By now, we’re all familiar with the backstory: a few weeks ago, Amy’s Baking Company was featured on the TV show Kitchen Nightmares. That’s already a questionable business decision, much like starring in a trashy VH1 reality show probably isn’t going to help you get famous. But fine: people trade fame for a little embarrassment all the time. Typically, things don’t turn out this poorly.
Amy’s Baking Company on Kitchen Nightmares
On the show, Amy’s was portrayed as a poorly run restaurant, with bad food and even worse customer service. The problems weren’t with the staff or the patrons, though. As filmed, the show indicated that these problems began and ended with the two owners: keeping staff tips for themselves, serving inedible food, and yelling at customers. If you haven’t, give the show a watch (there are numerous places you can find it online). That said, it’s unclear how much is real and how much is drummed-up drama for the television show.
This is what you might call a “teachable moment” — for both Amy’s Baking Company and, hopefully, other restaurant managers out there. Though the lessons are many, here are five biggies:
1. Use Facebook to convert critics into advocates
The beauty of Facebook is that you don’t need to reply instantly. For almost all viewers of the show, the Facebook page was the one and only time they’ll ever hear directly from Amy’s owners in a forum they control. It was the perfect opportunity to sound level-headed and sympathetic, and they blew it.
It’s useful to remember that Facebook is a public place and, in some cases, the first time a potential customer will hear from you. They might visit Facebook to see what time you’ll open, or what the daily special is, so make sure they also see that you’re responding to questions (and even criticisms) quickly and kindly.
2. Remember: the Internet never forgets
Keep in mind that, on the show, they claimed to make everything in-house.
While Amy’s has since deleted their most offensive Facebook posts, screen captures exist everywhere (even here on this very blog). Which just goes to show: think about what you post before you post it. It’ll live on forever.
3. Different websites have different audiences but, generally, they can help
The Internet is a big place. People on Reddit aren’t the same as people on Yelp and, conspiracy theories aside, neither one probably wants to hurt you. Yelp is designed to help people decide where to eat — people who care about that.
While every restaurant will likely get a negative review from time-to-time, there are strategies for making Yelp work for you. We’ll get into details in a future series of posts, but key here is to treat these folks with respect, and do everything you can to ensure guests can give you feedback directly while they’re dining, rather than going home and writing a bad review.
Generally, threatening doesn’t help.
My theory: reviews wouldn’t have been so harsh (including reviews before the Kitchen Nightmares episode, lest you think these folks were just piling on) if Amy had received feedback on her food from her customers.
4. Use technology to provide a better experience for you and your guests
In the Kitchen Nightmares episode, co-owner (and Amy’s husband) Sam only allows himself to use the point of sale system. It’s a ridiculous backlog that also implies a level of distrust for your staff. By training everyone, or at least senior staff, to use the software, guests probably would get a better level of service.
Amy’s had mixed reviews far predating the April TV episode.
Introducing new technology would also help. Amy’s takes phone reservations, but not online reservations. And there didn’t appear to be any table management system to track where guests were in their meal. That’d also go a long way to be sure everyone is getting fed on time. Though it didn’t seem to be an issue, such a service — like SeatMe provides — would help quote accurate wait times to walk-in guests as well. (Hopefully, if they turn things around, they’ll have a wait-list of walk-in guests every night.)
5. Be conscious of the ways you advertise your business, and the strings attached
Amy’s vocally promoted their upcoming TV appearance on their Facebook page, likely knowing how things would appear to viewers. They probably banked on the old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” which definitely isn’t true for a restaurant.
When the episode had aired, and things clearly hadn’t gone as they’d hoped, they doubled-down on creating a spectacle. When that also didn’t help, they hired a PR firm, only to find out that they couldn’t actually speak about their Kitchen Nightmares experience in an interview. Then the PR firm left.
Amy’s Bakery has since claimed their Facebook page was hacked. It’s possible that’s true, though it’s also important to note that other restaurants with a less-than-ideal showing on this same TV show haven’t faced a similar cyber-backlash.
I suppose the bottom line is this: as a restaurant owner, the Internet may not always appear to work in your favor. But that doesn’t mean you can get rid of it. You have to figure out a way to use social networks to your advantage and, in doing so, you’ll probably grow your restaurant’s reach.
Ultimately, the folks at Amy’s probably regret their appearance on that TV show. But we can’t go back in time, so hopefully they take this attention — and feedback — and refocus on living up to their own expectations of food and service.