 Excellent Reviews). Ultimately Trip Advisor gives a ballpark view about any eating place. But head over to Google Reviews and low and behold the vocal anger of Willy’s case are still in plain view. Will Google remove them? Will they remove if asked? Who knows. .