Politics and PR Don’t Mix

A Tucson, Arizona restaurant called Cup it Up closed for good this week, just three days after its owners launched a highly charged political rant on their company Facebook page. The post, which claimed they do not support everything from those who kneel for the National Anthem, to late-night talk show hosts and celebrities with opinions, closed by saying, “If you disagree with this post, please share it with 100 friends and we won’t be expecting you any time soon!”. The post, which was virtually guaranteed to elicit a firestorm, contained a laundry list of everything they support, including drug screening for welfare recipients to repealing Obamacare, and everything they hate, including political correctness and entitlements.

The restaurateurs got their wish, and an overwhelming social media backlash forced an apology out of the owners, who nonetheless permanently closed their doors after receiving phone threats, harassing phone calls, and several employees quit.

This isn’t the first time restaurant owners decided to go public with unpopular political opinions, and when it does happen, it never ends well for the owners. Almost immediately, diners vowed to never eat there again. The post was taken down, but not until it had been widely shared, reproduced, and commented on.

The PR lessons here are obvious: First of all, the Internet is forever, and your political rants, unpopular opinions and other curious ramblings will follow you, even if you take them down. Second – and this is a big one – unless you’re a political consultant, keep your political opinions out of your public life. 

Arguments and outrage over the restaurateurs’ “free speech” miss the point, and the issue is certainly not a free speech issue – it’s simply a matter of business owners having no common sense. First of all, citizens are guaranteed the right to free speech without undue influence from the government. They are not guaranteed that exercising that free speech will have no consequences from private citizens, who also have the right to refuse to patronize that business. While they certainly had the right to post what they did, restaurant patrons similarly had the absolute right to boycott the place. The fact that they paid a heavy price is simply the consequences of their own bad decisions.

A business owner’s first priority is to create a viable business, create a good product, and establish a good rapport with customers, and that comes from communication – not the type of communication these restaurateurs partook in, but communication that answers questions, builds a friendly dialog, and makes customers feel welcome. Politics? If you’re running a business that deals with the public, leave it at home and keep it off of social media.