In the fall of 2006, a Massachusetts-based restaurant chain with over a dozen locations in the Boston area faced an unfortunate and unusual situation. In one of its locations, a regular flushing of the restaurant’s beer lines by an experienced outside cleaning vendor mistakenly left behind cleaning solution in the line, despite numerous safety checks by the cleaning company. As a result, a customer inadvertently ingested cleaning solution dispensed from the beer lines. When the customer alerted the bartender on staff to the beer’s irregularity, the bartender tasted the drink and ingested some of the solution. Both the customer and the employee were hospitalized with throat irritations. The restaurant chain was very concerned that the story would be leaked to the media as another of the restaurant’s locations had been extensively been covered in the news earlier in the year due to waitperson contracting Hepatitis A. They wanted to quickly diffuse the current situation to prevent any negative publicity for the restaurant chain.
The restaurant chain immediately hired O’Neill and Associates to assist them in responding to the media. As part of a proactive strategy, O’Neill and Associates engaged in conference calls and interviews with the restaurant chain’s staff and with the beer vendor to determine the facts for a media statement. O’Neill and Associates drafted media statements, talking points for the general manager, and an email response to all the involved parties. O’Neill and Associates helped the restaurant management reach out to employees and customers to express their concern and to announce their regret over the situation with a prepared statement. O’Neill and Associates also contacted the local newspaper rather than waiting for the newspaper to contact the restaurant, to make sure that they knew about the situation and to ensure that the restaurant chain’s side of the story would be incorporated in any story they might run.
The restaurant chain was extremely pleased with O’Neill and Associates’ preventative efforts. The issue did not surface in the media nor was legal action taken against the restaurant. O’Neill and Associates swift response within the 24 hours following the situation prevented any negative publicity and preserved the restaurant’s reputation among the community.
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