HONESTY: Coach your staff on what to say about higher prices.
In a recent editorial, Michael Sanson wrote about the proposed minimum wage hike and how it could potentially become a public relations nightmare. He wrote, "it would take a pretty impressive public relations campaign to convince customers that price hikes are necessary to take care of your lowest-paid employees."
And he posed a very good question: How will you deal with the potential of a P.R. nightmare?
In the December issue of the Discover Small Business Watch, 57 percent of consumers said they are willing to pay higher prices at small businesses that meet minimum wage regulations. It also reported that 52 percent of consumers expect to pay higher prices at small businesses if there is an increase in the minimum wage.
Now that the Senate has passed the minimum wage hike increase, it's up to the President to approve it. Following are some tips on how you might handle the public relations surrounding increases at your restaurant to keep your lowest paid employees on the job.
Don't say anything . . . say something. Write down what you want your front-end staff saying to your customers. Have your messages reflect your commitment to both your employees and your customers. Communicate your decision to your staff and make certain everyone is conveying the same message.
Be honest. A lie can be very damaging, as can leaving out information. Increasing your prices and not telling your customers could end up being a huge public relations nightmare.
Be believable. Credibility is vital to helping your customers understand why there are price increases and how they can help your employees stay employed.
Turn potential negatives into positives. Tell your customers that the federal minimum wage has increased by $2.10 and it's important that you keep your current employees employed while you follow regulations. Don't spend a lot of time on how much prices have increased and the reasons behind what you've chosen to do. Focus instead on what it means to the human beings who are helping your customers. After all, most would rather pay a little more for their meal than have reduced service.
Stay cool. Maintain a professional attitude and don't let customers get to you if they're angry about a price increase. It's likely you don't want them back in your restaurant anyway.
Write a news release. Do a Google search to see how reporters in your area report the news and mimic their writing styles. You can also find sample news releases on websites such as www.press-release-writing.com. Use the messages you developed for your front-of-the-house staff and write about the fact that you are not consolidating jobs or laying off people; you are increasing your overhead to boost your employees' salaries.
Then call the reporters in your area who write about business and the restaurant industry and tell them what you have written. With their approval, email them the release. Odds are you'll get some publicity and look like a hero supporting your town's work force.
Don't bury your head and hope the problem goes away. Be proactive, communicate your decision and stand firm. Ask around, see what others are doing and follow some (if not all) of these tips. It won't be a public relations nightmare if you're willing to do the up-front work now.
Gini Dietrich is president and founder of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based public relations firm. She can be reached at email@example.com.