A PR Crisis in Your Own Backyard

Two restaurant chains have been in the public eye lately for serving accidentally serving alcohol to toddlers: Olive Garden and Applebees. The location of the Olive Garden that committed this slip-up is located in Lakeland, Fla.

Madison Gray reported the story on Time NewsFeed under the title “No More Sauce in Kids’ Sippy Cups: Restaurant Chains Create Alcohol Safeguards”:

“Is serving an alcoholic beverage to a child at a sit-down restaurant an easy mistake to make? After all, a wait staff handles hundreds of orders in a day, and accidents happen. Twice over the past month, at two popular restaurant chains, two kids got a little extra surprise in their cups. The restaurants now say they are providing safeguards against children receiving alcoholic beverages. A mixup on March 31 resulted in a two-year-old being served a glass of sangria at a Lakeland, Fla. Olive Garden instead of orange juice. The Orlando Sentinel says Jill VanHeest took her son Nikolai to the hospital after he was served the drink and noticed his eyes were ‘dilated and red.’ The boy was treated and released with no long-term harm done. The mother, who owns a restaurant with her husband, alerted the media about the incident just after news of a similar incident in Madison Heights, Mich., in which a 15-month-old was served a margarita instead of apple juice at an Applebee’s. The two restaurants in question quickly started plans to prevent drunk kiddies in the future. Darden Restaurants, parent company of Olive Garden, said to avoid mistakes like this in the future, sangria will be mixed to order individually, rather than in batches. Applebee’s says it has switched to pouring apple juice from single-serve containers. But parents need not be afraid that their kids will get sloshed next time they go to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Restaurant industry representatives say these incidents are basically unheard of. ‘In an industry that serves more than 150 million meals in nearly 1 million restaurant locations, these are two extremely rare occasions, ‘ said Sue Hensley, spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association, a Washington-based industry group that the parent companies of both Applebees and The Olive Garden belong to. She told NewsFeed that incidents like this are so rare, she’s never heard of them happening before. Sorry, preschoolers. If you want to get tipsy at either of these eateries, you’ll have to provide photo ID showing you’re 21 or older.”

As a public relations student, my immediate reaction upon hearing these two horror stories  was to ask what crisis management strategies Olive Garden is implementing to recuperate from this mistake.

Samara Sodos of KING 5 reported on April 14, 2011 that “on Wednesday Darden Restaurants, the parent company of the Olive Garden, issued an apology and announced they are changing their policy on how drinks are served: ‘This was an extremely regrettable accident caused by the failure of an employee to follow our strict operating procedures,’ the company said in a statement. ‘We take this situation very seriously, and we are especially grateful that the child involved was not seriously harmed. ‘We have absolutely no tolerance for failure to follow our operating procedures and we took swift, appropriate action to deal with this situation. Further, to prevent this situation from happening again, we will no longer prepare containers of Sangria in advance. It will be prepared from scratch when ordered, as is the case with all other alcoholic beverages.'”

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “A PR Crisis in Your Own Backyard

  1. This is nuts! And the crazier thing is that it happened at another restaurant recently. I cannot seem to understand why these restaurants do not have their drink properly labeled. And could they not tell that what they were pouring in the cup wasn’t juice? Wouldn’t it have a different smell? I think it’s a little strange.

  2. emmyjoy

    That is so ironic that it is so close to us! Thanks for sharing this article. It’s amazing what kind of mistakes people can make. And I also agree that it’s surprising that restaurants don’t have beverages properly labeled. Even as an adult, now I will be more aware of what is even in my own drink!

  3. Pingback: I think… « PRetty in Pink

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