Info Lag Adds Edge to E Coli Scare

In ironic timing with the release of the burrito emoji, contemporary Mexican grill and sorority girls’ favorite restaurant, Chipotle, was faced with the news that approximately 20 cases of E. coli were connected to their restaurant chain. As you can imagine, this is any PR practitioner’s nightmare. While PR News Online hesitated to label it as a crisis, it’s certainly not an ideal set of circumstances for any national brand.

In response to the outbreak, which were confined to six restaurant locations in Washington and Oregon, Chipotle temporarily closed all 43 of its locations throughout the two states. Sounds like a good precaution, right? From a practitioner’s standpoint, yes, but one thing Chipotle missed was telling the public WHY all 43 stores were closed. Obviously, it’s better to be safe than sorry, but informing your customers about what’s going on is a much better call than boarding up the windows and hiding behind your doors.

Chris Arnold, communications director for Chipotle provided PR News with a statement concerning the incident, and their decision to close 43 stores, on Nov 2. Chipotle did not update their website with closure information until Nov 5, which provided PR practitioners with some worry. However, when the information did go live, Chipotle went about it the absolute right way. There is a section of their website dedicated to the incident, and it is displayed clearly at the top. There is a plethora of information, including sections on what happened, which stores are closed, frequently asked questions and where customers can go for more information. Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 10.37

So, what do you think? Did Chipotle go about this the right way? What would you have done differently?

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5 Responses to Info Lag Adds Edge to E Coli Scare

  1. Cassandra Weller says:

    I think that Chipotle did the right thing by closing down the stores that could have been infected. Also from a consumers point, it makes me believe that the company will do whatever they must do to protect its customers, making me want to come back even after this scare. The company was transparent about the issue from the start.

  2. Natalie Crandall says:

    Personally, I believe Chipotle went about their store closings in the best way they could. Although Chipotle did not release any information or statement until 3 days after the E. Coli breakout, they certainly delivered a great response. By creating a whole new section on their website for concerned customers, regarding which stores are closed as well as an FAQ, Chipotle was able to reassure their extremely loyal customers that everything will be okay. The PR team behind Chipotle knew that they needed to maintain their transparent and inviting atmosphere throughout a crisis such as the E. Coli breakout. By providing the information in a clean and sleek way, similar to their brand vibe, customers quickly moved from blaming Chipotle to supporting them and hoping to soon find a solution.

  3. Jordan Baxter says:

    I believe Chipotle took all the right steps towards fixing the situation except one. When the situation occurred I think they should have released all the given information immediately with information regarding the incident available on the website right away. By not providing all the info and closing stores without an explanation it shows the public you may have something to hide. Chipotle would have handled the situation extremely well if they had explained to the public why they were doing what they were doing. But by avoiding an explanation and releasing the information late that led to their consumers having some doubts.

  4. Brittany DIerken says:

    I think Chipotle went about this the right way, because once they heard about the possibility of E. Coli cases being linked to their stores, they stopped the problem right at the beginning. If Chipotle did not face the problem at the forefront, stories could have spun out of control and rumors could have gained traction. I would have not done anything differently. They closed the stores in Washington and Oregon, and days later came out with a full explanation as to why. They were not late in updating their website, it does take a couple days to construct all the details in a likable way. I think they could have gone the extra mile and responded to social media followers to make them aware of the situation.

    Crisis public relations has become a necessity for businesses and Chipotle needs to make sure they have an action plan in place in case this happens in this future.

  5. Elissa Harrison says:

    I personally believe they did not do the right thing. Having 43 stores just close down is a huge crisis. By not informing the customers right away they are failing to be transparent to their consumers. I also feel a lot of the hype, concerns, and attention that was brought to this crisis if the chain made a statement earlier in the time. Three days doesn’t seem like a lot of days but when it comes to consumers health it is important that the company is transparent from day one. I would have released a statement shortly after the crisis was discovered, instantly update our website to give the consumers of the shut downs as well issue an apology and resume the consumers Chipotle is doing all it can to aid its consumers. I am curious how much Qudoba and other brands similar to Chipotle sales responded after this incident. I know I will think twice before going to Chipotle.

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