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Craft A Crisis Management Plan For The F&B Industry With These 5 Steps

Tarandip Kaur

Apr 10, 2019

Sure, it’s difficult to foresee disasters that could occur in your F&B business but given the legal and financial ramifications of not having a crisis management plan in place, it would be wise to hit the ground running and start brainstorming.

Without such a plan, you could be putting your business’ reputation on the line with little means of recovery. A crisis can also strike any company anytime, anywhere. To really survive? Advanced planning will always be the key. After all, in the age of Social Media, posts and photos will go viral before you know it.

Before brainstorming, consider some of the most common mistakes in crisis management:  

  • Taking too long to respond
  • Failing to take responsibility
  • Attempting to pass the blame
  • Not accepting the severity of the crisis
  • Avoiding the media
  • Pushing out an insincere statement

These may seem like mistakes you’re unlikely to make but without proper planning, all it takes is one member of the company — from management to service line — to slip-up or get too nervous for these very mistakes to occur. So instead of putting your business reputation on the line, we’ve prepared a step-by-step guide to help you along the process. It’s time to get your crisis management plan started before any unprecedented crises hit!

Step 1: Assess All Possible Risks

Before you even start to conceptualise a crisis management plan, it’s important to understand what are some possible risks that your business faces in the F&B industry. Work with members of leadership and key stakeholders to begin listing all relevant threats and vulnerabilities that could impact the company.

Within the F&B industry, some of these risks might include food contamination, manufacturing delays, product recalls, public relations blunders, social media gaffes or even other more universal situations like cyber attacks (especially if you run an online store), data breaches and so much more.

A good to place to start is with a list of issues that have triggered negative feedback in the past and start assessing the likelihood of them occurring again.

Step 2: Have A Crisis & Strategy Team In Place

While a crisis can’t be predicted, having a crisis management strategy could reduce the negative impact on your business. Ensure protocols are set in place and various people within the company have been appointed to handle different aspects of the crisis, should one occur.

For example, a plan for a social media hiccup would involve your digital team preparing and delivering a unified statement across all social media platforms, while your customer service team is briefed on how to handle incoming calls and queries.

Meanwhile, a crisis plan for food contamination and product recalls may require help from the quality control team to investigate the source of contamination and the logistics team to determine how to fix the problem. In addition, service staff should also be aware of how to respond if a customer were to question them. After which, Customer Service, Sales, and Communications teams should work together to answer customer questions and maintain the company’s reputation.

Always ensure the spokesperson (likely to be the CEO) who will address the audience provides a consistent voice, is well trained to answer media questions and participate in interviews. Beyond that, it’s also crucial to ensure that relevant team members are informed to pause and check all ads, and halt social media postings or promotions during the crisis. In more serious situations, company websites should be blacked out as well.

Step 3: Craft A Detailed Plan For Each Situation

Depending on the possible threats, each situation would require a detailed play-by-play plan on what would happen. When crafting this plan, it helps if you answer the standard 5 Why and 1 How questions.

For instance, with regards to public relations guidelines, think about who will talk on behalf of your organisation, what they will say, when and how often they will address the public, why they would speak and where they will communicate this information. Having all of this in place would make managing a crisis far more seamless instead of having a knee-jerk reaction on what to do and who will do it when the situation unfolds.

It’s also important to have certain statements drafted and pre-approved. With the lightning speed that social media moves at, it can hurt your brand to wait for stakeholders to approve statements. Instead, putting out a statement that acknowledges you’re aware of the problem without saying too much will go a long way to putting your audience at ease. Don’t forget the longer you take to get out your initial response, the more fuel it provides your detractors.

One well-known and recent example in Singapore hails from the popular salted egg chips company, Irvin’s Salted Egg. In December 2018, the brand landed itself in an unfortunate situation and in the middle of a social media storm when a customer posted on Facebook that she found a dead lizard in her packet of chips.

While the company nonetheless apologised with a sincere and heartfelt message, supposedly by the CEO, on Facebook, it did take them about 80+ hours to respond. Some normal marketing posts even went out before the apology. Had they prepared for such a situation, pushing out the apology and taking responsibility would have been much swifter, mitigating more negative sentiments online as the hours ticked away.

Similarly, a local restaurant chain, Aloha Poke, landed itself in a hairy situation when a customer found a big spider at the bottom of her poke bowl delivery order. However, this situation was handled with a lot more grace and in a far quicker manner.

As soon as the customer’s Facebook post went up, the company published an almost immediate apology on their Facebook page to show their regret for the quality lapse and a commitment to do even better moving forward. While it’s unclear whether they were prepared for these type of situations, their speed to delivering a well-crafted response is laudable.

The co-founder also personally reached out to the customer to compensate and take full responsibility, further showcasing that the founders are personally involved in the business. Ultimately, handling a food contamination crisis with such tact and professionalism is one way to soothe any built up negativity.

Step 4: Test & Review The Plan With Everyone Involved

Just as fire drills are conducted in buildings so everyone is aware of what to do and where to go in an emergency, testing your crisis management plan is crucial.

After all, you can’t predict if your plan will work since the possibilities of where a path will take you next are essentially endless. As such, constantly test your plan to ensure you have every potential crisis and loophole covered with everyone involved. Doing this will also help you identify aspects you might have missed earlier, which you can then use to review the current plan.   

While making this plan, do not assume relevant departments or individuals are aware of their roles and responsibilities. Instead, define a clear structure and hand it down from top management onwards or from regional teams to local teams.

Step 5: Monitor Conversations Actively

Once you have solidified your crisis management plan, the process doesn’t just stop there. Actively listen to conversations taking place online and in the media to understand what topics are being discussed and how they relate to your brand. Consistent monitoring could potentially allow you to pre-empt the looming crisis if you look for it.

To make monitoring easy, the Meltwater Media Monitoring tool provides an easy-to-use platform that allows you to stay on top of conversations surrounding your brand. Essentially you can track media coverage, trends, sentiment, reach, social echo and more in real-time, allowing you to manage marketing and communications activities swiftly in the digital age. For instance, if a high traction site appears on your searches, you can click through directly to the article from the platform to have a more in-depth look during a crisis.

With the Meltwater mobile app, you can also set up Crisis Notification alerts so you stay in-the-know while on the move. Begin by setting up crisis-specific searches to track crisis keywords such as ‘insect in food’. Once this keyword is identified in conversations, push notifications will be triggered, allowing you to stay abreast of potential crises anytime, anywhere.  

Using these tools, you can identify positive, neutral and negative sentiments around the crisis. This would help you to narrow down what to address and which of the numerous action plans to execute.

Crisis management may be growing more complex with the popularity of social media, as news of a crisis can spread with just one post. However, such platforms provide brands with means to act fast and accurately just by listening to the community chatter.

No doubt it’s hard to prepare for every crisis out there that could affect the F&B industry but aim to prepare for the ones you can pre-empt with these steps in mind.