Having worked in and around the UK hospitality sector for more than 30 years it goes without saying that each new day seems to bring its own unique challenges. From a personal point of view while in the moment some of these may seem to be quite serious, in all honesty I have been lucky not to have had to deal with a real crisis.
That isn’t to say the businesses I have worked for haven’t had their fair share of ‘incidents’. Back in 1998 Bass had a major scare at its Cape Hill brewery in Birmingham. They had to recall millions of bottles and cans of brands including Carling, Caffrey’s Irish Ale and Worthington’s because of the possibility that some of them may have been contaminated with coolant due to a flaw in the brewing process.
What was amazing about this situation was how smoothly it was managed from both an internal and external point of view. Without underplaying the seriousness of the incident, any possible risks to customers were minimised and there was no long-term damage to either the company or the individual brands reputations.
Credit should go to those who dealt with the problem as it developed but also to those who had put the right people and processes in place before-hand to deal with just this type of incident.
The challenges which Covid-19 has brought to the hospitality sector had me reflect on this and ask the question, do operators have clear plans in place that the whole team are aware of if there is a real crisis in their business?
One step at a time
As a process, crisis management is not just one thing. It can probably be divided up into three or even four different phases. The first of these and in some people’s eyes the most important, we can call Pre-Crisis. This is where all the planning should be done. Get this right and you will hopefully minimise the impact that any actual crisis may have. It is also much easier to plan when you aren’t under pressure.
The second phase is the Crisis itself. And unless you have a real flaw in the business any new crisis is likely to different from any previous one. As well as being different, not all incidents will have the same level of severity to the business and will therefore need to be dealt with in slightly different ways. The stakeholders you need to communicate with and deal with may also be very distinct depending on what has gone wrong. Remember one size rarely fits all.
The third phase is Crisis Resolution. This is often a very practical and pragmatic phase with the focus on fixing or mitigating the problems you have encountered. Depending on the nature of the incident you are dealing with this will often merge into the fourth and final phase which is all about Post Crisis management. The sheer relief of getting through a crisis, particularly for those directly involved, can sometimes mean that this final stage isn’t given the focus it should have. Once things have settled down it is very important to review not only what caused the problem in the first place, but also how the business dealt with it and what lessons can be learned for the future. There may also be a need for some more positive actions to recover any loss of reputation.
The following looks at some of the things you may wish to consider when thinking about your own approach to crisis management.
Aim of the game
At the end of the day your overarching goal should be to get the business back up and running as quickly as possible. As part of this you will also want to reduce or eliminate any negative impacts the incident may have on your venue. These impacts maybe customer related, staff related, profit related or in more severe circumstances there may even be structural damage to your outlet itself.
Very much linked to the above is making sure there is no long-term impact on your pub, bar or restaurant’s reputation or brand image.
If a crisis hits the last thing you want to be doing is wasting time trying to put together a team to deal with it. All the best operators have these in place already, just in case. These individuals should be trusted and experienced members of staff with a clear awareness of what they are required to do. As part of this it is vital that roles & responsibilities are very clear and understood by all.
Who is in this team will vary from venue to venue however it usually makes sense to elect one single individual to be your spokesperson during the duration of the crisis. This will help ensure that the business has a consistent voice and message.
It may not seem comfortable, but the general consensus is that the sooner you can get out in front of an issue the more likely it is you can manage it. Businesses which try and hide problems usually do far worse in the court of public opinion than those who come clean and are transparent. That doesn’t mean you have to go into every minute detail of what may have gone wrong but the more information you can put out there the less chance there is for other to ‘fill in the gaps’.
This may include using your websites and social media accounts to manage what messages you are sending out. I have known some businesses who when faced with a crisis will immediately limit those members of staff who have access to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. These accounts then fall under the control of members of the crisis management team to ensure that any posts which are sent out are completely in line with the overall messaging.
It’s also worth mentioned at this stage not to ignore your own staff in your communications. Keeping your wider team informed not only makes sense from a practical point of view it also helps build confidence that things are being dealt with in the right way.
It may not seem easy but one of the most important things you can do as a business owner or manager when there is a crisis, is to stay calm, and that is a lot easier to do if you have plan in place. Getting angry or irrational is only likely to make things worse.
If a crisis hits your outlet, move fast, take responsibility, get your communication channels right and be as empathetic as you can be to those around you. Running a pub, bar or restaurant is easy when everything is going smoothly, the best operators are those who can manage when things go wrong.