If you run short of chicken at a home barbecue, it can be embarrassing. But it is far more than embarrassing if the world’s largest fried chicken fast food restaurant runs out of chicken.
KFC found out how embarrassing when it closed more than 800 restaurants in the United Kingdom and Ireland because of a chicken shortage resulting from a clumsy switch in UK distributors. In a full-page advertisement, the fast food giant deadpanned, “A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal.” The company with a Kentucky colonel as its mascot offered an apology, reported progress on getting its chicken supply in order and mocked itself by re-ordering its famous three-letter name to a cheeky “FCK.”
One wag mocked the chicken chain by noting, “Now we know why the chicken crossed the road. KFC was closed.”
As disasters go, a few days in Britain without KFC is not a huge loss, except perhaps for the employees who presumably lost wages. But the chicken-free episode serves as a reminder that it doesn’t take a parking lot shooting, food spoilage or a flash mob to put your operation in the news in a bad light. Sloppy logistics can do the job, too.
In truth, you can be under a dark cloud without ever doing anything wrong. How you respond determines whether your reputation will be darkened.
Food supply and food security issues aren’t strangers to restaurant operators. They are calamities that occur often enough so they can be anticipated. That includes having some prepared responses in the freezer, both in terms of operations and communications. With advance planning, you can do better than say “FCK.” For example, you might have a video on ice that shows where you source your food supply and how you check to make sure no adulterated food enters through your restaurant receiving door.
We call this crisis preparation, but you could call it thinking ahead. Imagine what could go wrong that disrupts your daily routine – or your business future. Some of the potential disruptions can be avoided through proactive steps, such as installing stronger food inspection procedures and requiring a higher degree of food preparation hygiene. Other disruptions may be unavoidable and require contingency planning, which includes how to manage crisis news coverage or a social media frenzy.
In the digital age, you can have a crisis on your hands without a TV station film crew at your door. A customer with a smartphone can turn your place of business into a live streaming broadcasting studio. Nobody has to wait until the 5 pm newscast or tomorrow morning’s newspaper. They can see what’s happening on their laptops and mobile devices almost immediately. That’s what happened when KFC store operators posted signs in their windows explaining they were closed because they ran out of chicken.
Most crises are not fatal. KFC will round up enough chickens to reopen its UK and Irish restaurants and straighten out its distribution glitch. But reputations can suffer if a crisis is mishandled. KFC blended an explanation with humor and probably skated by any long-term damage, except for some ribbing from competitors and an occasional reference in chicken-crossing-the-road jokes.
Chances are pretty good no one higher-up the pecking order at KFC thought the chain would run out of chicken. That’s why an issue audit is so important because it gets more than the roosters around a table to imagine what could go wrong.
As Murphy’s law notes, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” The law draws its name from Captain Edward A. Murphy, an engineer on an Air Force research project to test the amount of deceleration a person could endure in a crash. Adherence to Murphy’s Law led to a relentless search for mistakes and resulted in a spotless project safety record.
Human aptitude has a cousin – human ineptitude. It’s just the way we are. The best we to overcome ineptitude is to show an aptitude for preparing for the worst. You never know when your chickens will come home to roost.