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  • Caroline Ridgway

Crisis Response Messaging: Say Plainly How Much You Care

My family, with my dad at the helm as chef-owner, has been in the restaurant business in my hometown for almost 50 years. Right now, our doors are closed because of COVID-19. Over the weekend, we found out two employees at one of our restaurants tested positive. We scrambled, and within less than 12 hours had fully closed to service and notified the public. Our biggest challenge currently is determining how to efficiently and economically test about 120 people. It seems we can have one of the two, either efficient or economical, but not both.

It’s hard not to feel defeated. Communities are defined by their small, family-owned businesses. These lend a place its personality, its color, and its history. Not to mention the downstream economic benefit of dollars spent at our businesses recirculating locally in one way or another. We—even more so than the big corporations—are the job creators. We are the ones who reinfuse money and meaning. We are where people come because they feel comfortable and welcome. As much as we know that these are the right choices to protect people, mitigate the rampant wildfire spread of this disease, and give our businesses the best shot of having a long future, it sure is tough in the moment. Restaurants aren’t supposed to be empty.

The support from our patrons has been overwhelmingly gracious. It is humbling, and heartening. After an extended meeting Saturday morning of the leadership team, it was my task to write the message we’d send out by email and social media announcing the positive diagnoses and subsequent closure. It only took me a few minutes. I knew what I wanted and needed to say, and how I wanted to frame it.

In the letter, we made a joint promise of transparency and remediation. The last few months are such an emotional blur, but a priority throughout has been to do more, and to share more, than perhaps required. Our email subscription list has taken a hit as a result. But the goodwill we’ve generated has been significant. When you’re loyal to people, they often reciprocate.

People tend to respond well to being in on what’s happening. As a consumer, I understand that thinking. It engenders feelings of trust, empathy, and solidarity. Especially in this digital age, trying to be too coy about what information you keep private, if it has public relevance, can badly backfire. It’s better, in my experience and estimation, to be open about what’s gone wrong, and equally so what you’re doing to make it right. Let your customers know that you’re being proactive about protecting their and your teams’ safety. Say plainly how much you care. That should be easy, because it’s true.

I’m a believer that words matter. I’ve built a career around that philosophy. More so now than any time in recent history, the words you choose to represent your business are critical. I’m honored to have the responsibility to represent my clients’ interests in telling their stories with sensitivity and clarity. Who is telling your story?

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