Until last month, few had heard of Amy's Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro restaurant in the US city of Scottsdale, Arizona. It's a family-owned eatery offering slightly upmarket burgers, pizzas, and cakes.
But then irascible Scottish chef Gordon Ramsay came to town with the crew of his show "Kitchen Nightmares," and the resultant broadcast drilled a hole through the cybersphere. The tale is a primer in how NOT to use social media during a business crisis.
Web site buzzfeed.com dubbed it an "epic brand meltdown" (note that this post contains foul language, threats and bizarre allegations) which is true. Amy's is still an operating restaurant...although their agreement to appear on the television show may curtail the eatery's career.
During the evening dinner service filmed before host Ramsay's arrival, head chef Amy Bouzaglo and her husband Samy cursed like sailors and verbally abused customers in the main dining area. Customers with complaints about the food (apparently a common occurrence) were told to leave and not come back. Back in the kitchen, the eponymous chef told the camera: "The customer is not always right."
It got worse from there, as Ramsay was served a succession of dishes (one of which he described as "cat food") and continuing mayhem resulted in one of the servers being fired on the spot. Note that in the USA, there are a few restaurants which feature rude service as a highlight (many San Francisco resident fondly remember the Sam Wo restaurant in Chinatown, where infamous waiter Edsel Ford Fung was notorious for verbally abusing patrons and slamming dishes on tables....and the food was great. In these situations the rude attitude is part of the entertainment.
But there was nothing entertaining about Amy's Bakery. Like most, I wondered why on earth a married couple would put themselves through that every night.
And their subsequent use of social media was wrongheaded. This particularly obstinate, argumentative wrongheadedness can be reverse-engineered: if we view what happened as "worst practice," we can derive a few best practices from this whole sorry, sticky, soggy mess (sorry but the pizza crust looked dire). Let's look at what NOT to do.
Don't insult your customers
In 2010, someone posted a negative review on Yelp--a crowdsourcing site where users post reviews of local attractions. Reaction was swift and merciless, as Amy took to her computer and lambasted the customer's lack of culinary knowledge.
If your brand has a significant customer-facing element, you need to have employees monitoring social media in real-time for negative comments. You protect your brand's value by responding to these comments rapidly. You contact the person posting them, try to figure out the problem, and offer solutions. It's called customer service and it's not new--simply more time-critical nowadays.
But a person posting one negative review of a small eatery won't spoil the milk. Here's what you DON'T do: reply to the person saying things like: "My dough is made fresh every day from 100% organic ingredients. Perhaps your palate is not sophisticated enough to tell the difference."
Don't feed The trolls
On the Net, people will post comments just to draw reactions--these commenters are known as "trolls." The only thing to do with these comments (besides removing them if they violate a Web site's terms of service) is to ignore them. Many Netizens know the expression: "don't feed the trolls."
After reddit.com discovered Kitchen Nightmares episode, the pizza sauce hit the fan. Reportedly, the Bouzaglos jumped on Reddit and created fake accounts to reply to comments on their restaurant--their Facebook page was a similar zone of anarchy.
Responses were vitriolic, often in all caps, fueling more backlash. Had the owners been more civil and professional instead of blowtorching their critics, the backlash and aggression would have been tempered. Instead, responses like ""You people are all s---," . "Yelp s---, Reddits s---. Every s---. Come to here, I will f------ show you all" were featured on their Facebook page (which they later claimed was "hacked").
Know when To walk away
When facing unwelcome feedback on social media, sometimes it's best to just walk away.
Whether the comments are legitimate or troll-bait, sometimes your responses are the catalyst adding fuel to the fire. Stop responding and you may be surprised how quickly the negative comments dry up.
The Bouzaglo couple had another reason to walk away: they appear to have skeletons in their closet. According to the New York Daily News:
"Samy, 63, spent time in jail before he came to the United States....Amy, 40, also has a criminal past. In 2003, Amy, then known as Amanda Bossingham, pleaded guilty to using someone else's Social Security Number to apply for a bank loan of [US]$15,000 in 2001, records show. She spent 14 months in federal prison."
According to azcentral.com: "Salomon 'Samy' Bouzaglo...is involved in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement case to revoke his residency status, his lawyer said. Scottsdale immigration lawyer David Asser said the case against his client started two years ago and was the subject of a removal hearing."
"Records show that prior to her  conviction, Amy faced four judgments in Colorado in 1998 and 1999 totaling about $14,000," said the azcentral.com story. "She was also sued in Arizona in 2000 for $3,229. The judgments appear to have arisen from unpaid debts that were turned over to collection agencies."
Amy's Baking Company is now a certifiable Internet meme. The entire episode of "Kitchen Nightmares" is at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XjgHEctcy0
In addition to the inevitable JPEGs and spoof videos, and the inevitable subtitling of Hitler-in-the-bunker ranting about Amy's Bakery, someone made a wicked 2-minute dubstep mix using samples from the show:
And reports say that while Amy's is largely deserted, Pita Jungle nearby does a roaring trade, as its customers discuss...what else, the now-legendary social media meltdown of their infamous neighbor.