For me, one of the most memorable scandals to hit the food industry was when Red’s True Barbecue opened a new restaurant in Headingley, Leeds.
Famous for their massive burgers and ribs, Red’s take pride in being a haven for meat-eaters.
To mark the opening of a new restaurant in 2014, the chain launched a helpline to save vegetarians living sad meat-free lives.
I was living in Leeds at the time and remember seeing the billboards which read ’10% of the UK could soon be afflicted by Vegetarianism. Don’t let Vegetarianism happen to someone you love.’
They even set up a helpline for people to call if they were worried about their vegetarian friends.
I’m not a vegetarian myself and honestly, I found the campaign funny. It’s tongue in cheek and was clearly meant as a joke to coincide with the launch of Veggie Week.
But, the restaurant received a backlash from people offended by the campaign.
In response, Red’s issued a letter on their website entitled ‘To both the offended and the amused’.
It read: An apology and some perspective from Red’s True Barbecue.
Our recent ‘campaign’ is ridiculous… of course it is. That’s why we physically labelled it as (Bull) CRAP for all to see.
We wanted to do this primarily to entertain our carnivorous customer base, giving vegetarians a playful poke, rattle the easily offended and get a reaction. Mission accomplished.
Many vegetarians have taken this ‘campaign’ in the spirit it was always intended. However, we’re willing to hold our hands up and admit that to some, this has caused serious offense.
We respect vegetarianism as a life choice – honestly, do what you want to do – whether it’s for religious reasons, animal welfare concerns or just because you don’t like meat – whatever your reasons.
We tip our hats to the many vegetarians who got it, and offer a sincere apology to those that read anything unintentionally malicious into our actions – this was categorically never the objective or starting point.
We’re happy to get a good roasting in return – fair’s fair.
The activity was planned to run for the week during National Vegetarian Week (May 19 – May 25), however we have no desire to take this from the realms of ribbing, to causing any real offence – that’s just not what we’re about. We’re currently liaising with media owners to update the billboard and are changing our social assets.
Red’s True Barbecue
Red’s had to react to the criticism and I think they did so in an appropriate way.
Because of the type of company they are and the tone they have adopted, they can get away with being a little cheeky and informal.
There are certain brands wouldn’t have been able to get away with a statement like this.
This highlights the importance of tone and knowing your brand. If you are doing the PR for a company you should know the type of things they are likely to say and the way they would say it.
In their response, Red’s stayed true to their informal self.