Crisis Communications For The Hospitality Sector: 7 Golden Rules To Managing A Crisis

When we first opened Blue Door, we contemplated all of our service offerings and we asked ourselves; What unique service are we going to offer clients in the hospitality space? What will restaurants, bars, and hotels really need from us? What should we charge for these services which will be affordable, yet still allow us to deliver exceptional quality? Above all of the questions that we asked ourselves, the most important was “What can we offer that no business can do without?”

Irrefutably, the answer was Crisis Communications.

Today, there is not a single service offering as valuable to our clients as crisis communications. Our proven ability to protect restaurants, bars, and hotels from reputational harm has earned us a seat at the table with major hospitality companies across the country. It is a service that requires a tremendous amount of real-world experience, strategic foresight, and forward-thinking. It is both an art and skill that every PR practitioner should hone because every client will need it in some way, shape, or form in their lifetime.

Keep reading for our 7 golden rules to properly managing a crisis.

Don’t panic

It’s too easy to be reactive, especially when your company’s brand and reputation are at stake. Stay calm.

Develop a crisis plan (a really, really good one)

Put simply, you have to be prepared and this means anticipating potentials crisis scenarios and establishing internal protocols for handling them. When bad or unexpected things happen, no one is thinking straight, let alone strategically about how to communicate to employees or the media. A comprehensive crisis plan should include (a) classification on what level of crisis you are dealing with (b) an updated contact program for all employees with phone numbers and emails (c) holding statements with pre-approved key messaging for emails and calls (d) internal communications plans (d) social media policies/procedures (e) log of all incoming inquiries.

Build a crisis team

Ideally, this group of people will be available to support and provide advice from various angles and should include a representative from the restaurant (owner, GM), PR company, lawyer/legal counsel and an employee representative. This team is critical to carrying out the crisis plan and to providing sound advice on all elements as they unfold related to key messaging, timing, and adjustment of strategy if needed.  

Invest in media monitoring

When you see what’s coming, you can plan your strategy in advance and take actions immediately when it’s timely. Today, there are plenty of sophisticated tools that will ensure you are alerted early to a potential issue. Media monitoring/social listening platforms will ensure that increases or spikes in traffic are flagged right away. Your PR team should have you set up on a sophisticated media monitoring tool and be tracking mentions of your bar, restaurant, or hotel in real time.

Have a dedicated spokesperson

This is all about preparation. Before a crisis hits, outline your internal review process and the individuals who are authorized to speak publicly on your behalf. Never let executives go rogue and potentially add fuel to the fire, but certainly do encourage them to respond and apologize immediately with predetermined and approved key messages.

Respond early, respond honestly

No matter what the issue is, respond early and get ahead of the story. Even if you haven’t worked out the entire communications strategy, don’t hide. Make a statement early and make it the truth. I truly believe that more than 50% of the PR nightmares out there are actually due to the manner by which the restaurant/bar responds to the crisis. Put simply, the faster the response, the less likely it is that an issue will spread so far and wide that it’s difficult to manage.

Learn from the mistake, always debrief

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Nearly every crisis I have worked on, there has been a tendency for the company to want to move on quickly and get back to business as usual. It is critical that we remember the assessments that come after a crisis are critical for future planning.  While no two crises are the same, any company that’s been involved in a crisis will be better the second time around. So, don’t skip the post-mortem.

Of course, it’s never fun to contemplate, much less meticulously plan, for something bad to happen. But the unexpected does happen and the only alternative is finding yourself in a situation with no plan of action and forced to respond reactively (and often carelessly) to the issue at hand. 

Today, there are more than 50 restaurants, hotels, and bars under the Blue Door umbrella. Fires, floods, allergies, injuries, theft, assault, mass food poisoning, and even death. We have offered our strategic advice and have implemented best practices for crisis communications.