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Convincing guests the bugs are gone

Question:

My place got shuttered by the DOH for cockroach problems. The local media is calling, and I'm closed. How do I reassure my customers it's safe to eat here once I can reopen?

– Restaurant Owner, Brooklyn, NY

Answer:

In our information age, a closure for critical violations can be especially difficult to overcome. Guests and reporters can access a list of violations long after the problems have been corrected, and social networking and review sites can be abuzz with rumors on why you are closed.

It is important that you handle the news of your closure and reopening clearly and confidently. If you don’t currently work with a PR firm, it’s a good time to make the investment to get you through the crisis and win back the trust of your guests.

Ed Sherwin, president of Sherwin Food Safety in Maryland advises:

  • “To restore public confidence, accept responsibility for the problem. Designate a single spokesperson to coordinate communications with all outside parties and have one voice.
  • Refer all questions from outside sources to the designated spokesperson. Inform employees not to talk to the media or others about the problem. Listen attentively and politely to any comments or questions, but do not allow media to enter the kitchen and other areas unless on your terms. Never become hostile or defensive when communicating with the media; they are just doing their job.
  • Inform the media and others that you are actively engaged in a solution to the problem, and are committed to future prevention.
  • Be honest, and state tangible actions you have taken to correct the existing problem and how you intend to ensure the safety of your food and cleanliness of your restaurant.
  • Be proactive. Think about using an outside company to conduct independent third party food safety audits on a regular schedule.
  • Remember that you are not alone. There are many certified and qualified companies with experience in crisis response. In many cases, food service facilities that have been closed due to vermin and other health issues find that the end result is a cleaner and safer operation for employees and customers alike.”

Many operations find it possible to bounce back from closure as Sherwin suggests.

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