Usually, when chefs receive bad reviews, they become defensive and blame the food critic. Not Keller. He took the high ground, took ownership for shortcomings, reminded us of his values, and promised a bright future.
Letters like these are a staple of Crisis and Reputation Management. You define your goal, then let the words and tone take you there eloquently and effectively.
Let’s deconstruct Keller’s letter from the perspective of a PR Fixer. Why did he say certain things, and how are they supposed to make us feel?
“To our guests:”
This is welcoming and makes the public feel as they’re being let in on a private conversation. If the letter had been addressed directly to NYT food critic Pete Wells, it would have seemed defensive.
“At all of our restaurants, in our kitchens and dining rooms, we make every effort to provide you with the best possible experience.”
This lets us know he’s consistent. The goal of all of his restaurants is to make you feel great.
“We consider it our professional responsibility to ensure that every one of you feels special and cared for.”
He’s letting you know that in keeping with his philosophy, his staff strives to care for you in the restaurants as they would in their own home where you are the “most important guest.”
“To us, it is imperative that we improve and evolve every day. We constantly examine ourselves, our menu, our service and our standards.”
He’s reassuring you that he and his staff are always looking for ways to up the ante and serve you better.
“Regretfully, there are times when we do not meet those standards. The fact that The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells’ dining experiences at Per Se did not live up to his expectations and to ours is greatly disappointing to me and to my team. We pride ourselves on maintaining the highest standards, but we make mistakes along the way. We are sorry we let you down.”
Not only is he sad that he let Wells down, but he also let himself down. It’s hard to stay mad at someone who admits he screwed up and is disappointed with himself.
“We are not content resting on what we did yesterday. We believe we can do better for ourselves, our profession and most importantly our guests. We have the opportunity, the tools, the self-motivation and the dedication to do so.
When we fall short, we work even harder. We are confident that the next time you visit Per Se or any of our other restaurants, our team will deliver a most memorable experience.”
This is the mantra and message he wants to drive home — that it’s his desire to always improve. It smoothly shifts the conversation to the bright future.
Have you been to one of his restaurants before? Liked it? Didn’t like it? Either way, he wants you to trust that the next time you come back, it’ll be even better.
Do words matter? Does tone? Absolutely. Getting them right can take hours, sometimes days. Always it takes many drafts and revisions.
There was a two-week lag between the NYT review and Keller’s response. In this case, it wasn’t imperative that he respond immediately. But it was imperative that he (and presumably his unseen PR team) get it right.
The lesson? Be intentional. You’ll have a better chance to achieve what you want.
“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”
Gillott Communications is a Strategic PR firm. We’re Fixers. Crisis & Reputation Management. Litigation. Media Relations. Crisis Prep. More than half a century of expertise working with clients to resolve issues both in and outside the media’s glare — in their professional and personal lives.
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