In case you missed it, Panera had a kerfuffle on its hands a couple weeks ago. PR Daily recapped the crisis nicely here. TLDR: a Panera employee took to TikTok to shoot a video titled “How Panera prepares mac & cheese.” Let’s just say, it wasn’t the most flattering video for Panera. The video showed how employees make the mac & cheese (boil a packet in water, essentially) with the employee poking fun at the process.
The company promptly cut ties with the employee and came out with a statement that expanded on their food prep. According to one CNN article, a Panera spokesperson said: “Mac and cheese is made off-site with our proprietary recipe developed by our chefs and using our sourced ingredients that meet our standards for our clean menu offerings.” Of course, the spokesperson also said they cannot comment on personnel matters.
As of Nov. 14 (today), the TikTok had 1.1 million likes, 1,100+ comments, and more than 81,000 shares.
So, the discussion, as teed up by the PR Daily folks has been this: did Panera respond appropriately given the initial message was on the newest and hottest social media channel?
Some (like PR Daily) say no. They missed an opportunity to engage the TikTok user–who, may be a big consumer of Panera’s food. Instead, those people suggest Panera jump into TikTok head-first and give viewers a look behind-the-scenes, inside the test kitchen, perhaps? To show what their food prep really looks like. Or, maybe it would behoove Panera to just have more fun with a moment that generated a ton of exposure for Panera among a younger audience?
Others (raises hand!) might say they handled it appropriately. Panera had a spokesperson who talked about delivering a consistent experience. They talked about values. They delivered the message in a traditional format (statement, outreach, etc.). And, they didn’t say much about the employee because they are legally obligated not to.
This an interesting case study in crisis comms in the modern age. Really, because of the fired employee. Once that happened, Panera was kinda stuck. They can’t say much (anything) about that once it happens. Not according to law. Now, that doesn’t mean they can’t talk about other things, but it does mean, typically, most companies will kinda shut down and hope the whole thing goes away.
PR Daily talks about how Panera should have “leaned in to the TikTok format.” They go on to say “There was an opportunity to engage the wider internet, to be part of the inside joke and share a message about Panera’s values, not to mention its support for young employees.”
I don’t see how any larger company would do something like this. You just fired an employee. It’s spreading across the internet at break-neck speed. The last thing you’re going to want to do is lean into a platform you’re not even using!
When legal starts getting involved, things start getting locked down. I’m sure that happened with Panera here given they let an employee go. And, I’m sure it’s a big part of why they did what they did.
Long way of saying, I’m not sure Panera did a ton wrong here. What do you think?