Communicating During Disaster

 In 4. Jenny Brooks, Operations, Public Relations

jalapeno pepperBy Jenny Brooks

Is the salmonella issue hitting your restaurant? Are your customers asking about your salsa (fresh pico de gallo), questioning your ingredients, asking about your food suppliers?

If they’re not, are you proactively communicating the safety of your ingredients and menu items to them? If the ingredients aren’t an issue for you, are you taking advantage of that fact?

My guess is, no, you are not.

As the investigation into the source of the salmonella outbreak continues, the FDA is advising people in high risk populations such as elderly persons, infants and people with impaired immune systems to avoid eating raw jalapeno and raw Serrano peppers.

That’s a pretty big warning if you happen to be a restaurant that serves these ingredients in your menu items. Although it’s not a SARS-level alarm, it’s still something that is concerning to consumers and might impact your traffic.

If you have a menu items with these ingredients, I suggest you proactively tackle this issue and tell your customers right up front what you’re doing about the situation. Are you replacing jalapeno and Serrano peppers with something else in your fresh tomato garnish (don’t forget to remind them that your tomatoes come from safe growers)? Or explain that your salsa is cooked and poses no health risks. Provide the assurances from the food purveyors if you must. Put a little business-card-sized note inside each of your menus. Put it on the door as your customers walk in. Put their mind at ease without having to make a big deal about it.

And if you’re really adventurous, run a promotion of some sort. Invite customers to help you destroy all the jalapeno peppers you have in your restaurant. Invite the media. Or have a party celebrating the fact that you don’t serve a jalapeno pepper in your restaurant, so it’s safe, come on in.

Be creative. The point is to take advantage of a topic everyone is paying attention to right now.

For official information on the salmonella warnings and investigation, visit the FDA’s Web site.

Jenny Brooks is a public relations professional providing expert and strategic tactics for businesses trying to increase awareness about themselves and their products. She is also the editor of SMART Systems Insider, a monthly newsletter from restaurant expert David Scott Peters. Questions about PR and how she can help your restaurant? Email her.

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