#15 – United bans leggings? Restaurants demand ID? Throwing rocks at girls? And, of course, #JusticeForBradsWife

#15 – United bans leggings? Restaurants demand ID? Throwing rocks at girls? And, of course, #JusticeForBradsWife

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Lots to get through this week!

Each week, we’ll take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal:                  Welcome back to episode 15, we got a busy episode for you. Lots of cool stuff to talk about this week and Erin is back with me, hi Erin.

Erin Jones:                  Hello, hello.

Andy Beal:                  Glad to hear that the sickness in your house is almost behind you again.

Erin Jones:                  Yes, I think the battle has been won, hope so.

Andy Beal:                  Well I’m glad you could make it this week. We’ve got a lot to talk about so let’s dive right in. Of course we have to start off talking about Brad, and in particular Brad’s wife. If you’re not familiar Brad Reid took to the internet to ask Cracker Barrel why they fired his wife. That basically was all the spark that the social media world needed to create a social media campaign to find out why she was fired, and we still don’t know but it’s kind of still on fire and got a life of it’s own.

Erin Jones:                  Yes, this whole thing has been kind of adorable and kind of sad. I was reading today actually that Brad felt so bad that people were going after their local store that he took to Facebook again and asked people to contact the corporate offices instead of the local Facebook pages because it’s not the local stores fault. Apparently he still has some love for the Cracker Barrel family, but he’s pretty unhappy with the corporate offices.

Andy Beal:                  They’re in a difficult situation because there’s so many rules and regulations and laws about what they can and cannot say with regards to employees that we only have one side of the story, and right now they’re keeping quiet about why she was indeed fired. Part of me would like to think that there’s a injustice here and that she should get her job back, but then part of me is like well, companies don’t just fire good people after 11 years of service so maybe there’s something here we’re not being told.

Erin Jones:                  Exactly, and I read further and found that she wasn’t a server or a hostess, she was actually a retail store manager. Having worked with employees under me before I can think of thousands of reasons that she may have been let go. I am surprised that Cracker Barrel hasn’t at least said we’re happy to take this up with Brad’s wife, but unfortunately we can’t share personal information on social media or something. I mean they’ve just been totally radio silent.

Andy Beal:                  The good news for them is most of the attacks are pretty much tongue and cheek because I think everybody realizes hey, we don’t really know what the situation here, we don’t know the circumstances, so let’s not take this too seriously. But at the same time let’s have some fun and let’s push this. All the meme’s have taken off and the hashtags, and I’m holding out for Cracker Barrel to turn this into a win. I think one of the ways they could do that is to turn her into some kind of spokesperson and unveil her, in some kind of really cool social media or meme or role or video, and let the internet know that a) hey, you guys won which the internet always seems to love that when they can kind of say yay, win one for the small guy. But then also take what has been pseudo negative, not really a big hit to their reputation, but then turn it around and let it be something absolutely fabulous and a big win for them.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely, and they have the audience right now. Traffic to their website is up over 200% right now and their Facebook pages are probably far exceeding that. Absolutely, take that and turn it into something great, have a little bit of fun with it. I think that they could absolutely do that, and I’d be curious to see if sales are up right now because Cracker Barrel is one of those brands that people don’t tend to talk about a whole lot aside from after church on Sunday or going out for a family breakfast or something. I think they’ve really been in the forefront lately and I’d like to see if they’ve seen increased sales as a result of that.

Andy Beal:                  If not they’ve got an opportunity to increase it. I mean I don’t know how much a retail manager at Cracker Barrel makes a year, but I’m pretty sure, I’m willing to bet that it’s a lot less than what Cracker Barrel would have to spend in order to get this much attention, this much conversation, and if they turn it into a win this is going to be such a big brand boost for them that hire her back, turn her into some kind of online celebrity, a spokesperson or something like that for Cracker Barrel and this could end up being a win for everybody.

Erin Jones:                  Oh people would absolutely eat it up. I’ve been watching this story and I think it’s been fun to follow along. I feel bad for Brad’s wife but I think that she’s definitely going to come out on top here.

Andy Beal:                  Well my favorite play on this was that their Wikipedia page was briefly vandalized and where it listed number of employees it was changed from 70,000 to 70,000 minus Brad’s wife, which I thought was hilarious. Was quickly changed back.

Erin Jones:                  That’s awesome. I saw another one that said, it was a picture of jail bars over the giraffe in New York and it said, “Brad’s wife’s not coming back until April has that baby.”

Andy Beal:                  Genius.

Erin Jones:                  It was a fun way to tie in a couple of current events together.

Andy Beal:                  Well I want to move onto another restaurant story, but one maybe where it’s a little bit more serious and certainly I don’t think attention has been tongue and cheek. There’s a high end restaurant in Southern California and one of the servers there asked one of the customers basically for their ID. I think maybe she’s of Mexican heritage, but she’s American born and because she looked like a Mexican, which that’s her heritage, the server decided to ask her for ID which he has no right to do. Then allegedly said, “I need to make sure you’re from here before I serve you.” Can you imagine what they were thinking, why there were doing that?

Erin Jones:                  No, and I’m totally appalled by this because would he have not served her if she were a tourist from Europe? What would stop her from being deserving of sitting down and paying for a meal in a restaurant as a customer just because of the zip code she doesn’t live in?

Andy Beal:                  The lesson here is not so much this was wrong. I think we can all agree this was absolutely wrong. The employee deserves to get fired and all that kind of stuff. What caught my attention is that the official spokesperson, the senior director of operations for the restaurant, was quoted as saying that, “The employees actions are something that you can’t control. The true measure is how you handle it as a company. I feel very proud of our team and how we try to take a proactive approach” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Jargon, jargon, spin, spin, spin. The part where it says employees actions are something you can’t control, fair enough, you cannot micromanage your employees. By making that statement you’re kind of passing the buck and saying look, this employee went rogue, we can’t control it, but look how great we’ve been in the way we’ve responded.

I would argue that how did that employee get to the point where they felt like they could ask that question, act that way? Clearly there was not anything put in place that talked them through customer training, what they can and cannot say, or advice on how to handle certain situations. You’re in Southern California, I mean it’s not like you’re in a state where there’s not a high immigrant population, you’re going to see people with different skin tones. They’re going to be legal, so I just don’t understand. I don’t think, as a company, you can just pass the buck and say hey, we can’t control what our employees do. You absolutely can. There’s guidelines you can put in place, there’s quality control in hiring, there’s all kinds of stuff you can do.

Erin Jones:                  Right, and working in restaurants I know a lot of talk goes on in the back of the house where the kitchen is and the dishwasher area and stuff. Most employees know what they could and couldn’t get away with as far as management or what a restaurant owner would be okay with hearing. This makes me wonder what they’re hearing from above that would make them think in any way that this would be okay because I’ve never worked at a restaurant where I could even fathom a manager going, “Yes that’s cool.”

Andy Beal:                  The only thing I could potentially think of is if this is resignation by comment. You hear the phrase suicide by cop, but resignation by comment. It’s like I’m tired of this job, I’m sick of it, I’m going to get myself fired, I’m going to go out in a blaze of glory and they make this statement. You could still argue that if you had the right training, the right policies in place, the right management, you’d be able to spot a disgruntled employee that is about to go rogue and say something like this. You’re still not off the hook.

Erin Jones:                  No, and I mean reading this story I was looking for it to see if it was on The Onion or something. I cannot even fathom where a question like that would come from. The whole thing just blows me away, and then the restaurant, like you said, passing the buck. I feel like they could have come out a lot more strongly and just said, “In now way is this okay. We really should’ve noticed that we had someone on our team that wasn’t working for the team” and addressed it sooner or some sort of ownership of this.

Andy Beal:                  Hopefully other restaurants around the country are using this as a learning opportunity to get together the staff and say, “Look, this is something that can never happen to us. We don’t tolerate this” and turn it into a training situation, but also ask people if they have any questions. Is there any questions about things that you feel you can and cannot say? I mean because I’m sure their employees are like, “Well sometimes I like to joke with a customer and I don’t want them to take it out of context, should I stop joking around with them?” Well this is clearly not a joke, there was no punchline here. I think employees are still going to have questions about, well what should I do, what I shouldn’t do. Hopefully there are restaurant managers around the country that are having an open dialog with their staff, with their employees to kind of make sure this is not repeated in a different location, different restaurant.

Erin Jones:                  Agreed, I think that it opens up an opportunity for some really great conversations, especially with a lot of restaurants having younger staff, people who aren’t as experienced in customer service or in dealing with situations like this where sometimes their mouths might get ahead of them.

Andy Beal:                  Moving on, let’s kind of change gears a little bit and let’s talk about the United Airlines story. If you’re not familiar with that story you might be forgiven for thinking that United Airlines has a policy in place that prevents their passengers from wearing leggings because if you read about it online and you only read the headline that is what the media is trying to lead you to believe. I was very disturbed by the attention grabbing headlines that the media were running to try and make you think that United Airlines is point blankly stopped customers from wearing leggings and a big uproar. If you actually dive into the story there’s a little bit more to that, isn’t there Erin?

Erin Jones:                  There is, and it’s funny that you brought that up because my first note on this story was that the media really blew this out of proportion. One of the articles I read didn’t mention that these people were flying on companion passes until the eighth paragraph of the article, which I found ridiculous. My opinion on this is if you’re getting free tickets for any kind of travel, if they ask you to show up dressed up like a garden gnome, you show up dressed like a garden gnome. It’s a clearly written policy. They ask that people be in nice clothing, and as much as I love leggings, leggings are not pants. I definitely wouldn’t consider them business attire and rules are rules.

Andy Beal:                  Yes, and what’s interesting is, the actual passengers were totally fine with this, they realized that they were either flying for free or greatly reduced and there was this policy in place. It was another passenger that overheard it that decided to kind of create the social media firestorm. You’re absolutely right, if you’re going to fly as a pseudo representative of the airline, and that is you might be flying on the jump seat, or you may be in a particular seat that everybody knows is reserved for employees, and all of a sudden you’re not representing the company, the airline in a professional manner. That’s going to raise questions about the quality and the training and all that kind of stuff, even if you’re not an actual employee. I can see how they wanted to control this.

I think everybody piled on immediately because of the media coverage. Unlike when United busted up someone’s guitar or something like that, I think they’ve kind of, pardon a pun, weathered the turbulence on this one.

Erin Jones:                  Exactly, and I really think that a lot of news outlets jumped on this because people love to hate on airlines. It’s an easy way to get clicks or whatever they were trying to do. I have to side with the airline on this one and I do not say that often.

Andy Beal:                  Maybe they could have chimed in a lot faster and helped do some damage control to get some corrections in place or neutralize the story before these second and third tier media outlets could have their fun with the headlines. Really we need to point a finger at the media. We’re definitely in an attention economy when it comes to the media, when it comes to headlines. You’ve got 140 characters pretty much to capture someone’s attention and you’re not going to do that if you say United bars teenage girls from wearing leggings while flying on comp tickets, something like that. That’s not going to get people’s attention. We have to wag a finger at the media for trying to sensationalize this and really journalistic standards have really dropped since social media’s come along because we’re all fighting for that short attention span.

Erin Jones:                  Right, and these are children, how could you attack and embarrass children? Like you said, the kids were pretty okay with realizing that they had made a mistake and this moral outrage is coming from a third party who had nothing to do with the situation.

Andy Beal:                  Now whether or not the policy needs to be changed that’s something different, but like you said earlier, if they tell you to wear a clown suit or they tell you to wear a gorilla outfit in order to get that free ticket, heck I would wear it.

Erin Jones:                  Without a doubt, free travel.

Andy Beal:                  Yes because travel has gotten ridiculous these days, and that’s a different story. Maybe we’ll talk about how airlines are recovering but still nickel and diming us.

Erin Jones:                  One of my greatest frustrations.

Andy Beal:                  We’ll finish up with a story from my state, North Carolina. Which is absolutely mind boggling in that they had a billboard, it’s a jewelry store, Spicer Greene Jewelry store and they had a billboard depicting images of diamonds and precious stones and all that kind of stuff. It basically said sometimes it’s okay to throw rocks at girls. Thoughts on that?

Erin Jones:                  I’m probably going to be in the minority here, but I got a chuckle out of the ad, I thought it was kind of cute and I definitely did not take it from the angle that some people are taking it from.

Andy Beal:                  Good point, I agree with you. However, in my role often as the gatekeeper or guardian of someone’s reputation, you’d have to point out to these people that look, this is cute. We all know that it’s wrong to throw rocks at anybody, but we definitely don’t throw rocks at girls. However, it’s cute. Who wouldn’t want to have diamonds thrown at them. Heck, I’m not a girl, but if you want to throw diamonds at me that’s totally fine. Someone should have pointed out to them that there is going to be people that are offended by this and even if it’s only 0.01% of your actual audience that’s all the media needs to write a story and inflate that, and talk about that the entire internet is in an outrage. Now you’re back tracking and you’re having to fight this fire and you’re getting distracted and you’re getting bad Yelp reviews. I was like you, I thought it was kind of cute, but that was for me as a consumer. Me as a reputation guy I’m like what were they thinking?

Erin Jones:                  Exactly, and I don’t think there was any bad intent behind this and I absolutely feel for them. Getting Yelp reviews from people who have never even been a customer, this is going to be a nightmare to clean up. I do think that they’ve started out on a good foot though.

Andy Beal:                  They addressed it pretty quickly, and again I don’t know. I don’t think this is going to be one that would stick with them. I think that they can come back from this. Maybe the big question is why are they spending so much money on billboards in the first place? I barely have time to pay attention to what restaurants I’m … Heck, I often miss passing a Cracker Barrel, let alone looking at a billboard.

Erin Jones:                  They offered a heartfelt apology, and they’re donating money to local domestic violence shelters, which I think was a nice way of them saying unfortunately we missed something with this ad. We can see where the offense is coming from and we’re trying to make right. There are still people standing around this billboard protesting.

Andy Beal:                  If anybody would like to throw diamonds or any other precious stones at us I’ll be happy to give you my address in Raleigh. Feel free to come to my front door and fire away because it wouldn’t bother me at all. I’ll be happy to wear leggings or not wear leggings depending on your preference.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely, send me the sparkles.

Andy Beal:                  On that horrible mental picture of me in leggings we’ll wrap up for this week. Thank you so much for joining me again Erin.

Erin Jones:                  Thank you so much for having me.

Andy Beal:                  Thank you guys for listening. Please stop our Facebook page. Leave a comment, ask a question, give us your feedback, go to our blog posts and leave a comment. We appreciate you tuning in. Hopefully you’ll join us again next time. Thanks a lot and buh-bye.

ByAndy Beal

Andy Beal is The Original Online Reputation Expert™. A bestselling author of two critically-acclaimed reputation management books, a keynote speaker at dozens of events, and brand consultant experience with thousands of individuals and companies.