Fat Duck – fat PR problem

With 400 diners now reported as suffering food poisoning from Heston Blumenthal’s fancy Fat Duck restaurant, a visit to the website shows no attempt at crisis management.  It somewhat bizarrely states:

Welcome to The Fat Duck website. We are currently in the process of updating the design, technology and style of this site to offer you a more informative and inspiring visit.

The restaurant is closed at an estimated cost of £100,000 a week – so why does there appear to be little investment in managing the consequences.  Arguably the longer term damage to the reputation of Heston Blumenthal, who has far more media mileage after his Little Chef Big Chef appearance. 

As the Health Protection Agency is quoted as saying cases have increased owing to media attention, I’m reminded of the 1999 case of Coca-Cola in Belgium when the company blamed “mass hysteria“.

Heston Blumenthal doesn’t appear to have made that mistake, but his spokesperson, Monica Brown is reported as saying he has no comment to make at present.

You cannot simply seek publicity when it suits – and surely it is brand negligence not to at least use your own website to communicate.  Hard not to think that this is going to be one fat problem for the innovative chef.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

4 thoughts on “Fat Duck – fat PR problem”

  1. I love that restaurant, but I haven’t eaten there in years as it was a bit of a drive from Morocco.
    You are so right that they need to do damage control and now.

  2. Take heart – the fact that there are such regular examples of obviously lacking action means there’s work for you til you decided to retire.
    My Mother once listened in to my side of a work phone conversation I had to have while on a day off. It led to a conversation about what I did and not unkindly, she said the job would be superfluous if people used their brains.
    Thank goodness they don’t.

  3. Why is it that people still think that “no comment” is an option in a crisis. Heston Blumenthal has made a serious error in keeping quiet on much of this issue. Every time I train people in crisis management, this is the first lesson I deliver. “No Comment” is not an option! In this case, there were a lot of positives, including his voluntary closure of the restaurant. There is still no identification of the source of the problem. He will have a struggle to regain consumer confidence.

  4. Caroline, You are right and this made a great topical case study at a recent CIPR Diploma session – with no-one suggesting the “no comment” strategy, Peter.

    Interesting to see the restaurant has now opened to full bookings – so all publicity is good publicity right? Yeh, the right approach is clearly to ignore a problem and it will go away!

    This situation will have cost Heston and the Fat Duck in terms of the reputational equity that has taken so long to build up – and the online legacy of the crisis will be around forever.

    Mind you, Heston is apparently off to Australia (http://www.watoday.com.au/national/poison-scare-casts-doubt-on-star-chefs-visit-20090313-8xy9.html) – so clearly thinks it is okay to continue to “duck” the issue.

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