By now, there’s hardly anyone living in the United States who hasn’t yet heard of the seemingly never-ending Chipotle PR crisis. The Denver-based chain has been in perpetual crisis mode since cases of E.coli and norovirus outbreaks at some of its restaurants were reported last year.
The Mexican fast-food chain found itself in hot water yet again after four of its employees couldn’t show up for work last Tuesday because of stomach illnesses. At least one of the employees since then has been confirmed to have norovirus by health officials.
Chipotle reacted by promptly shutting down the affected restaurant in Billerica, Massachusetts to undergo the necessary cleaning. Company spokesperson Chris Arnold emailed a statement to the media the same day, saying that “Any employees who reported feeling ill will be tested and held out of the restaurant until they fully recover.”
Despite Chipotle’s swift reaction, however, the news spread like wildfire on social media and company shares fell by almost 2 percent the following Wednesday.
To Chipotle’s credit, the fast-food chain seems to have significantly improved its crisis communications strategy. By taking preventative measures and quickly communicating with the public and the media, the company managed to avert large-scale criticism and was even praised by Billerica’s Director of Public Health Richard Berube, who said that Chipotle was “very proactive” in handling the incident.
A prolonged PR crisis of this magnitude poses a serious challenge for any company’s financial stability and even its very existence. If Chipotle stays on the right path, it will likely survive this crisis. Whether it will be able to fully recover from its reputational plight, only time will tell…