How To Handle Public Backlash As A Restaurant


Giannis Antetokounmpo, aka The Greek Freak, plays for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis helped his team even out their playoff series with the Boston Celtics on Sunday afternoon, 2-2.

The same night Giannis went to BelAir Cantina, a Mexican chain restaurant in Milwaukee. Apparently, he waited for 10 minutes and left after no one seated him.

One of the diners noticed that Giannis wasn’t accommodated and took it to Twitter, after which the restaurant issued a public apology:


“We are very sorry we weren't able to seat Giannis Antetokounmpo in as timely manner as we would have hoped," the statement said. "The Milwaukee Bucks' big win, thanks to his tip in and the team's great play, combined with today's spring weather had people turn out in droves to celebrate and we had quite a wait. We were honored he came in for a celebratory meal, and wish we would have accommodated him right away.”


BelAir Cantina also said, it hopes to save face by making sure Giannis can get a table after Thursday’s Game 6 back in Milwaukee (the two teams played Game 5 in Boston on Tuesday).

The restaurant also announced that if the Bucks win the series on Thursday, it will give away a free taco on Friday at all of its locations with the purchase of another item.

After not being seated at BelAir Cantina, Giannis ended up at DiModa Pizza a half mile away. DiModa welcomed Giannis and proudly announced his visit via Instagram.

Unlike ever before, everything that happens in a restaurant, good and bad, is magnified through social media and online reviews. If a restaurant ever drops the ball, the establishment will be denounced very publicly. We live in an era where one tweet can potentially lead to a losing month of business.

Because of this, restaurants need to work on their emotional intelligence more than ever before to handle public falls with more grace.

BelAir Cantina got put on blast and had to address a situation publically -- the way they addressed it hurt them more than it helped them.

Here’s why.

1 - BelAir’s public apology is full of excuses! They haven’t taken responsibility. Seems they are trying to save their face by justifying their neglect of a customer. 

“We are very sorry we weren't able to seat Giannis Antetokounmpo in as timely manner as we would have hoped.” - Umm, you didn’t seat the man at all!

“ The Milwaukee Bucks' big win, thanks to his tip in and the team's great play, combined with today's spring weather had people turn out in droves to celebrate and we had quite a wait.” - This is what excuses sound like. They blamed the Bucks win and the weather -- everything but themselves!

I used to run a 270-seat annual spring break destination hot-spot restaurant. For 10 years, I dealt with the chaos of armies of college kids bussing into my restaurant, all at once, every single day for 4 weeks straight. I have been there!

I understand that things can get extremely hectic when you are running a restaurant. However, if you make excuses for why you didn’t or couldn’t deliver on your promise, you look even worse.

Your guests don't care if you are understaffed, have an unexpected rush of customers, or if the warm weather is the reason you’re slammed busy. They still expect to be greeted, seated and taken care of. Touting the reasons why you couldn’t deliver, makes it even more obvious that you were not prepared!

Making excuses also makes you look selfish and uncommitted as a business. Selfish because you passed on responsibility. Uncommitted because you didn't deliver on your promise, regardless of the circumstance.

A business which doesn’t take responsibility does not have a foundation to flourish on. It remains a victim, and victims go out of business.

2 - Presence at your restaurant’s front door is just as important as presence in your kitchen. As a patron, waiting for 10 minutes without even being greeted has happened to me numerous times; in some restaurants it happens daily.

When a restaurant gets busy, or “in the weeds,” the front door becomes the steering wheel. The host has the power and the responsibility to control the flow of the restaurant. A host can get you “in the weeds” and get you out of the weeds!

In a restaurant, you must make sure the host staff is present and skilled in communication as well as in how to direct the flow of guests. Not having a presence at the front door sends the signal that you are not prepared, or that your don't care, or both.

Being too busy is not a valid reason why your host is not at the front door, it should be the reason why he or she is at the front door.

3 - A conditional taco is not a free taco. BelAire also said that they will hold a table on Thursday for Giannis after game 6. And if they Bucks win the series on Thursday, they will give away a free taco at all of its 6 locations with a purchase of another item.

I understand that a big deal may be made by Bucks fans over Giannis’ not being seated, and the restaurant is trying to make it right by the fans. However, giving away a free taco with a purchase of another item sounds like a desperate and cheap move.

Restaurants have very slim margins, Most restaurants don't make more than 5 cents of revenue on every dollar they spend. For a restaurant, or a chain of 6 restaurants in this case, giving away food, even just one taco per customer, can hurt financially.

BelAire Cantina is ready to sacrifice financially in order to wipe off some guilt… But not quite! If the Bucks win the series, this restaurant chain is promising a conditional taco (free taco with a purchase of another item), not a free taco.

Not that anything is wrong with using the dropped ball as an opportunity to get back up. But, if generosity is how this restaurant is trying to gain back their guests trust and respect, a conditional taco is the exact opposite of generosity.

4 - Converts are always more zealous than original supporters. The customers who have been there for you all along don't have as strong of a reason to stay with you as the converts do. The converts have seen you at your worst and your best. They often become lifelong patrons. And most restaurants thrive on lifers, their regulars. The regulars are the ones who will go to war defending you, because you’ve gone to war for them.

Every time a business doesn’t handle a fall with truth and grace, they lose an opportunity to gain raving fans.

5 - Restaurants are a business of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage our own emotions, and emotions of others. We must be skilled in three areas in order to improve our emotional intelligence: emotional awareness; the ability to employ and apply our emotions to tasks; and the ability to regulate our own and others’ emotions.

Tactical skills are certainly important, but strategy determines the tactics in business. Emotional intelligence however, goes much further in building a thriving restaurant because all strategy is driven by it.

If BelAire Cantina could recognize and harness their own emotions, they could create a more genuine and less costly way to regain Bucks fans’ respect.

Emotional awareness says: a sincere apology doesn’t include excuses. It is empathetic, not self-serving and defensive.

In the case of BelAire Cantina, a sincere apology without excuses would suffice. Maybe even a thoughtful gesture for Giannis, and the Bucks team. And if this restaurant felt really generous, an unconditional free taco for its guests on Friday would be demonstrative of that.