Two people claiming to be employees of buffet restaurant chain Golden Corral separately have posted videos and pictures showing allegedly unsanitary kitchen practices. Now the company is trying to deal with the fallout on social media and finding, as Amy's Baking and Papa John's Pizza recently have, that doing so is more difficult than companies often realize.
The first volley was from employee Brandon Huber, who posted a video in which he claimed that during a corporate inspection, the Port Orange, Florida, Golden Corral wheeled food out to the dumpster.
After posting the first video, in which he reported the practice, Huber then posted a second in which he claimed that managers would bring the food back in for use after the inspection.
Eric Holm, owner of the Port Orange franchise, posted on Golden Corral's Facebook page that an assistant manager made a "bad decision to improperly store food when the corporate inspector made a routine, unannounced visit" and that Huber had reported the problem to an area manager. Holm then claimed that none of the food was served to customers and that Huber had helped dispose of the food the day before he posted the video.
Comments on the post were largely negative and called into question how Holm framed the issue, the language he used, and what the restaurant might have done had Huber not posted the video.
On the heels of the video came pictures from a self-proclaimed Golden Corral waitress that showed dirty conditions in what was supposedly a kitchen in one of the company's locations. It is impossible to tell whether the images are recent or of a Golden Corral, but that is part of the problem. Initial negative reports make people receptive to other charges.
Dealing with attacks and criticism on social media is becoming a common occurrence for restaurants. Amy's Baking Company became an Internet sensation when video of how the owners interacted with customers and chef, restaurateur, and TV personality Gordon Ramsay went viral. Papa John's faced a heavily negative reaction when a racist rant by employees was captured by a customer and posted.
The restaurants face several difficulties:
- No matter what they post on their own websites or on Facebook, Yelp, and other sites, the response never travels anywhere near as widely as the initial complaint.
- The visceral nature of multimedia is more powerful than written explanations.
- People who have had disappointing experiences with a restaurant may well pile on with comments expressing distrust in the company's side of the story.
What can a business do? For one thing, operate in as ethical and excellent a manner as possible. Next, if something happens, really look into it, avoid being self-defensive, sincerely apologize, and make sure the problem never happens again.