Publicity can alter perceptions of a restaurant in a flash. Shake Shack will have to see which impression sticks after being hit this week with the best and worst sort of attention the media can muster.
On Sunday, the fast-casual star was favorably featured in a “60 Minutes” profile of founder Danny Meyer. Two days later, TV viewers could watch clips of rodents running through a Shake Shack in Philadelphia.
The retro burger concept was one of several operations that couldn’t awaken from a media nightmare this week. But hold off on the pity. Every restaurant was tarred to some degree by the damning assertions of self-anointed industry conscience Gordon Ramsay.
Here are the moments restaurants could have lived without.
Rats on parade
The CBS program “Inside Edition” dispatched what it calls a Rat Patrol to see what happens in restaurants overnight. The focus was on places in Philadelphia, but the report opened with the declaration, “It’s a problem plaguing most major cities: rats, out in the open.”
The Patrol hit pay dirt in nocturnal visits to a local landmark called Jim’s Steaks. As the cameras rolled, rodents scampered through the kitchen, nibbling here and there on food scraps. The crew was filming when Jim’s Steaks President Ken Silver showed up and dismissed the allegations his restaurant was infested with rats. “Oh my gosh! There are three mice in a restaurant in Philadelphia!” he noted sarcastically.
The Rat Patrol also caught rats scurrying through Famous 4th Street Delicatessen, Pearl’s Oyster Bar and other hot spots. And it filmed three mice inside the kitchen of a downtown Shake Shack.
The chain didn’t cop the defensive stance of Jim’s Steaks. Instead, it issued a statement reading, “The incident in Philadelphia was unacceptable to us, period. We sincerely apologize to our fans and want to assure them that the matter was immediately handled.”
Vladimir Putin’s put-on
Lucy’s Cantina Royale in New York City was surprised to learn that it was featured prominently in a Russian TV spot produced by a state-controlled news agency. The story reported that Lucy’s was observing the birthday of Russian President Vladimir Putin by putting a five-patty burger on its menu for the special day, Oct. 7. The sandwich weighed 1,952 grams, according to the report; not coincidentally, Russia’s big cheese was born in 1952, it noted.
A controversy erupted, but the Mexican restaurant threw up its hands and said it knew nothing about a Putin sandwich.
“Lucy’s Cantina Royale was subject of a hoax involving Vladimir Putin’s birthday. Our restaurant has never celebrated Vladimir Putin’s birthday in any way, shape, or form, and has never offered a ‘Putin Burger,’” Manager Tim Ryan said in a statement provided to the media.
Yet the Russian report included footage clearly shot inside the restaurant, with a waitress speaking about the sandwich and a birthday celebration.
Ryan couldn’t explain away that curious detail. But reports surfaced that the video might have been a school project, a suggestion Ryan declined to confirm or deny.
But the restaurant acknowledged that employees connected to the incident had been suspended.
Lines on Gordon Ramsay's show
Never one to cower in front of a camera, Ramsay grabbed headlines this week while promoting a new documentary in which he stars, “Gordon Ramsay on Cocaine.” The video is an exploration of Ramsay’s contention that cocaine use is so rampant in the restaurant industry that customers will sometimes ask for it the same way they might request freshly ground pepper. He called it the industry's "dirty little secret."
The famously cantankerous chef said he was asked to sprinkle coke on a souffle, and once checked the bathrooms of his 31 restaurants to see if he could find any residue of the controlled substance. He says he hit pay dirt in all but one establishment.
Ramsay also revealed that he was inspired to do the documentary by seeing a customer carrying a plate laden with cocaine into the bathroom to snort it.