Blog / Social Media Fails: Happy Meal Heard ‘Round Coeur d’Alene

How Many Social Media Fails Till We Get It Right?

Using social media without some kind of policy or common sense logic leads to trouble, again and again. How many times must we sit back and watch social media catastrophe after social media catastrophe? Shouldn’t the missteps of Kenneth Cole, Kayser Lingerie , Kitchen Aid and the NRA read like Aesop’s fables where we all learn a lesson? Someone else’s fail, especially in the “infancy” of social media is/was our opportunity to learn how to properly post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Then again, no matter how much preparation or how good our social media strategy or plan is, something will always squeak through. That’s Murphy’s Law. The real question is how we handle our social media mistakes. Enter the latest blunder – this time it’s local, this time it happened in Coeur d’Alene, this time it feels personal. This time it’s about a Happy Meal.

Using Social Media To Call Out A Customer

I was going to write a blog on the measured success or lack thereof in creating “buzz” and name recognition via social media marketing. Instead I ran across a Facebook post by a local restaurant that left me a dumbstruck and presented yet another opportunity to learn from the missteps of others. A local restaurant has a policy of not allowing outside food in their restaurant and they asked a family who came in with children and Happy Meal in tow to remove the food. Please keep in mind that this restaurant primarily serves sushi and Japanese dishes. The family was upset and left the following note on the back of their receipt:

Example of a social media fail in coeur d'alane idaho

And here’s where everything went south. The restaurant posted the note on their Facebook page with the following comment:

This note was left after I told a table that we don’t allow outside food or drink….they brought in a Happy Meal. Yes I made a snide remark about having to throw away a little piece of garbage. Do you think it would be ok to bring Togo food from Syringa into McDonald’s? We do not want to see Starbucks, Big Macs, whoppers or iced lattes in our restaurant, we would however love to see people with open minds and smiling faces.

The fail: No matter how good a restaurant is, no matter how delicious their food, no matter what their reputation, a restaurant is nothing without a customer. A restaurant only exists because of guests and customers. Alienating one customer may not seem like it will make a big impact, but when a business takes to alienating  customers in a public forum such as Facebook, they are probably alienating other customers as well. Calling out a customer (name or no name) in public or airing a grievance with a customer on a very public social media platform, only serves to belittle the restaurant. This is the equivalent to a public slap in the face.

Cue the Comment Machine

And here’s where things got even more interesting. Take a look at some of the 471 comments and you will see support for the restaurant’s policy and against their public outing of their grievance. From comments on questioning the appropriateness of using Facebook to air said grievance to ” Unprofessional and tacky discourteous public shaming of a customer who had a complaint”, the comments run the gamut for and against. Overall, the public seemed displeased with the restaurant’s approach to handling their problems. Note, there were few comments (yes, I read most of them…it’s exhausting, let me tell you) that support the public “slap in the face” that is apparently this restaurant’s social media policy. The restaurant finally weighed in and in what could have been an opportunity to turn a negative around, the restaurant missed the mark again. Their response was obviously written quickly and without thought:

 For you people that think it was ru;de to ” slander people” there were no names given we dont even know there names.maube you do?! we are just tired of people bringing in food from other places. Our food is good. Quit catering to your kid. We have a child too. Never never never….if you dont want to come in anymore. Fair enough. Go eat somewhere they let bring in MacDonald. Oh if it keeps you kid subdued so they dont run around the restaurant. They should not be running around the restaurant. Be a parent not a friend. We have good coffee. ” bumper crop” we should not post…yawn. The customer is not always right. Sorry. (sic)

This Is Why You Need a Social Media Policy

Posting such a comment simply flies in the face of reason. This is not to say the fail is on the scale of Amy’s Bakery, but it is apparent this restaurant lacks a cohesive social media strategy or policy. I’m not sure that anyone has taken a step back, breathed in and out a few times, and started to sort through this social media crisis. By offering an insult, the restaurant did not endear themselves to potential customers. Had they looked at social media as a place to connect to others, promote their culture and their business, to have conversations, to build each other up, they would never have found themselves in this situation in the first place. Every time a business uses social media as their personal rant (I wonder if I am in danger of doing this myself here), they humiliate and belittle themselves and worse, their followers. The price could be in a loss of customers, and damage to their reputation.

Fixing the Damage Once The Damage Has Been Done

The current interpretation or consensus is that the restaurant does not support families with children. A Client of ours with children who actually like sushi responded with “Why the ()#$ would I bring my children to an establishment where I feel like I am being judged or going to be judged if have to yank out a juice box or Cheerio. Worse, I would feel like the staff was talking about me behind my back.” So once the damage has been done, how does one go about fixing it? For the restaurant, this would have been the perfect opportunity to post that it does indeed support families and children and that it understands children have particular eating habits that need to be considered. Providing a well thought out response without throwing stones at customers would have garnered a lot more respect and community support. Instead…


Moral of the Story

Not everyone has the time and energy to put a social media strategy in place or to create a social media crisis management plan. At the very least, if you are an organization or company that relies on customer appreciation and find yourself in a situation like the one mentioned above, before you post your opinion online, stop, breathe, think, and re-read your post. Then, have another person read it and have a third person vet it. Just make sure those vetting it have the business’s best interests in mind, not their egos. The aforementioned restaurant stands behind their approach – regardless of what their Facebook followers or commentators think. We can only hope they have not damaged their business and their bottom line in a moment or two of venting.


Ally Shoshana is the Communications Officer at Design Spike ®, Inc., a title we made up after watching a Star Trek episode. She also likes to refer to herself as Queen Narcissa. You should try sharing an office with an ego like that. You can follow Twitter, Facebook and Google+ accounts for her and Design Spike. Read some of our earlier posts on Facebook like Increase Social Engagement on Facebook or other general Facebook tips and in some cases rants.

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