Finger incident places Arby's reputation in jeopardy

10:13 AM, May 18, 2012   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) - Better to be famous for making great roast beef sandwiches than for a kid finding part of a finger in one.

But that's the unfortunate situation Arby's finds itself in after a restaurant worker's fingertip ended up in a 14-year-old Michigan teen's sandwich late last week after the employee cut her finger on the meat slicer. In a statement late Thursday, spokesman John Gray says, "We are deeply concerned and apologetic to the guest involved in this unfortunate incident. We continue to investigate the events."

After the incident, food production was shut down, and the restaurant - now open - was sanitized in cooperation with the local health department, Gray says. Arby's has been "in touch with its nationwide network of restaurants to reinforce training and safety protocols for our 66,000 employees," he says.

But some crisis experts are questioning if Arby's response has been adequate. An Arby's spokesman wouldn't say, but late Thursday, Arby's had no clear mention of the incident on its website, Facebook page or on Twitter.

"Arby's needs to get out in front of this or it could suffer serious damage to its reputation," says Lynn Kettleson, managing partner at Kettleson Group, a reputation-management firm. Among other actions suggested by crisis experts:

•Put a face out front. A senior Arby's executive with credibility needs to step forward and become the "face" of Arby's on this matter, Kettleson says.

•Explain preventive actions. Arby's needs to explain, in detail, what it's doing to make sure nothing like this happens again, says Jonathan Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management. 

•Monitor social media. Arby's should not only closely monitor all social media conversation, but become part of the conversation to knock down rumors and misinformation, Kettleson says.

•Get on YouTube. Arby's should post a YouTube video, with an apology and assurances why this won't happen again, Bernstein says.

•Measure the risks. "It's a calculated risk that this will blow over," says Gene Grabowski, executive vice president at Levick Strategic Communications. "But it's part of Arby's culture to be low key."

•Avoid Letterman syndrome. "You know you're toast if David Letterman starts making jokes," Kettleson says. "That signals you've done the wrong thing." This slogan on the Arby's Facebook page late Thursday could become just such Letterman fodder: "Good food in. Good mood out."



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